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Policies, ethics, and difficult choices.

I am interning in a school with a large percentage of former students working in it.  Teachers, Special Education aides, coaches, and even our principal, are alumni of this ninety-year-old high school.   I attend all the regular staff meetings plus the staff meetings that are for new teachers (and interns).  I am interested to learn how everything works in the public school system and in this school in particular.  What makes it different from private schools and how do policies get adopted, changed, or abandoned?  Why do so many alumni of this school come back here to teach?

This is my first experience teaching in public schools.   Before now I taught in private schools overseas.  They are usually referred to as International Schools, though there are so many different rules and regulations depending on what country one is in that there really is no system to them.  Most are privately owned and run and the owners can and do determine policy with no input from teachers, who come and go on short-term contracts.  The administrators are there to enforce the policies.  Policy makers (owners), administration, and teachers working as a team is sometimes possible but more often than not teamwork is neither expected nor striven for.

In our staff meetings since the very beginning of the year I found an amazing amount of respect and goodwill between the administration at my school and the teachers.  Teachers felt as if administration had the same goals they did: student learning.  The teachers I have observed at this school have been professional and caring toward their students.  As with most teachers, they work long hours that include nights, weekends, holidays, and summer breaks to make sure their students get the best they have to offer.  Administration asks for feedback from teachers and teachers seem to welcome the observations and feedback they get from the administration team.  There is goodwill on both sides.

This school year might have strained that goodwill but miraculously has not.  This year, teachers have determined that it is unethical for them to administer a test required by the school district and have respectfully refused to do it.  http://scrapthemap.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/scrap-the-map-forum-at-the-university-of-washington/  Teachers were threatened with consequences by the district and many feared for their jobs.  Still, they stuck to what they believed was the ethical choice.  Finally, the administration team was ordered to administer the test, which they did.  The way the situation was handled seemed to this outsider destined to create cracks in the smooth workings of the school.  It has not done that.  Administrators respect teachers’ decisions and understand that teachers had the students’ best interests in mind when they took their stand.  Teachers have supported the administrators in doing what they were obligated to do by the district (administer the test).  The fact that this school still maintains its focus on the students makes me feel more optimistic about our public school system.  This school’s students know that their teachers care about them and as the research shows, that one fact is more important than whether a teacher is experienced, has advanced subject knowledge, or is even up to date on current teaching techniques.  The teachers, administrators, and students in this school work hard at maintaining a positive learning community.  No wonder so many graduates come back to work here.

~ by anitawesto on February 23, 2013.