Friday, March 7, 2014

Teaching in New Orleans

I should have started my blog with writing about WHY it exists. I have been on an intense journey over the last three years of teaching in various schools in the city. I have been hard-pressed to find blogs from other teachers in this city (although I have found an exceptional Slideshare page of a teacher in Jefferson Parish!) whether of a personal nature or of sharing and providing resources. I thought it about time that I compile any and all things about teaching in New Orleans into my own blog.

My journey began when I was hired to work as an associate fourth grade teacher at a charter school that was under new management. This school proved to be based on the KIPP model and was very regimented, controlled and rigorous. Despite having worked with children for years before, I found myself struggling to keep up with the demands of the administrators of the school and was moved to be an associate kindergarten teacher. My area of certification is in 9-12 English, and I found this transition to early elementary to be very difficult. Let it be noted that if you are not trained to teach in early elementary education, it is in the children's best interest that you not teach it. To teach early elementary you must know and do a lot, and I discovered that without that background in early elementary, I struggled throughout that year. Children come into the New Orleans schools with little to no preschool knowledge, making it more difficult to "close the achievement gap". During that year, I watched the achievement gap open when my co-teacher flubbed reading scores for children and skipped whole steps in learning reading skills, leaving 2/3 of our kindergartners ending the school year below grade level expectations. This, coupled with the incestuous relationships between charter school management organizations and the organizations that evaluate them, led me to wonder and investigate the schools in the city and apply for my next job with much more skepticism.

As an uncertified teacher with no experience in her grade level or content area, I didn't have my choice of jobs for the next year. Just a matter of days before the start of the school year (and weeks of phone tag with the school's principal) I landed a job teaching sixth and seventh grade English at a Recovery School District school. The teaching pendulum, so to speak, swung to the opposite side. The school where I taught had a terrible reputation and there had been a staff overhaul that year. That overhaul found the school with a less-than-competent instructional coach, a showboat of a principal and teachers left to a myriad of methods in attempting to get students to pass the LEAP. The lack of structure was shocking but left me free to figure out exactly what the students needed and I finally began to learn how to teach English. Despite the reputation of the school, those were the best bunch of students that I've had to date.

Ending that year with such a lack of structure, support and general work ethic led me to apply to teach at the high school level. Remember, my certification area was originally 9-12, however this process has taken me so long that they now no longer provide that certification. It is only in English 6-12. I am still not sure if my certification will be amended once I finish.

This year I teach ninth grade English. While the school and administration are, despite coworker's complaints, a well-oiled machine, I have learned even more still about the student population that I teach. While I still teach in Orleans parish and in a primarily Black school, there is great diversity in the ability of the students. Now that my questioning of my ability has started to stabilize, my questioning of the school system, students and families has begun.

This blog is a place for me to write about experiences in the schools, opportunities for parents to learn about what is going on in the schools, a place to tell the story about the school system for all of the many new teachers who are or will transplant to New Orleans and attempt to affect a system has been broken long before any of us got here.

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