Trying To Teach Through A Walkout

Today is Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The educator walkout that started last Thursday has persisted, and will also be happening tomorrow (Wednesday May 2). Educators are seeking smaller class sizes, better equipment and higher salaries. This is not a communist movement, and we are not interested in legalizing marijuana. 

As the Advanced Placement Examinations approach, I know that students are getting nervous. They want to succeed in passing the exam and earn high marks in the process. I thought that I would be able to mitigate the effect of the walkout by meeting with students. The idea was to be on campus and allow students to come in and work at their own pace. I have a small file cabinet filled with test materials (many released AP questions that have to remain secure and should not leave the room). 

My classes use a program of personalized learning in which students are allowed to study their mistakes on a primary summative exam, correct their thinking and then “show me they know the material” by taking another exam with similar but distinct questions. I also have students work through a series of practice tests to help them prepare for their AP exams. 

Students frequently show up to work on campus, even when we are not dealing with something as extraordinary as this walkout. I am not aware of a single problem involving our students, whose focus while on campus during these times is to learn. I know that many students have been on campus during the walkout, and no harm has befallen our dilapidated infrastructure. 

However, District Office managers (1010) with help from the security guards who did not walk out in support of educators cut short my effort to help students continue work on their understanding of economics in spite of the walkout. 

Today, as I have done twice previously during the walkout, and many other times before the walkout began, I opened gates and doors so that students could enter the building. Without telling me, a security guard re-locked the gates and doors. When I asked the responsible security guard what he was doing, at first he ignored me. Then, when I called out to him a third time, with contempt, he said,  “I am just doing my job.” The sad fact is that he was pleased to be locking students out and preventing them from learning. 

I should note that my effort was being provided to students at no cost to students and without violating the spirit of the walkout. I was not there as an employee. I was there as an advocate for, and an educator of my students. I was not trying to minimize the effect of the walkout, except to help make sure my students were confident in their ability to take upcoming rigorous, external exams. 

Nevertheless, TUSD saw fit to stop these meetings from happening. For those students who were able to attend these learning sessions, the sessions were outstanding. I saw students who wanted to be there, and we all had a good time while at the same time we deepened our knowledge of economics. 

I am disappointed and angry with an administrative decision made miles away from where good things were happening that gave power to ignorance and fear, and stripped me and fellow educators of the ability to be there for students when they could really use the help. 

I see that on tonight’s TUSD Board Agenda there is an item about how TUSD can respect educators. Here is my advice to our Board: How about giving us the tools that we need, assigning us a reasonable, pedagogically defensible number of students to educate, and then getting out of our way and letting us teach? 

The best question I ever heard an administrator ask was, “What do you need?” I have never heard that from 1010. Instead, I hear nothing but mandates and orders from people I have never met, that often make little or no sense, especially when coupled with large class sizes and poor equipment bestowed upon us educators. 

This educator-led grass-roots walkout we are experiencing is primarily directed at state leadership that has failed for too long in recognizing the financial needs of students, families and educators. But let us not forget the role that our local school districts have played in this. 

I predict that Round Two of the fight for a positive learning environment will be against the school districts that allowed the state to ignore our needs for so long, and, at least from what I saw today, encourage passive aggression toward our students and us educators. 

Those students willing to show up and learn on days when they do not have to be there should be rewarded for their commitment to their learning. Instead, we turn them away. This is a sad day. 

I hope that our leaders will restore education in Arizona to its proper place, and remove the impediments that get in our way as we strive to do our best.