Detroitteach's Blog


October 25, 2010
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I’m putting in my grades.  I am using ZANGLE! I don’t know why this fills me with a sort of anxiety. I hate giving kids the grades they have been expecting, and how they feel like failures because there are so many of them I have failed to identify the problem spots people are having, and coming up with some help?? consequences?? 

My desire is to run away and play in a sandbox. Why does being an adult come with so many unsolvable contradictions?

It’s difficult. I have to get to it.


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October 14, 2010
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God bless the miners who made it to safety

God bless good news

God bless the children in Detroit Public Schools

God bless my early religious background that gives me these two words when I see examples of grace and beauty under extreme pressure and I am without words of my own.  

Students have been in school 27 days this  year. On Five of those days, the entire school schedule has been altered for standardized testing.

Let me get that calculator. Ok. If I am correct, so far 19% of the student’s school days have been spent measuring their progress. At the end of next week that number will increase to 27% of their school days being altered by state or district-mandated standardized testing. Hopefully, the odds will increase in favor of instructional days not lost to testing after that.

I am looking at my calendar. Joy of joys! Fifteen days of freedom until the next test. Somewhere in there we are to provide the students with a report card: 31 days in the classroom, learning, -vs- 7 full day long tests.  22% of their instructional days will have been interupted by a district or state mandated exam by the time of their first quarter report card.

In that time frame we have a chart of material to cover. Its breadth and depth would make you feel like you were drowning.

What does complicity look like for me? The last school I was at I spoke out against this testing, testing, testing. The administrator did not look at this as a sign that the teachers were behind them if we were going to speak up for the students who are being tested and tested and tested until there is no joy in learning anymore.

I was sent to another school with a stiff warning. Open your mouth, and you’re gone.

Watch the Teacher Crumble

October 10, 2010
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I finally went to the doctor and left with a fistful of prescriptions and warnings. Asthmatic, allergies, sinus infection, hypertension that will require medication if I don’t lose some weight soon, like now.  I was assigned me to teach a class during my prep every day for the past month. It’s not too personal. This same story is being told in different variations all over the Detroit district.  I tried to be one of the tough ones. I waited to go to the doctor, too long I think. A friend is taking over my duties at the newsletter temporarily. I am withdrawing from my classes at the University. Which is kind of rough since I need the classes to re-certify my teacher certificate. I wonder, if I make it back to work on Monday what my reception will be, since I am the teacher who got sick just to give my coworkers a hard time.  I don’t believe that my coworkers believe this, really. I don’t think this when I am covering for them. Everyone is being stretched thin. Someone said: “I think that they are trying to make ALL of the schools fail.” That person would get in big trouble if I said who they were. I never realized just how many people who work for Detroit feel threatened by all of these changes. It’s not just the teachers and the students who are being harmed by them. Administrators are forced into some strange and impossible role too. Some of them are better about it than others.  I know I am being boring and whiny.  I feel like I am in a too-long rooster fight and all of us are being pecked to death. And we’re picking each other to death on the way. I’m just not that kind of chicken.

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Sunday Night

October 3, 2010
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I’m supposed to go to work tomorrow at The New School. I’m exhausted. It’s been a month. The school is three teachers short. So, the rest of us are covering. For me it means solid junior high aged students from 8 am until 3 pm, with a 20 minute break for lunch. We’re all in a flat out race to prove that We can do it! and We’re in! Because, you know, we’re not still at the Hotel St. Regis, trying to get a job. I confess, I am weary. I alarm my own children because of the frequency of my crying jags at home. I’m not holding it together too well, to tell you the truth. My coworker is the number one champ. He came to work with a burst appendix. Unfortunately, he had to miss a few days.  The gym teacher is out with bronchitis. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

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The New Job

October 3, 2010
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Right. So I found out that I didn’t get to stay at my old job. This is how I found out. Ummmm. I didn’t. I guessed correctly that I should get my belongings out of my room before the Teach for America person who got my job decided that it was theirs.  

The one humane administrator thanked me for my hard work and service to the students at the John Doe High School. She  stood on the loading dock with a walkie-talkie and a look in the eyes like a crew member on the Titanic. Teachers were forlornly packing their trucks and cars. Was she stationed there to make sure we didn’t throw ourselves off the loading dock, under the wheels of our own cars? Or maybe to make sure we didn’t reenter the building with incendiary devices once we removed our belongings?  Some of the teachers who got rehired were coming back from lunch. One of my coworkers who DID make the cut looked at me and said. “YOU? LISA?” I’ve known “Jay” since he was sixteen years old and a high school student. The next day I heard “Jay” quit. Rumor has it, he didn’t like to see his friends and colleagues hung up to dry in a purely _____________manner. I wanted to say arbitrary. It wasn’t arbitrary. It wasn’t how we answered the questions, and how our scores panned out on the official interview grid. It was a deliberate winnowing.

We were sent to the teacher pool. The pool was 1/2 of all of the teachers who were working at priority schools. Here is the Obama/Arne Duncan plan.

Plan One: get rid of the principal, “retool” the teachers. Plan Two: get rid of the principal, and 1/2 of the staff, Plan Three: close the school. Plan Four: reopen a closed school as a charter school. We were a Plan Two school, except that under a technicality the principal got to stay and get rid of the unruly elements of the school.

I am an unruly element, apparently.

On the night before school began I got a computerized phone call, telling me to report to the Hotel St. Regis to get my work assignment for the coming year.  I never thought that I would be in the mass pool of people who didn’t get picked. Dismay reflected in our faces. The middle-aged version of not getting picked by the captains in gym class. Some of us got passed over by the biggest bully in the school, it seems, the principal. One of my coworkers was there, livid. She had an interview at a new school. The principal at the new school said. “You should tell me why I should hire you. Your principal said your instructional manner was not ideal.” She answered. “He’s never been inside my classroom.” She didn’t get the job, and was back in the teacher pool, trying to get an assignment.

I wondered what would happen in my case. No administrator had ever stepped foot inside my classroom. I saw my coworkers, every single one of them over forty, huddled together in a miserable clump.

“I don’t have hope for Detroit Public Schools anymore,” one of them told me. I couldn’t believe that this teacher, of all the teachers, was down in the ‘teacher pool.’ 

I think something flickered inside of me, inside the layers of shock and betrayal I was feeling.

I told him about Miyo Bassett. She lived in an internment camp on American soil during World War II because she was Japanese-American. In spite of the hatred she experienced in her life she  worked her entire life to try to bring a Peace Tax Fund Bill before congress.  She died not knowing if her efforts would ever result in a better world for people, but for Miyo I can’t give up. For the students, for the community I work in, I can’t give up. Not yet. Not ever.

The Job Interview

August 29, 2010
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I had to interview for my job this year. Yes, my own job teaching for Detroit Public Schools. Little did I know, that regardless of my answers, 50% of the staff at our school had to go since we’d recently been tagged as a ‘priority school.’ There were four questions: What’s challenging for you? How do you meet state standards to improve student achievement? What type of people do you NOT like to work for, and Where do you see yourself in five years? These were not tough questions. And since nobody from the administration visited my classroom last year to tell me that I was doing a good job or a bad job, I was relaxed. It was a formality. I worked hard last year. I gave alot of homework. I love my students. I got books donated to the school. I patrolled the park and the hallways for truants every day. I had good attendance. I was a team player. And, I had the right qualifications.

But, I didn’t get selected. I ran into a coworker who said she had gotten her call a week previous. I heard a rumor that the best teacher in the school didn’t get called back. (Mr. H, a tough but fair teacher whose students just DIDN’T skip his class) I heard a rumor that women under thirty-five were getting preference. I heard nothing officially. And the principal of our school, who presided over the interview didn’t return my emails or calls. He didn’t say one thing to me the whole school year about my performance, and yet, I was ‘sent to the teacher pool’ without warning, and apparently without being advised. I know that was a long run on sentence. I know that many of my fellow co-teachers at that high school are now wondering where they are going to work this coming school year. And worst of all, I am being whisked away from my job like I am going into the Witness Protection Program. Nobody knows where I am going, not even me. I wonder what the students will think of all of this?

Mark Twain’s Ghost

August 11, 2010
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Hi! Welcome to my new BLOG about teaching in Detroit, Michigan. I’m going to start by quoting an article by Mark Twain, published post-humously in the New Yorker. He says basically that only dead people have free speech. So in order to be truthful, will I have to hide behind an assumed identity?

………”exercising free speech from the grave. Its occupant has one privilege which is not exercised by any living person: free speech. The living man is not really without this privilege-strictly speaking-but as he possess it merely as an empty formality, and knows better than to make use of it, it cannot be seriously regarded as an actual possession. As an active privilege, it ranks with the privilege of committing murder: we may exercise it if we are willing to take the consequences. There is not one individual who is not the possessor of dear and cherished unpopular convictions which common wisdom forbids him to utter. When an entirely new and untried political project is sprung upon the people, they are startled, anxious, timid, and for a time they are mute, reserved, noncommittal. Free speech is the privilege of the dead, the monopoly of the dead. They can speak their honest minds without offending. We may disapprove of what they say, but we do not insult them, we do not revile them, as knowing they cannot now defend themselves. If they should speak, it would be found that in matters of opinion no departed person was exactly what he had passed for in life. They would realize, deep down, that they, and whole nations along with them, are not really what they seem to be-and never can be.”

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Hello world!

December 6, 2009
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Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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