Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Glimps of What It's Like

I'm spending the summer doing some work teaching with the Upward Bound program at the U. It's a great program designed to help encourage Alaska native youth that will be the 1st generation of their family to attend college. Many of the kiddos have not been to a big city like Fairbanks (We're big by Alaskan standards!), or away from their homes for an extended period of time.

This is my 3rd or 4th year working as a teacher for then. I had taken a few years off when the program director changed and I was told that I was being paid too much. In fact, all of the teachers were told that, several of us walked away from the summer opportunity. Ultimately we felt undervalued and under appreciated. But, when I was approached by the new director (parent of a former student) to teach in a different position than before, I was intrigued, and decided to take the opportunity. Besides, I needed to have summer work to keep bringing in money for my family.

We always do a week of "training" before the students arrive, and that first day I was a little surprised to learn that I was the only certified teacher that was hired. The rest were grad students or even people that held different positions at the U other than professor. I didn't think anything of it. New people in leadership positions often choose to hire people they know or are comfortable with. This is true in any career field. Besides we all know that just because someone has a teaching certificate doesn't make them a good teacher! And sometimes excellent teachers are people that have no experience with teaching what-so-ever.

What truly gave a glimpse into the world of education was something that happened the morning of my 9th day of teaching. I was originally brought on to do a two week session on math careers and SAT prep. So, I had two days left working with the program and I received an email about 45 minutes before my class was going to start. The email was from the assistant director. The email informed me that my classroom had been moved to another building across campus starting that day. While this may seem not a big deal to you, I feel that this move provides a perfect understanding of how the education system works.

You see, the assistant director was uncomfortable with the classroom he had originally put us in. It was not as clean as he had hoped, and it didn't have airconditioning to help us through the hot days we had been having. That said, we had several fans, and that location of the classroom was perfect for my students and me. The part that gets me is that with just 2 days to go, he made a decision that directly impacted me and the students without consulting us. The decision was about him. And this is how the education system typically works. Decisions are about what administrators or politicians think. Rarely are the teachers and students asked. Curriculum, testing, technology, and overall school policy tend to be about what non-teachers think students and teachers need. Sure, sometimes those decisions are great, and an outside opinion was necessary, but often times things are decided on that put teachers and students into situations that were no better off than where we started.

The result of this lack of appreciation to what teachers do and know is that we start grasping for some sort of control. You can see this in how hard teacher unions are fighting for things. It appears as though we are constantly in the news complaining about this or that. Maybe the reason is that we feel that we don't have a say in what we are doing everyday to educate the kids in our classrooms. It's hard to know for sure, but in that one moment it's how I felt. That what I thought didn't matter to what a single person with admin power thought. If he wanted to change something, he was going to and he didn't care what those directly influenced by the decision would feel.

In the end, was the room nicer? Sure it was. Airconditioning on a 85+ degree day in Alaska is heaven! But was it needed? No, it wasn't. If we had been complaining about it since the first day, then I can see moving us for the final two days. Overall, it didn't ruin the experience for any of us. In fact, I know I benefited from the mile a day I had to walk to get to the room! I also learned that I need to really save up for an airconditioner for my own home! It was so nice! Maybe next year they'll just put us in the nicer room from the get go. Or when they don't, I'll just move us to a nicer room and send them an email letting them know of the change shortly before class starts!