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This week, education reporter Kavitha Cardoza sits down with Pete Gwynn aka Mr TeachBad, a former D.C. Public Schools teacher who had a blog about the frustrations of teaching. Gwynn was a teacher in D.C. for 6 years but says after school officials found out about his blog, he received poor evaluations and was fired June 2011.
On blog posts including ones such as 'Maybe You're Just Not high School Material' and 'Principal Seeks To Replace Student Body and Improve Test Scores: "What that expresses is partly my personality and my sense of humor. I think every teacher at some time, at some point feels these senses of anger and frustration and hopelessness, I've just chosen to express it. I'm definitely, definitely not alone. Many people write in to me all the time and say thank you for saying this, I feel the same way; the blog gives them a sense of underground community."
What's missing from the conversation about teachers and teaching: In a place like DCPS, you have lots and lots and lots of kids who come in, and they're far behind where they should be academically. And they're largely incapable or disinterested in helping you as a teacher correct this. They don't work. We're putting all of the onus on teachers to fix these problems. If children aren't learning, it has to be the fault of teachers, it can't be that this kid isn't doing any work. It's my fault right? And if I say he's failing because he's not doing any work, it's my fault for not doing more to make him work. And that trap is frustrating.
The frustrations of collecting data on students and learning: Data driven decision making, data driven teaching, has become kind of an obsession in education. There are literally tens of thousands of data points that a teacher might be required to collect, and having come from a research background before I started teaching, the way we collect data, the way we construct questions, and what is expected of teachers in terms of their proficiency and being able to analyze it and make instructional decisions based on it, is beyond what most teachers are really qualified and capable and should be expected to do. So we spend a lot of time running around collecting the data point of the week, which changes pretty frequently and then teachers don't really know what to do it."
Why he became a teacher: "It's a cliché but it's a really, really important job. I have really, really fond memories of many, many individual students. I'll remember them forever. Some of the students I think about a lot also are students in the middle and students at the top. I feel like we do them a disservice because we don't have time to give them the enrichment that they deserve because we have to spend all of our time bringing up the bottom 10 or 25 percent or whatever it is. To me, it doesn't make any sense to have an English class where you have 30 kids in there, and you might have eight different reading levels and pretend we're teaching a really rigorous course to all of these kids at the same time. That really doesn't happen. What really happens is everyone gets messed up in a system like that."