Detroitteach's Blog


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.


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.


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