Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Open Letter to Uppity Urban Charter Schools or Numbers on a Page

Dear Uppity Urban Charter Schools,

It has come to my attention that most of you will not give me or my resume the time of day because you have insanely high standards for both your students and your faculty. This is wonderful, but disingenuous at best. Allow me to explain.

The State of New Jersey requires its teachers to have a 2.75 GPA in order to be certified by the state. I am certified by the state. My GPA as an undergrad was a 2.75. Most of you require your teachers to have a 3.0 GPA as an undergrad. Therefore, though I am qualified to teach and state certified, you people deem me sub par because of my undergrad GPA. Because of the numbers on a page.

Those numbers, my dear would be constituents, lack context. Those numbers do not tell you how much adversity I had to overcome to get that GPA and graduate from college. They don't tell you that I worked three jobs to keep myself in school. They don't tell you how my dad left; gave up and walked out years ago for sheer lack of interest. They don't tell you how my mother struggles with mental illness and that she had a nervous breakdown and moved across the country to get better. She left me in my dorm room with all of my worldly possessions. The rest of the stuff was tossed when we got evicted from the apartment, a step down from the house that we lost due to foreclosure. Foreclosure that came when my mom stopped fighting. When the reality of being followed, trailed and watched by the police because of my brother's drug peddling became too much. When the memory of having our house raided by police was too dark, when the funds to keep bailing my brother out of jail drained her of the energy to do simple tasks like get out of bed.

I could go on, but you have proven that you aren't interested in the reasons why my GPA as an undergrad was just average. You also don't seem to care that my GPA in graduate school was a 3.5. None of this is interesting to you because you are fixated on the numbers on my 10 page transcript featuring my name and social security number.

So, fine. Hire the Teach for America kids whose only knowledge about poverty is theoretical. Teach for America, like you Uppity Urban Charter Schools, only selects the best of the best from Ivy league or Ivy-league wannabe colleges and universities. TFA kids have no clue what they are signing up for when they apply. I also applied to Teach for America, buy the way. They didn't want me. Probably because of my GPA.

My knowledge of poverty and struggle is very real. I have lived it. As a matter of fact, I have lived below the poverty line my entire life. I'll be 25 on Sunday. These are obstacles I overcame to become the person I am today. I understand FIRST HAND what these kids are going through. I didn't learn about their situations from a book or in a teacher prep class. Their story is my story. That one of the reasons I became an educator in the first place. I knew I could be an example for some kid who was feeling hopeless because of his or her circumstance. I felt this way once and I had teachers who helped me through it.

This is not, however, the chance you are willing to afford me because of my undergraduate GPA. Have fun finding someone who is willing to tirelessly devote all of their love and energy to your students and their education with no interest in how it looks on their resume for future job prospects.


Nina J Davidson

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Educational Leadership or What's God Got to Do With It?

In the light of having some very promising interviews not work out because of issues with the right fit, I am left to ponder the value of educational leadership. I have worked in both the private and public school sectors and I fully comprehend the politics of the process. No one said it would be fair, but I understand how it works. Educational leadership has the ability to make or break this process.

In the instance of the school where I did my first year of teaching, the educational leadership is poor, at best. He, unfortunately, has the final say in everything. I say "unfortunately" because the decision of this man do not serve the greatest, highest good of the students. As it is an independent school, the institution would crumble without the students whose parents pay tuition for their children to be prepped for college. Sadly, there are public schools surrounding this particular school that do a better job in this area. Allow me to explain.

The school does not have a media center. That's right. No media center and no books. In short, no library for the upper school. It has one computer lab with about 15 computers. All of the software licenses have expired and there is simply "no room in the budget" to buy the programs. (They were originally running by less than savory means of appropriation.) There are no computers or instructional technology in any of the classrooms. Students do not know how to perform simple tasks like saving items to the desktop or saving a document to a flash drive. The school does not have ANY people of color on the faculty save for one; the Spanish teacher who was recently demoted in order to make room for a current faculty member's sister to teach in her place. I could go on, but somehow I think you're starting to get the picture.

What the school does have, however, is a brand new sprinkler system in the baseball field, a brand new fence around the perimeter of the property. It has recently acquired real estate on an adjacent street. The purpose of this purchase is unknown. The sports teams have new uniforms...

The point I am trying to make is that the school is a college preparatory school where little to no money/effort is going into prepping the students for college. This is because of the current educational leadership in place. Don't get me wrong, the kids are getting into some incredible schools. You can attribute their success to the woman in charge of College Counseling.

I was never prepped for college. As a matter of fact, I did all of my applications myself because my guidance counselor was in Russian adopting a baby and the others were too busy with their own kids to help me out. The difference? I went to a vocational school where college prep was never a priority. I made it in college because I had to. Failure was never an option for me because I knew what was waiting for me at home and I was fortunate enough to have a support system around me at school that would not allow me to falter.

I love the students I worked with last year. ADORED them. (Still do) Everything I did, I did for them. I spent money, I spent time. I hounded the ones who wanted to give up and made them do better because I saw potential in them when they refused to realize it in themselves. I would do anything for these kids, which is, I think, the attitude any educator should adapt. I would not have a job without them. I love what I do because of them. I want, more than anything, to be instrumental in their success.

I can not say the same for the leadership in place. All he cares about is sports. Sad, but ever so true. You may think I am standing on a soap box here, but the guy doesn't care about anything but the students making it on the front page of the sports section. Prime example, students at the school have a sports requirement. Each and every one of them is required to play on a sports team to fulfill the physical education requirement. I understand school children need to be physically active, but what about their brains? Don't they need intellectual stimulation as well?

I will not be returning to this school in the fall due to a standstill in negotiations. Little did I know, there was no room for negotiation in this process. (When I asked more compensation, which came out to $71 a week, I was met with a letter basically telling me 'good luck' in finding another job.) Today, I received the following letter from said ed leader:

Dear Nina,

Please continue to aggressively pursue your other teaching/employment options. You have a very impressive resumé and I would welcome the opportunity to add my letter of recommendation or speak directly to those who are seriously considering your credentials. You did an outstanding job for us last year at D.A. Let’s stay open to the possibility of our working together again in the future.

All that said, I wanted you to know as soon as we knew that we have filled the “Humanities, etc” position with a CS&A “rookie” from Bates College. He is very familiar with the preparatory school expectations as a graduate from Kent. He also has an appreciation for the value of athletics as leader in swimming at Kent and rowing at Bates.

I believe very strongly that God holds all of us in his His hands and that you and D.A. will continue to receive and be a conduit for his grace wherever and however it works out. Thanks for your investments in D.A. You are always welcome here!


Case in point. The new humanities teacher is a stellar athlete. He will, no doubt, be exploiting him for this while simultaneously pushing academics further into the corner.

I will continue to be available for my students despite the fact that I am not longer a faculty member. I lost a bet to one of them and I am, therefore, obligated to be at his basketball games for the entire season. Just because I am not working there, does not mean I am going to let the kid down. He has had enough of that both at home and at school. I refuse to be another adult who disappoints him. I know how that feels and I will not do that to him, or any of them.