I Love Seattle! And the Seattle Education Blog,…

My family has a long-time Seattle connection. My sister lives in Seattle, Washington. She moved there about 20 years ago when she got tired of living and working in Manhattan. She loves Seattle, and so do I. The entire northwestern quarter of the state of Washington is unlike anywhere else.

My mother’s sister, my Aunt Marie, lived in Seattle for years. Marie was lucky enough to have had a condo on Queen Anne’s hill overlooking the Space Needle and a wonderful city panorama, including a swath of Elliott Bay, Alki Point and the islands and mainland to the west–the fabulous Olympic Peninsula. At one time she also had a house  on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. This may be where my love of islands and ferry boats began.

Seattle. My, God. What a place of beauty, wonder, and amazing geologic diversity! Alpine mountains with year-round snow cover; water everywhere in the forms of lakes, bays, and sounds–the remains of glacial pathways; dormant (Mt. Rainier) and occasionally active (Mt. St. Helen’s) volcanoes; unique rain forests—different, but not unlike their tropical cousins; miles and miles of Pacific coast–overlooking sea stacks (the result of differential erosion of what had once been the former coastline) and distinctive beaches, accessed from cliffside overlooks or by challenging trails through old-growth forests of cedar, fir, and spruce; bridged and unbridged islands–accessed by huge ferries; all found within a 100-mile radius of a fascinating, artsy, coffee-driven, water born city. And just a hop, skip, and a jump from British Columbia, Canada. [Which reminds me—I must renew my passport because one cannot go to Canada any longer without it.]

When I travel, I love to stay in places that are totally unlike Delaware, and this certainly fulfills that wish. Whenever I have the chance to travel to the west coast, I try to arrange to visit my sister at either end of the trip. This past October, the two of us did a two-day whirlwind tour of the Olympic Peninsula, staying overnight at Lake Quinault–a first time at that particular spot for me. We had a great time, and the weather was beneficent.

I have been to the Peninsula several times. It is extraordinarily beautiful–a totally unique landscape. My favorite spots include the second beach at La Push, the Hoh Rainforest, Mt. Olympus and Hurricane Ridge, and the most northwestern spot on the continental United States, Cape Flattery which overlooks a unique inlet and Tatoosh Island. The land belongs to the Makah Indian tribe.

You get to Cape Flattery by taking a narrow, winding road (where it quickly becomes apparent that the Washington Department of Transportation does not believe in or has little money left over for guard rails) to the north and west from the main road between Port Angeles and Forks, WA–yes, Forks is the locale for the Twilight series, a lucky break in some ways for this out-of-the-way logging town that had lost a good deal of its economic underpinning until the teenaged vampires and their fans took over. Now, a great deal of the town’s commerce has been Twilighted. You might say that the books and movies have restored the town’s life-blood. Ha! I am sure that some residents find this creepy and annoying.

The road to the Point takes you past Neah Bay and the Makah Indian Reservation. There you will find one of the sweetest little museums I have ever had the pleasure to visit. The Makah Cultural and Research Center is special–beautifully designed, simple, moving, and one of those places that seems to touch one’s heart and soul. You may recall news stories from the late 1990’s in which the Makah were given a hard time for attempting to re-establish their centuries-old practice of whaling. [While I object to modern whaling as it is practiced by the Japanese, I cannot bring myself to fault these Native Americans for trying to preserve a portion of their cultural heritage in hunting and killing one whale per year.]

Anyway, all of this is well worth the trip: Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula, Cape Flattery, the ferry boats, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands. I could be packed and ready to go in 30 minutes.

The other Seattle entity that I hold in high esteem is Seattle Education, a blog site that I have followed for the past few years. Formerly known as Seattle 2010, the blog is the brainchild of several Seattle parents who came to the realization that (a) Seattle public schools were headed in the wrong direction—a move that was led by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, their former Broad-based Superintendent, (b) Seattle’s public education woes were closely related to what was happening across the country, and (c) someone had to take on the task of trying to keep the wider community informed about what was happening and what this could mean to the future of Seattle’s students, teachers, and schools.

Check it out. Their latest post is a repost from a Boston blog, CoLab Radio, titled Firing Day at a Charter School by Nancy Bloom—the charter school teacher who had the nerve to quit rather than waiting around to see if she would be fired like so many others at her charter school in Boston.

 This is a startling and disturbing view into the operations of one charter school and the treatment afforded their faculty. BTW: CoLab is the nickname for the MIT Community Innovators Laboratory—possibly a little boost to the intellectual credibility of said blog.

[I am warning you now, this post is upsetting on many levels. Tears may come to some readers’ eyes. I cry for the kids, of course, but I cry for these teachers who work so hard against overwhelming odds—the greatest of which appear to be their very own school leaders. But, then, I am one who cries easily.]

Here are a few comments taken from the CoLab post:

The first thing you need to know, reader, is that there is no job security at a charter school.

To you Michelle Rhee and all you anti-union fanatics, you are wasting your time waiting around for superman. They already fired superman at my school. You see a union would have protected Dany, as well as these three talented teachers who provided quality physical education to all of our 1200 students.

It is no fairytale that strong education unions can usually provide justifiable protection in circumstances like these. I am tired of trying to explain this, but I will once again remind folks that tenure in K-12 public education is not a concept that ensures workers of a “job for life.” It is the simple and humane guarantee of due process—that one’s termination from the ranks of teaching can be explained and justified by the administration. That their exit from the teaching profession is warranted and backed up by evidence.

The second thing to know is that we work very hard at my charter school, completing endless tasks that are not designed to instill habits of critical thinking in our students. Rather we are driven like cattle to collect mounds of data, to divvy the data up into tidy and irrelevant skill categories, and finally to create individual action plans to remediate each student’s poor data points. We are required to write lesson plans that note exactly which discreet skills we will be working on during every minute of every school day while delivering scripted programs.

I actually fear the rebirth of individualized instruction that I am beginning to hear/see wafting through edreform conversations and writings. Some of us have been there and have tried to do that. It is a counter-productive nightmare of disconnected, fractured, irrelevant instructional episodes that fail to get the job done. And, tend to leave everyone dissatisfied and frustrated. If one thinks that modern technology will make this any more successful in the long-term, I would suggest that he/she is delusional. Computerized instruction may be good for gathering content and for low-level learning like rote and skill drill, but not for younger students for in-depth understanding, transfer & application, or learning to learn.

This heavy workload doesn’t even take into account the trauma and anguish of working with urban children who suffer all the indignities of poverty.

There’s that childhood poverty thing again. The impact of childhood poverty on learning, and therefore, on teaching, is a heavy burden, and is possibly only understood from the inside out.

Our workload is a favorite theme of the school’s superintendent and CEO. Charter school leaders love these business style titles. Dr. CEO often chuckles during all-staff meetings at how we charter school teachers work harder than they do in Boston Public Schools and get paid less for our troubles.

Does any of this sound familiar? It may if you attended the charter school hearing on May 1 in the House Chamber at Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware. We heard virtually this same message from a local charter school leader. By his testimonial, and others, we were led to believe that charter school teachers care more for their students than do their public school counterparts. They are willing—no, they are contented—to work for less than their public school colleagues. And, BTW, charter school parents care more for their kids than do parents of children attending our local district community schools. Sanctimonious you know what, if you ask me.

One other remarkable thing about this post is the comments—I always read the comments on any given post. They can be as illuminating, or even more so, than the initial post itself.

And the commenters. Apparently, lots of really tuned-in people follow this CoLab Radio blog, and now I will as well. I recognize Sabrina from the Denver blog, Failing Schools–now known as Reclaiming Reform, Martha Infante from the California blog InterACT—a group blog from some Accomplished California Teachers (ACT), as well as Nancy Bloom’s responses.

Anyway you look at it, Seattle is a happening place. And, so it Denver, and California, and Boston, and, …

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This entry was posted in Blogs and Blogging, Charter Schools, Education Professionals, Education Unions, Faculty and Staff, Teacher Tenure, Teacher Unions, Teachers and Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to I Love Seattle! And the Seattle Education Blog,…

  1. eva peterson says:

    you made my day. this is wonderful and covers lots of familiar territory for me. Also BTW—do you remember the book Teacher? Sylvia Ashton Warner taught at the university there in Vancouver for years—except that when I went there to see her, alas she was gone!. Also did i tell you how important your blog re teacher incentive pay was for me?? You are on fire!!
    Next week is off but soon can we find time for a glass of wine or something??
    sending you love,
    E

    • fsjenner says:

      Oh, my. Yes. I held Sylvia Ashton Warner in the highest regard. I had a number of fine writer-mentors on my professional bookshelves. Yes, to getting together. Yes, to wine.

  2. A Delaware Teacher says:

    Wow! That Firing Day piece was moving. I am at the twenty year mark in my teaching career. I don’t know where all this data driven teaching is going. It makes me a little nervous, but at the same time, I have seen a lot of programs start over my time.

    I will say, though, that I sort of followed the union bashing happening in Wisconsin, but I rarely run into people I know that think the same way… until this weekend when I talked with a friend from college. They are home schooling. While I support their choice, I was taken aback when they said that unions were the problem in schools. They obviously have no idea what it means to be a teacher in a classroom with children different from their own.

    I am grateful for the support my union has given me over the years. Read the Firing Day piece linked above to realize what it feels like when no one has your back.

  3. fsjenner says:

    “They obviously have no idea what it means to be a teacher in a classroom with children different from their own.” Great insight.

    Yes, I have spent 39 years working with and teaching OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN. That comes to hundreds and hundreds of children in my classes and exposure to thousands of children in my various schools. Even when teaching 3rd and 4th grades with 30-37 (the year with 37 was a hellish year, but we all survived and thrived), I still had intimate knowledge of all other 3rd and 4th graders–not to mention the rest of the school population. You have twenty years of time spent with 2500-3000 children. This gives one a very different perspective from the parent with limited exposure to kids–their own, the neighborhood kids, their church, etc.

    I had to occasionally remind my husband that his narrow perspective of our own two children colored his view of their actions and achievements.

    The parents’ expression of “unions as the problem” and “unions as obstacles” comes from rhetoric, not experience. As president of DSEA, I, of course, get this all the time. Ah, if it were only that easy: eliminate teacher and educator unions and all would be right in the world of public education.

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