I am so focused on letting teacher voices be heard, so that we can fix the real problems that have cheated a generation of children out of the education they deserve, that I am very careful not to divert from that message. In these blog posts I go out of my way to avoid the constant temptation to write personal messages. Only once so far (a thank-you to four special people last year) have I made an exception. Well, today marks the second, and hopefully last exception. But last week, when M. Shannon Hernandez wrote the foreword to the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education, I was so stunned by how accurately she captured the forces and passions that drive teachers like me to speak out, that I am honored to share her words here.
Shannon gets it! It’s about teacher voices being heard. It’s about focusing on the real issues – not the intentional misdirection and false claim that it’s all about “…bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers.” It’s about a generation of children, and what we’ve stolen from them. It’s about how we can actually begin to fix this. It’s about more and more teachers risking the repercussions from their own school administrators if they speak out. It’s about teachers doing the job that career DoE bureaucrats have failed to do. It’s about teachers saying the things our legislators refuse to hear.
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I’m not surprised that Shannon could catch the heart of what teachers across the nation are saying. She is an ex-teacher, an “education activist” for the Huffington Post, an acclaimed author of her own book on education, and a highly respected consultant on writing and marketing. All teachers will enjoy having her website and blog on their regular visit list! Please be sure to add www.myfinal40days.com to your favorites.
Shannon Hernandez is a college professor, and ex-middle school teacher, a blogger on education for the Huffington Post, and the nationally acclaimed author of “Breaking the Silence: My Final 40 Days as a public school teacher.” Please visit her at www.myfinal40days.com.
(Author’s note: I was asked to write the Foreword to D.A. (Don) Russell’s book, Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education. I “met” Don virtually a few months back, when I heard of the huge amount of research he had been doing–asking students and teachers questions about what would make school a better place, and what were the biggest problems they were facing in their urban schools. I knew immediately I had to hop on the phone and speak to him in person, as I could tell that we both shared the same vision and passion: Giving teachers and students a voice in education reform. It was an honor to write this Foreword–although I must admit, I was quite nervous in the beginning! I have read the book, and I know how important Don’s message is to the cause. This is one book every teacher in this country should read at least once. Thank you Don for exposing more of the truth, but in an insightful and pragmatic way.)
Teachers across this nation have had enough. They are tired of remaining silent about the testing, the “reform”, and the destructive practices forced upon them which are hurting our nation’s youth. In fact, more and more teachers are using their voices and speaking out to fight for our public education system, and above all, bucking a system that has deprived our students of an education they not only deserve, but one which is engaging and authentic.
D. A. Russell has brought to light one of the most well-rounded and comprehensive books which highlights the crisis in U.S. public education.Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education is not only the result of years of research, surveys, and data from students and teachers—it is the impassioned voice of a inner-city high school math teacher who had the courage to write a book that tells the truth about what is really happening in urban schools.
Through surveys, we hear the voices of students: The worst thing about my education at this school is the class sizes, and The worst thing about education at my school is the limited availability of classes. We also hear the voices of teachers: On average, teachers receive merely 1.7 written emails or letters per year with positive comments from parents, only 4% of parents of struggling students attend parent-teacher nights,and 32% of the instructional time allotted to teachers is spent on tasks that do not contribute to a student’s education in a meaningful way.
If there is just one thing the reader will take away from this book, it is this: If we are to find REAL solutions to the problems in education, then we must focus on the REAL issues.
What is refreshing about this book is that it reports on the failures and problems public schools are facing and also includes proposed solutions. These solutions are insightful, not only because they are practical solutions from teachers who are in the trenches of public education, fighting day in and day out for their students, but they address the plethora of issues many don’t want to put in the public spotlight.
One of the biggest issues that must be addressed is the trust and integrity issues with which schools are managed and teachers are evaluated. A school can only be successful if its leadership is strong, fair, and compassionate. Too many principals have been assigned to schools across this nation without adequate management experience. When leadership doesn’t have the experience to back the decisions they are making—decisions which affect the faculty, students, and parents—education continues to deteriorate. When teacher evaluations are based heavily on principal feedback, discounting peer feedback, student feedback, and parent feedback—evaluations are skewed. Quite simply, if the administration “likes” you as a person, you pass with flying colors. But if you are deemed as too vocal or too “out of the box” in your instructional techniques, the evaluations reflect that disgust.
As a public school teacher of 15 years, a professor, consultant, author, and student-centered education activist, I’ve seen, time and time again, the very flaws of the public school system D.A. Russell presents throughout this book. It can be a disturbing read, if you truly care about what is happening behind the curtain of public education—because you are left with the feeling that the task of making things better, for all involved, is one that is going to take loads of hard work, both at the very local level (individual schools) and on a very personal level. Real reform starts with teachers evaluating our own practices, fine-tuning our methodologies, asking for student feedback about what is and isn’t working, and digging in to do the necessary work to make the classroom a better environment. Real reform also requires administrators to begin talking to their staff about what is and isn’t working, and taking an open and honest look at school-wide policies. Administrators must begin asking, How can we make this school a better environment for all? And after the feedback comes in, it’s time to form leadership teams where teachers, students, parents, and administrators work together to create school-based decisions through conversation, diligent work, and innovative thinking.
Above all, real reform requires more voices from the field of education who will talk about the problems—with complete honesty. The teachers of this nation have the solutions, yet we are the very ones who continue to be silenced by bureaucrats, politicians, administrators, and school boards. We are the ones who know what is best for our students, and who understand the challenges we are facing day-in and day-out in our classrooms. Teachers must be able to speak openly, without repercussions from administration and school boards.
The education reform tables are turning, and it is time for the teacher narrative to be heard. D.A Russell has written a powerful book which does just that. Through the heart-breaking and raw accounts of teachers, to the data from years of Russell’s research, this book chronicles the problems, suggests the solutions, and gives yet another chance for teachers and administrators to band together and do what’s right for our nation’s youth.
Shannon Hernandez, M. Ed.
Brooklyn, New York
The 2nd edition of the acclaimed book about today’s failed education system
– Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education –
is now available, with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine
new chapters. Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book
“…from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher”
that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education
of our children. Please get a copy HERE or on Amazon.