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Getting, keeping teachers a concern

Justin Willson

Justin Willson

In his 1903 book, “The Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B DuBois spent two chapters sketching the results of sociological work completed during a recent trip. He had at last come down from Atlanta to Albany-Dougherty County, which he termed the “Egypt of the South.” But unlike Moses, he boarded the train back north without a clear sense of how to go about the reform which he saw was so badly needed.

His greatest departing burden is still our greatest today: How do we attract young, bright minds to teach and redirect this county’s rising generation?

When starting out, I was told by a specialist that most beginners flag in the fourth or fifth year and start eyeing another career. I am sad to say that while speaking the other day with several teachers of whom I have the highest admiration (and have had the unfortunate honor of writing recommendations for), I found this was true. One is less surprised than distressed by their reasons.

An article appearing this past fall in the Graduate School Magazine of UGA gets to the heart of the matter. As the title states,” America’s creativity crisis looms large.” The writer goes on to explain a concern among many educators, which is that of my colleagues who have suffered a quashing of intellectual passion, as have their students. Indeed the homogenizing force at work in schools promises to do away with the dialogue in which a balance is struck between intellectual interests. Yet this is precisely the point at which emerge the higher levels of conscious life, of which DuBois spoke so plangently.

Diversity in all its modes is the categorical baseline of creativity and productivity, whether in the natural or cultural world. It must be preserved at every formal and substantial level in academics. Otherwise, we run the risk of flooding the market of the educational world with a standardized product. This is as much to say that we risk losing the rarity which underlies our spectrum of value. It is thoroughly ironic that in our age of increasingly liberal academics, primary and secondary systems have bought into structures of standardization which historically in America have been at odds with the rising classes.

I, for one, am sure that I have failed as a teacher when my students come out talking like a standardized test. Sensitivity to matters of poetics is incommensurable with the mental posture of test-taking. Similar arguments could be made in other disciplines, for example, the saturation of the senses in historical memory or the descriptive work that precedes mathematical intuition.

An undue privilege is being afforded reflective knowledge. It is almost like valuing the pianist less because he cannot explain how to build his instrument. Much of the richness of intellectual life is lived on an aesthetic and (dare one say it?) subconscious level.

If in our wont to place a value on everything, we must also tag the educational “experience” of each student, then let it be the immeasurable price of human freedom. Young minds are especially apt at withdrawing from the commercial and political forces that haunt their seniors. Apt, that is, in the presence of a truly gifted teacher who is trusted to do his or her work.

It is likely that talk about trust will come across as passé (or downright stupid, considering the recent record of DCSS) in our hyper-skeptical world. Today every responsibility stands or falls by the apologetics of data. Yet accepting this as due process runs a great risk.

Learning is among those precious few human experiences which, like death and love, cannot be gazed at too steadily. Like looking at the sun, as the old proverb says. At a certain point, reflection upon it becomes compatible only with blindness, or even death.

So we might explain the aggravated situation of many of our schools. Having it hard to begin with, the support has been quite crippling, and not a few of the finest teachers are ready to walk out and restore their vigor. We can only hope that the new board has something like the divining rod of Moses.

Whatever changes at the district office are effected and however important the question of a new superintendent is, I think a more worthy and lasting concern is what we can do to get 30-something applicants per teaching vacancy.

Justin Willson is an English teacher at Dougherty High School in Albany.

Comments

Sister_Ruby 1 year, 2 months ago

....say........whaaaa???............................???

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MRKIA 1 year, 2 months ago

FOR THE LIFE OF ME I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY THIS GUY TORTURES US READERS WITH HIS SADISTIC USE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. AND HE CALLS HIMSELF AN EDUCATOR. RIGHT, "HIS' EDUCATION. JUSTIN, LEARN HOW TO TEACH.

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RedEric 1 year, 2 months ago

"America's creativity crisis looms large". And what, brave soul, is the spark of creativity? It sure ain't regulations, the welfare state or total government control. The spark is need and freedom.

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Ihope4albany 1 year, 2 months ago

Thank you Justin for your courageous peace and piece here. Our nation is in an educational crisis because it still struggles against fully accepting diversity. Diversity is what makes the intellectual and academic process most enriching. Clearly from some of these responses, we see a diversity crisis where if one does not have the capacity to appreciate what is presented, criticism is the response.

The bulk of regulations in the modern educational system began after integration and the flight of whites from the public school system. We can see that here in Albany-Dougherty.

As the first and last sentences in "The Afterthought" of The Souls of Black Folk read, "Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born into the world wilderness.....Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed.

The world's greatest sociologist visited Albany to let us know that if we did not deal with diversity in education, there would come a time such as where we are now.

May God help us with the mess we have created down here.

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 2 months ago

So....you're saying you need more whites in DoCo schools for things to education to improve for everyone? That's the only possible conclusion to draw from your statements.

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waltspecht 1 year, 2 months ago

No, what is being said is that Teachers need to be fully trained and able to teach their subjects to students who are willing to learn. Teachers have been made Administrators, doing more paperwork every day. From Lunch applications to record keeping for both diversity and some numbers crunchers. The problem is the demand for Teachers, good Teachers has far outstripped the supply. In the early sixties, to even get a Substitute Teacher's License in New York City you had to have an in field degree, pass a written test evaluating your basic knowledge and subject specific knowledge. Then a panel interview comprised of four Teachers and an Administrator from your field. If you passed all that you were assigned a Class lesson and presented to an actual class in the system while two Administrators evaluated you. I was an Industrial Arts Teacher (Shop) I can only imagine how hard the academic Instructor evaluation was in comparison to mine. Look, whether you admit it or not, there are many students currently in the system that have no business being there. There are many Teachers that are similarly challenged and shouldn't be teaching. Until this is addressed, the problems will continue.

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Ihope4albany 1 year, 2 months ago

He who has ears, let him hear. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

As a country that keeps running from its unresolved past, the data and literature reveal that after the 1954 landmark case, Brown vs. the Board of Education, the U.S. Department of Education, began to develop policies that have literally undermined the ability of the public school system to have success. It was not by accident either. Just like HUD and the Department of Agriculture, these federal agencies all have institutional histories of overt discrimination and racism.

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 2 months ago

So if these institution say "we're sorry", can we stop handing out a TRILLION DOLLARS A YEAR in handouts and everybody get off their asses and get to work? ihope, you need to get your own house in order too. What are you doing about that? Or is blaming everything and everybody else your primary reason for living? Why not work on the REAL reason that Blacks are 400 percent higher in entitlements per capita than any other demographic in the USA. Could that be because of the kind of thinking that you espouse......that they are owed something because of what happened to their great, great, great grandfather?

Trying to arficially "fix" past injustices (real or imagined) results in only one thing: injustice. Because it seeks to punish those who had nothing to do with what happened 100 years ago, and rewards those who had nothing to do with what happened 100 years ago. Further, it gives certain people today an excuse for sitting around with their hands out (1 Trillion dollars a year in welfare in its thousands of forms) instead of making something of themselves with the freedoms they how have. Finally, failure to follow sound financial principles in loaning money etc to people who could otherwise not afford it in a forced initiative to "end discrimination" as Bill Clinton, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac did........only results in the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression when all these loans are defaulted.

But well I guess that doesn't fit your Black Liberation Theology view of history and current events so I'm pretty sure I've wasted my time.

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LoneCycler 1 year, 2 months ago

The only thing one can surmise from W.E.B Dubois writing about his visit to Albany in 1903 is that he found the city and county in shambles from a civil war that was over almost a half century in the past and that he didn’t like Jewish people very much. Fast forward 109 years and many educated black people (even the president) still have a problem with Israel and everyone that lives there and Albany and Dougherty County is still in shambles. The term “diversity” in all its modes can mean anything at all, from establishing Ebonics as a valid form of language for black students, to considering assimilation of people into productive capitalist American culture as the equivalent of racism, to the idea that children in schools should be told that their parent’s beliefs in what is right and wrong is meaningless drivel founded only on their personal prejudice and their sub-standard education. Reflective knowledge is that which people use to earn a living in a capitalist society. After all, nobody listens to a piano player very long who only knows how to play chopsticks. Animal knowledge, the kind being advanced here, is the kind used by failed academics attempting to live the life of the mind by submitting opinion articles to the local newspaper and claiming the subconscious gratification that results from that is the fount of true happiness. Let’s hope those departing teachers find a better place to work and better people to work with than this self-centered know-it-all who knows nothing. If this is the best example DCSS can put in the newspaper it’s little wonder anyone that can afford it sends their child to private school.

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 2 months ago

WOW LoneCycler, your best post ever. The poster "ihope4albany" needs to attend your classes for about 20 years to get straightened out. I'd say about 20 years should do it for them.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

"Learning is among those precious few human experiences which, like death and love, cannot be gazed at too steadily. Like looking at the sun, as the old proverb says. At a certain point, reflection upon it becomes compatible only with blindness, or even death." Intellectually that is so dull it hardly requires any thought to dismiss it. Education is discovery and at it's best it is exciting and fun discovery developing from within an individual or a group of individuals as a result of a relationship with a change agent (teacher). There is nothing so much as seeing a fourth grade child leap for joy when she discovers and announces to the class " multiplication is just an easy way to add." The sad part is her teacher didn't know that. And that is the sadness of education in Dougherty County (and I'm sure elsewhere). People in education have known the path and direction. The problem is the process is mired in politics, stupid voters not understanding the value of education and also the purpose. Get(pay) good teachers, drop the number of kids in a class room, cut out waste on administrative bureaucracy, reposition athletics and watch things happen. Stop forcing teachers to teach crap like prayer, creationism and voodoo. This is not complicated and it is not too late. It will require resources to be recalculated and commitment. It's sheer nonsense to sit around and ask introverted and esoteric questions about the validity of variety and the reason for air. Just breathe.

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MisterEd 1 year, 2 months ago

"Stop forcing teachers to teach crap like prayer, creationism, and voodoo."

Seriously? What planet did you come from, and how long have you been visiting? The only places that "crap", as you call it, is taught would be in private schools. Which by the way have much higher test scores and brighter students, than the public system. And I suppose that you must be "enlightened" since you think that the Creation story is crap. Must have messed up your dinosaur party.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

Well, MisterEd, I see you are braying now rather than talking. No, you didn't mess up my dinosaur party. In fact I just got back from Drumheller, Canada visiting the The Royal Tyrrell palaeontology museum. Thousands of fossils and dinosaur skelton - real ones no less - that are millions of years old. You cannot teach folks untruths and expect them to be educated. Test scores higher from what schools? Compare the scores of top 25% at any private school to top 25% of Lee County.

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Ihope4albany 1 year, 2 months ago

Well what about some Greek Mythology and the story of Pandora's Box. While mythical in origin, it is applicable to us here. Someone opened a modern day Pandora's Box that unleashed untold evil upon this world for centuries. Albany-Dougherty is a recipient of some of these evils and the subsequent evils spawned whether people want to accept it or not.

But all hope is not lost, just like in Pandora's Box. Perhaps someone will take heart, undertake some archeological expeditions, and find that modern day box of Pandora and unleash what was left inside.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

Well what about it? If you reason that it has value as a mythological story but can be a learning tool fine. If however you believe your remark that "someone opened a modern day Pandora's Box that unleashed untold evil upon this world for centuries." If you believe that you are a fool.

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