Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Tokyo subway and a CNMI classroom

The education commissioner takes a lot of heat. I don't know enough about how he does things to offer my thoughts on him personally, I'm not a principal, but he has always been cordial with me. I think he's doing his best and what he thinks is right. It's public record that two of the board members don't like him and didn't vote for him. The Variety editorial page has been harsh with him. He has instituted some policies that not all principals like -- so I've been told. He is also in an impossibly difficult situation with the state of the island's economy, and more so, the island's cultural aversion to accountability. The implementation of Praxis could have been handled better, but ultimately, don't you want your teachers to pass a basic skills test like doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants and other professionals? I know I'm in the minority on that viewpoint among teachers, at least the vocal ones, but that is how I feel. Doreen Tudela admitted stealing thousands of dollars as a school principal and hasn't been fired yet. That is what I mean by accountability.

Right now some fairly radical plans are being implemented. Principals will be teaching classes. Coordinators and specialists are teaching classes as well. Naturally, I suspect principals and coordinators will be getting the best students with the least disciplinary problems. Principals are overworked and essentially exploited here, this isn't a knock on them. But it is wrong to push veteran, entrenched teachers aside and out of their classes to make room for this plan, as I know and suspect is and will be happening. A coordinator is being brought in to teach AP History and AP Government at my school. I know him, I like him, he's a good man. I'm sure he is a good teacher, but he shouldn't be taking all the AP classes. After four years with seniors, I'm being forced to teach freshman -- something I find appalling. A new teacher was brought in to teach my seniors. This lack of respect for seniority is vulgar. If conditions allowed, like if I found out about this last year, I'd quit -- or at least transfer. Another veteran teacher at my school is being pushed out of his chemistry class for a newcomer. These things send a terrible message. They destroy already low morale and they are simply unfair.

A news story indicates the student/teacher ratio is 24:1. That number is no doubt technically accurate. It is also misleading. The typical CNMI classroom is more crowded than the Tokyo subway at rush hour during an Ichiro Suzuki autograph session. I doubt most of us have as few as 24 in our class. I had 32, 32 and 27 last year in language arts classes. That 24:1 ratio is skewed by special education, which has a very low ratio, and perhaps things like computer classes. In addition, some schools, like GTC, are significantly less crowded, while some schools are significantly more crowded-- notably the middle schools. My experiences as a teacher and parent with a child in the schools tell me that the massive overcrowding in the middle schools at a difficult age causes immense problems. There are inequities between schools. My colleague Angie Wheat wrote about this issue.

Education isn't valued here at all. I routinely see parents try to stop their kids from going to college, which boggles the mind. Parents and students all over seem more concerned with "passing" than learning, which is why college degrees -- even graduate degrees -- have been demeaned and diminished. In fact all education is grade focused, not learning focused. People will find out eventually if you're competent. Your diploma won't convince them otherwise.

The economy is in shambles with our flawed model, so none of this is surprising. In today's world in a first world economy, being educated isn't a luxury, it is a necessity for any type of quality of life. There simply is no excuse to cramming your children like sardines into dilapidated facilities, while we have an obscene abundance of elected officials with too much discretionary money, other wasteful bureaucracies that don't need to exist like the municipal councils, and a ridiculous public relations firm and lobbyist being paid thousands of dollars for things we could do ourselves or shouldn't be trying to do anyway. We are all to blame for this depressing mess. We are failing our children as a community and we should be embarrassed about that.

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