Samantha Cleaver felt called to teach children with disabilities. She joined the D.C. Teaching Fellows program, and enrolled in Trinity’s School of Education to earn her certification. But after a tumultuous year and a half inside the D.C. Public Schools, she’s called it quits. She wrote about her experience in the Washington Post Magazine this past Sunday, “A Special Challenge.”
Perhaps the most appalling part of her story is not the condition or behaviors of the children, which might be expected given their personal challenges. The real scandal is the behavior of the adults. The disorganization and non-responsiveness of “825” — shorthand for the central administration of the D.C. Public Schools — is legendary; but translated into the story of this one young teacher, it’s devastating.
Ms. Cleaver is not an isolated case. In a survey of a group of 22 D.C. Teaching Fellows in a Trinity class this year, only 6 said they would return to teach in DCPS after this experience. The comments they offered were uniform in citing a lack of support, lack of resources, absent or incompetent principals, lack of books, and grim conditions in the schools. Only 1 of 22 Fellows had the required in-school mentor.
D.C. Teaching Fellows are selected as among the “best and brightest” future teachers for our city. If their experience as student teachers is so discouraging, who will remain to teach our children?
Trinity is committed to working with the D.C. Public Schools to try to improve conditions for students and teachers and principals. We provide extensive educational services through our School of Education for teachers, principals, guidance counselors and other school professionals; we meet NCATE standards; we work with New Leaders for New Schools and other programs focused on improving the conditions of education in D.C. We also educate many graduates of the DCPS, and we are quite familiar with the many challenges our local school system faces.
However, when a school system treats a young, aspiring special education teacher in such a demeaning way that the soon-to-be-ex-teacher writes, “I hate everything about my job” on the course survey, I’m at a loss for words. There’s no excuse imaginable for the utterly devastating experience of these students who are walking away from teaching in D.C. to pursue less stressful placements, probably in the suburbs. What a terrible loss of potential for our city schools!
I should footnote here that, in yet another dismal affront to these aspiring teachers, the school system failed to pay them on time for most of the Fall 2006 semester. Only after repeated calls to the Superintendent’s Office, and a very embarrassing story in the D.C. Examiner, the Fellows were eventually paid sometime in December. There’s just no excuse possible for this shameful treatment of the future teacher corps for the city’s schools.
Who will teach the children if the system continues to discourage the rising generations of teachers? The challenge of reform for the D.C. Public Schools grows larger each day. The challenges are most egregious in the schools and classrooms where the children and teachers are left to cope while the powers-that-be argue about governance at the top. Perhaps the Mayor, the Council and the School Board should have to spend a week or two in the shoes of teachers (incognito, no entourages, just them and the children) to understand what really needs to be done.