Monday, August 27, 2007

Dysfunction Junction, What's Your Uh...Such As South Africa

Living here in the desert provinces, it's easy to get the impression that our local public schools are the beyond-a-doubt worst, most awful, baddest, superbad schools in the world with problems no other school district in the western world faces.

So it's good in a perverse way to read this morning's NYT for a story about the nationwide teacher shortage and how districts are giving bonuses (money is always in good taste) and such to recruit folks, especially in math, science and Special Education. The story is also good for some quotes that should be hung from walls out in the desert provinces to remind ourselves that we're not the only ones with a problem (oh, pshaw merely a quote, let's grab a few hefty paragraphs):

The federal No Child Left Behind law requires schools and districts to put a qualified teacher in every classroom. The law has led districts to focus more seriously on staffing its low-performing schools, educators said, but it does not appear to have helped persuade veteran teachers to continue their service in them.

Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a group that helps urban districts recruit teachers, said attrition often resulted from chaotic hiring practices, because novice teachers are often assigned at the last moment to positions for which they have not even interviewed. Later, overwhelmed by classroom stress, many leave the field.

Chicago and New York are districts that have invested heavily and worked with teachers unions in recent years to improve hiring and transfer policies, Mr. Daly said.

“But most of the urban districts have no coherent hiring strategy,” he said. Many receive thousands of teacher applications in the spring but leave them unprocessed until principals return from August vacations, when more organized suburban districts have already hired the most-qualified teachers, he said.

“There isn’t any maliciousness in this,” Mr. Daly said, “it’s just a conspiracy of dysfunction.”

In Guilford County (New York), Washington Elementary School, which serves students from a housing project, had churned through several principals and most of its teachers several years ago, and had repeatedly failed to make federal testing goals, said Dr. Grier, the superintendent.

“Teachers were worried it was becoming a failing school,” Dr. Grier said. To rebuild morale, he recruited a principal from Chicago, Grenita Lathan. Her first year at Washington was a nightmare, Ms. Lathan said, because her predecessors had been so panicked to fill classroom vacancies that they had hired “just anybody.”

“All they wanted was warm bodies in the classroom,” she said. At job fairs, qualified teachers she tried to hire shunned her, she said.

And just so you know, the same crappy methods (hiring "just anybody") happens in APS, too. But we're not the only ones! See, it happens in New York, too!

Look at it this way: the teaching profession isn't any better or worse than most every other profession. In other words, it's almost exactly like "The Office". Just as dysfunctional as Steve Carrell and gang; just as cringe-worthy funny if looked at from afar. Up close, you just kinda hang your head and keep plowing forward, listening to that year's sad/funny hiring stories with a mixture of gallows humor and dysfunctional awe.

Or you start really listening to the stories, internalize what they mean and quit the profession.

For some reason, it certainly helps to plow forward reading that other districts are doing things in the same Dunder Mifflin-esque way that your own is.

In a seemingly unrelated note, it's also strangely reassuring as a teacher to view the YouTube video of the South Carolina beauty pageant contestant answering a question about why Americans are so stupid when it comes to geography. In case you haven't seen it, here it is. One strongly gets the impression South Carolina public schools have some problems of their own.


Anonymous said...

Just remember, South Carolina is above NM educationally. Actually,she sounds like an APS valedictorian!

Natalie said...

A dysfunction conspiracy? Sounds almost like the search for a new superintendent. Hiring practices are a lost art, these days.
People forget... it all starts with the interview.