Graduations are sacred events in American society. They mark an important transition, and graduates and their loved ones are justifiably proud of their accomplishments. For this reason, it’s a very tricky thing to comment on news stories connected to graduations. One doesn’t want to appear to be denigrating the achievements of the graduating students, many who have overcome substantial odds to obtain a diploma.
Over the past week, Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, has been making the rounds at the graduation ceremonies of some of the small high schools in NYC. Regular readers of this blog know that eduwonkette has been sharply critical of some of the “turnaround” myths constructed about these small schools, pointing out that they enrolled students who were better off academically than the students in the large high schools they replaced. At my urging, she held off on posting about the Chancellor’s e-mail to teachers about the graduation ceremonies at Bronx Lab School, one of the small schools which replaced the larger Evander Childs high school, about which she has posted repeatedly.
Jenny Medina files a story in today’s New York Times on the graduation at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn. Much of the piece describes the extraordinary time and effort put in by the staff in order to achieve a graduation rate of 93% among the senior class. The principal, who is leaving for another position, describes herself as “exhausted,” and expressed concern that her staff could not maintain the intensity required to do their jobs well.
”You are taking a bunch of hyper, type A perfectionist people and giving them a herculean task,” she said. “People have to work much too hard to do what we are doing. People cannot work at this level all their lives and nobody is prepared to do something at a level of mediocrity.”
Ms. Medina writes that the Chancellor “seemed unconcerned that so many of the teachers at small schools were working such long hours.”
”'When people are part of the world of changing things for children, they don’t view it as work,' he said, pointing to members of his own staff who log 14-hour days.”
An uncharitable critic (that would be me) might note that one of the reasons that the Chancellor’s staff must work 14-hour days is to clean up after his many missteps and mistakes. Such a critic might also point out that the average salary of the members of the Chancellor’s staff is $113,000, whereas the average salary among the teachers at the Urban Assembly school for FY 07 was $49,000.
But let’s take the Chancellor at his word. If you’re changing the world for kids, why would only 14 hours a day be enough? Why not 19 hours a day? Don’t the Chancellor and his staff really care about changing things for children?
We need to disrupt this ridiculous myth that expects superhuman effort from educators in order to achieve success for kids. Almost all of the teachers I know work very hard, and struggle to maintain a balance between their professional responsibilities to the children they teach and building and maintaining a life outside of their work. We don’t need cartoon-like superhero educators; we need a system that supports teachers to work hard and honestly at their craft, without the risk of burnout after a couple of years.