An introduction, and invitation
Those are good questions. I’m still trying to figure out the answers. But here’s a start…
I’m Sabrina. I went into teaching for an increasingly common reason: I believed that there were too many “bad teachers” teaching in our neediest schools, and as a smart, passionate person with an elite liberal arts education, I wanted to be part of The Solution. Equipped with several years of experience teaching and running educational programs in low-income communities, practice and substitute teaching experience in an independent school, research credits, undergraduate- and graduate-level coursework in educational psychology, theory, policy, and practice, and a full teacher’s license, I began my first experience as a classroom teacher in a low-performing school.
I was not prepared for the experience that followed.
The last two years of my life have been a whirlwind of experiences–some rewarding, many stressful, some downright scary — culminating in my being “non-renewed for cause” (a sterile way of saying, “after this year, you’re banned from our entire organization”; the alleged “cause” was never actually stated) for using research to guide my instructional decisions, and for speaking out against problems I witnessed while working in this particular school. This, after I’d already resigned as of the end of the school year.
I would never have believed some of what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced during my two years as a teacher in this “failing” school, had I not seen, heard, and experienced them.
I would never have questioned the dominant narrative about education reform, had I not directly experienced its shortcomings, and grown attached to the actual children caught in the middle of this debate.
Every profession has its laggards, and teaching is no different. But I’ve met and worked with too many wonderful, well-qualified, committed educators in these kinds of schools to continue believing that “bad teachers” are the main problem facing failing schools. My experiences have led me to suspect that failing schools do not continue to exist because they’re overrun with bad teachers, but because of the problematic, bizarre, and just plain bad situations in which many smart, capable people find themselves.
Yet, outside of books and magazines written by and for teachers, it’s pretty rare to hear directly from the people inside these schools.
I believe that schools cannot truly succeed unless practitioners and students own the solutions to the problem of “failure”. This will never happen when their (our!) voices are largely absent from serious public conversations about the problems currently facing our most troubled schools. My goal is to help create and promote a space in which those most directly involved in these situations– the teachers and other professionals who educate children, and (when possible) the students being educated– can share their experiences of what it’s really like to work and learn in a “failing” school, and begin to unpack and challenge the rhetorical and systemic tools that prevent them from using their professional expertise and personal knowledge to move their educational communities forward.
I cannot possibly do this alone. Join me!