BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER DEBBIE REYNOLDS
Let’s face it - we are all exhausted: a truly deep, long, bone-weary exhaustion. The kind that comes from being “on” all the time. The kind that comes from pivoting so much that even in the stillness, you feel the need to keep moving. As veteran teachers in the field, we have spent the last two years changing and growing, and many teachers are exhausted, burnt out and thinking about leaving the profession or taking early retirement.
But what if you took a different look at how you are feeling? What if you approached the past two years as Theodore Roosevelt famously looked at challenges? On April 23, 1910 at Sorbonne, Paris, Roosevelt gave his “Man in the Arena” speech:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly." (Roosevelt, 1910)
We have all faced critics, and at times we failed. However, the most important part of the speech is that we showed up. We have been in that arena every day and tried again and again.
You might be asking yourself, “Why is she writing about the arena and all of the challenges we have been facing?” In the 2019 school year, I stepped away from the classroom for a year and headed to D.C. for the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship (AEF). The AEF Program provides K-12 educators the opportunity to work in a Federal agency or Congressional office, bringing their extensive knowledge and experience from the classroom to the national education arena (See, that arena word again!). At the end of the Fellowship, educators have access to a national network of education leaders, a better understanding of the challenges and possibilities in education, and a renewed passion for teaching.
Imagine being the expert in the room and having policymakers ask your opinion! Imagine having the time to delve deep into your own professional learning of interest! Everyday each one of us was invited to have a seat at the table and offer our expertise and perspective. I was placed as the first Fellow for the Department of Defense and was assigned to the Navy. For me, working in US Naval STEM, designing K-12 content, traveling to bases across the country to meet other STEM professionals, and operating with the team across the entire country was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. Talk about renewing your passion!
Our very first day of the fellowship, our managers showed us a picture of an arena and asked each one of us to say where we were right at that moment. Some of us were on the sidelines, a few of us were up in the stands and one of us was standing in the middle. At the end of our year, we looked back and reflected: we took the risk, we dared greatly and we were all standing together smack dab in the middle of the arena.
Applications for Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship (AEF) close in one month.
Your teacher voice is always needed in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee applications are ongoing.
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BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER SEAN HUDSON
"Less than 2 percent of the teaching force consists of African American males. Where are we supposed to find black principals if there are no black teachers in our schools?” Archie Moss Jr.
Over the past decade, the conversation has turned towards getting more black males into the classroom. A study from the Journal of Early Childhood Education confirms that black male teachers have a profound effect on the aspirations of black children, more specifically, black males. So with the research in hand, the will, and the know-how, why is the number of black male educators entering the teaching profession stagnant and in many cases declining from the previously, disproportionately low numbers? When I was an insurance broker, there was one significant point supervisors and managers used to recruit and retain talent; Leadership Opportunities. Speaking for myself, talented people will shy away from jobs or careers that do not offer upward mobility.
There is a massive amount of research done to show that black male teachers are beneficial to the education environment, and there is much speculation as to why black male teachers are still underrepresented in classrooms across America. The barriers to entry into the teaching profession are numerous. But from my own personal experience, there are few available pathways to leadership which are a deterrent for able black men to choose teaching as a viable career option. We want opportunities to lead and to have financial success. Young, educated, or career-changing, black men want to excel while giving back to their communities. Black men want to be leaders and have opportunities to do so. Teaching is a noble profession, but let’s be honest…a modest salary, punching a clock, underrepresentation, perception as disciplinarians, and adversarial relationships with policymakers is not a recipe for attracting the best talent.
Our students deserve the best instructional leaders in front of them. If that happens to be black male teachers, then we must set up pathways not just to attain but also to retain these educators. Supporting black educators through the leadership process is a great way to retain these highly sought-after educators. As such, race and ethnicity cannot be the sole factor in determining how teachers are recruited, hired, and promoted but we have to examine the dynamics as they are.
When I became a teacher, I knew I wanted to be a principal. Teaching was the way for me to get into education and to ultimately serve students in the capacity of a school leader. Unfortunately, there are only two routes to obtain this mid-level leadership position. One can either go the traditional route and obtain a bachelor’s degree in education, become a student-teacher, pass a battery of tests to get certified, get a job within a school district, teach for five years, then enroll in a Masters of Education in School Leadership program, do an internship, graduate, take another battery of tests, and finally, “qualify” to work as a school principal. There are many steps in that scenario where prospective leaders get lost because the supports are not in place.
There is absolutely no alternative route to earn principal or leadership certification in the State of Pennsylvania in which you do not have to earn a Master’s Degree. The educational component seems wonderful for the profession until you realize the pay for teachers and administrators has actually declined in recent years. PhillyPlus was an alternative route for principal candidates in the City of Philadelphia. But that program is no longer accepting applications. There are a few alternative programs across the state such as Relay Graduate School of Education, a graduate school that often partners with colleges to grant initial teacher certifications and principal certifications.
In my personal journey, I was a career changer with a bachelor’s degree, so I enrolled in TeachNOLA through The New Teacher Project (TNTP). I did a six-week pre-service teaching experience before I started teaching in a high needs school in New Orleans. After two successful years, I qualified to be certified. Unfortunately, for me, I failed one of the Praxis tests seven times and was flagged not to possess good moral character because of previous misdemeanor convictions from the late 1990s and early 2000s. This barrier to entry cost me thousands of dollars, headaches, and much stress.
As I continued to teach and get different experiences from charter and district schools, I continued with my goal of becoming a principal. I completed a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction which does not qualify me to become a principal. There is a specific degree that must be obtained and that must be approved by the department of education for a particular state. So currently, I’m enrolled in a Master’s Degree program to receive my school building leadership certification from Teachers College Columbia University. I will be completing my internship at BB Comegys, a K-8 public school, in Southwest Philadelphia.
The road is very long and arduous, but it is worthwhile. Oftentimes, black males are used as disciplinarians in the most difficult schools. I was expected to be. The idea that we need black male teachers to be disciplinarians, but we are not needed for formal leadership roles is the message sent. This message is overt and many prospective black male teachers will continue to take options outside of education. Black males cannot continue to be used as disciplinarians - especially in struggling schools - with little to no chance to break into leadership because the pathways to leadership for black males are simply not there. If so, the retention issues and attracting the best talent will continue on its current path.
Update: Sean A. Hudson will serve the students of Philadelphia as an Equity Professional Learning Specialist in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the School District of Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee