Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Reflections on Education as an Encore Career

I was going to use Jaime Escalante, the teacher who brought advanced math courses to the students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, as an example of someone with an "Encore" career. While Mr. Escalante was successful at Garfield, I thought I had read he had much less success when he moved to a different school with a different ethnic make-up. I went to Wikipedia to start my search, and found something else I hadn't known and hadn't thought of.

Mr. Escalante had to fight the academic establishment at Garfield to get the classes he wanted. He didn't have success until a principal came along who supported his efforts. In fact, when the principal, Mr. Escalante, and another teacher who used the same methods left Garfield, the math program fell apart.

One of the reasons Mr. Escalante left, according to Wikipedia, was professional jealousy from other teachers and the political in-fighting that often happens.

My school district had "Coach Carter," who benched the entire boys' basketball team when they failed to live up to their study contracts. Mr. Carter also did not have the support of the principal, but he remained steadfast and eventually the team got their academics together. What did the school district do? Move the principal from the inner-city high school to the suburban one, where she was just as ineffective. (She was the principal during DD#1's senior year and DS#2's freshman year, before we moved him to a different school in a neighboring district.)

Eventually the school district caught on and transferred her to a grammar school.

So how many people, after putting up with the "daily grindstone" of working for a corporation, will put up with the political machinations that go on inside most urban school districts?

And what do the NEA, AFT, and other teachers' unions think of this plan? After all, we simply cannot have unqualified (i.e., uncredentialed) people teaching our children. It would be absurd to have a former CPA teach economics or math or a former corporate lawyer teach about government.

Wouldn't it?

Teachers spend years learning classroom management and skills like how to teach reading and math and social studies to young children. How could anyone just "walk in off the street" and into a classroom and be successful?

Maybe they could be classroom aides. Or go to school for a year to earn their credential first. And then experienced teachers can "mentor" these Encore Career teachers and guide them through the political thicket of the typical school.

Okay--I'm being more than sarcastic here. I know that corporations are also political minefields. Still, I find there is a bit of the "Lady Bountiful" attitude in this suggestion: those of us "lucky" enough (because, you know, hard work and discipline never plays a part in one's success) will come to a classroom in an "underserved" area (another one of my favorite euphimisms) and spread enlightenment and learning on the children eager to lap at the pool of knowledge.

Which is why Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn are university professors, I guess, and not in the nitty gritty classrooms of a Chicago school.