Speaking up for the overwhelmed

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The presenter for the Charlotte Danielson Group, a tall, capable and engaging former principal, woke me up briefly at Danielson professional development (PD) meeting #57 (or so) as she reached out to her audience. I wrote down her words on a blue Post-It note.

“Anyone who feels you’re overwhelmed, you are in the right spot. That’s the nature of teaching,” she said.

Eduhonesty: Danielson’s presenter knows her material and she knows teaching. I found myself participating in a zero-interest PD, scrawling ideas on poster paper and talking to “elbow partners” and small group members about implementing Danielson’s framework. I wonder how that presenter would have behaved if she had known, as she coached us cheerily through that PD, that a number of attendees had just been purged from the district. She was speaking to the walking dead, people who had been told the day before that they no longer worked for the district, the result of a deal between the district and the state I have been told. I have not confirmed the latter, but I would not be surprised. We are a district at the end of No Child Left Behind failures, subject to sanctions that include even firing the whole teaching staff of the district.

The presenter was right about that overwhelmed part. I kept scanning the room, looking at lost and lonely faces, the teachers who were obediently killing time before they went off to look for new positions over Spring Break. Some faces were absent, of course. Not all the walking dead decided to sit through another bout of Danielson. In spare minutes, colleagues talked to me indignantly about their lost jobs. I’m not going to go into details at the moment, but I felt truly angry for some of my young colleagues, many of whom were feeling angry for their fallen comrades. Still, one advantage of age has to be a sense of perspective. In this context, losing a job may be a piece of extremely good luck. After all, this is the humane and sensitive district that fired a large chunk of its teaching staff right before a required PD about the evaluation system used to push those same staff members out, and then expected those non-renewed teachers to attend that evaluation PD, before sending them off to enjoy their spring break.

Overwhelmed? Oh, yeah.

And the scary part may be that the Danielson presenter could be right: This may simply be the nature of teaching in an academically-disadvantaged school district in these times.