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Newark has become my second home this year. Amongst the fanfare of FaceBook money and the Booker/Christie coalition, I began working with a small school in its second year. The state-controlled district has a 22% graduation rate. This has led to an enormous amount bureaucracy. I leave every visit learning more about the immediate school community as well as what it means to be a teacher in the Newark Public Schools.

 

The school has a total of eight teachers--art, English, math, physical education, science, social studies, Spanish, and special education. Each teacher is their own department. Four are teaching for the first time this year.

 

My initial plan of action for teachers was to visit their classrooms. I then sat down with each one and learned about their journey to teaching and their educational philosophy. Each teacher set goals for themselves and for their students.

 

Together we have gone through full day professional developments, more observations, demo lessons and lots of conversations. Over 90% of the teachers want to get better. They are open to feedback and are willing to try new things. The math teacher immediately applies every suggestion. The English teacher appreciates every adjustment mentioned for his written lesson plan. The history teacher uses the resources for his struggling readers.

 

Yet, I'm not seeing the progress. Highlights are limited and sporadic. I'm frustrated.

 

Our last professional development was focused on curriculum development. At the beginning of the session the principal clarified that the school was not bound to the district's scope and sequence. One of the bureaucratic policies of Newark is the standardized scope and sequence. Every content area has scripted lessons that are connected to standardized midterm and final assessments. The data is collected, analyzed and given back to principals as a tool to make their schools better. The school has received a 'pass' to develop their own curriculum. Yes, students still have to pass the New Jersey state math and English exam but the way to get there was in the hands of the teachers and school community.

 

The reaction to this statement: Silence...

 

We continued.

 

We discussed backwards design and what makes good essential questions and objectives. They then went to work on creating and documenting their units of study for a course. As the teachers opened their laptops and headed to the computers, the questions begin. As I answered each one and provide targeted feedback, I'm having my own professional development. I'm noticing the missing link. It's not from lack of desire or inability, it’s lack of practice.

 

Even if these teachers had been exposed to curriculum development in their master’s classes, they never had to practice it. In the world of mandates, continuous learning is not fostered. The district has been creating soldiers who will assume a state of mind of conformity.

 

I’m not sure if the district realizes they have created complacent soldiers. Instead of fighting to have their professional voices heard and respected, these teachers have assumed that their voices are muted, put their heads down and went on automatic.

 

I left the training on Saturday with a new perspective of the work. An environment of learning needs to be established in this school not just for students but also for adults.The school needs to create a professional learning community that encourages continuous learning and reflection even when the district doesn’t ask for it.

 

The principal and I are scheduling instructional rounds and looking for ways for the teachers to make connections to their content area colleagues in other schools. I’m hopeful I won’t be frustrated anymore.

 

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