Monday, February 14, 2011

Where is the Love?


In 1972, on any given day, I would hear the song "Where is the Love," recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, on my portable radio. It was popular, rising to #5 on the pop charts while taking the #1 spot on the soul and easy listening charts. Sometimes a song like that will find its way into the inner recesses of my brain and stay there, a repeating chorus that seems to grow louder and louder. I can't coax it out even when I try to sing the birthday song or "Jingle Bells" over top of it. It's still there - and today, Valentine's Day, "where is the love?" is pounding heavily on my eardrums as I attempt to work, eat, have a conversation...that song is IN THERE!

It was there, humming right along this morning, as I read an article about everyone's favorite former chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, Michelle Rhee. I'm not a numbers kind of gal, but the best I can tell from my reading, under Rhee's leadership, 250 teachers were fired summer before last with 229 escorted out right after. Then 241 were fired for "performance-based reasons" just last summer. To that I must say, "where IS the love?"

This particular article addresses 75 probationary teachers in their first or second years who had not yet come to the end of their first two years of teaching, teachers who were being let go because they received "negative performance evaluations after their first year." And to add insult to injury, these teachers were only given a "brief letter" indicating they had been terminated; there was no reason given, no opportunity for growth afforded.

Thank goodness an arbitrator has ruled that these 75 teachers were "improperly terminated" so maybe they'll have a second chance. I can tell you from experience that second chances can be the ticket to finding an educator who is committed to the profession, who is willing to do whatever it takes to make a difference to children. I know - because that very teacher is me.

I was not evaluated in any way during my first year. But I can tell you I would've been the first on Michelle Rhee's hit list had I worked for her. I wasn't comfortable in my own skin as a teacher, 22 years old and teaching high school seniors. The year was so tough I resigned at the end of it and didn't return for seven years. And I found upon my return that age hadn't improved my classroom management skills. I was, in fact, evaluated during that year, and there were some "below standard" markings on that final evaluation.

But I didn't get fired.

I got help.

First I found myself an unofficial mentor, a teaching wizard across the hall who held children's attention like he was a rock star. I watched everything he did and emulated every move he made. To this day, I pull from things he taught me, catching myself thinking of his words during classroom situations somewhat like we hear our parents' voices from long ago: "Don't run with scissors," "Look both ways before crossing the street."

The next year I had a real live "official" mentor, and I was at her classroom door daily with every "What do I do?" and "Do you have this?" and "How can I make that better?" that I could conjure up.

Fast forward thirty years, and you'll find a teacher who just may have made an impact on a kid or two (and on a teacher or two for that matter.) So....what if I had been fired? Would it have made a difference? Who would've taught Juanita to read? Who would be taking money, right now, to a student in jail who I haven't taught in five years?

I wish we could look in our crystal teacher apple and see how these 75 teachers turn out. But we can't. What we can do is support them in every way possible, provide exemplary mentoring for them, ensure they have all the resources they need, and give them opportunities to develop over time...in short, show them the LOVE.

Today, Valentine's Day, my principal bought red velvet cupcakes for every staff member in the school. In our mailboxes we found candy and a note that read, "Happy Valentine's Day. I love you and Peace."

I wish love and peace to Michelle Rhee as she practices her "tough" version of school reform. I just hope she doesn't continue to destroy young teachers in her path as she goes. So to her I have to ask, Hey Michelle, where is the LOVE?

1 comment:

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cindi---I was bowled over when I was handed a contract to sign after my first year. I had no control (but neither did the other two "veterans" at my grade level--it was a "unique" group) and I was 30 and a parent. However, over the past 20+ years I've gotten help and grown.

I think your question is great. Where IS the love?