There is a new normal in our public schools, one that I was not able to see until I stepped away from my comfort of many years in a suburban school and entered the future of what public education has become at Indianapolis Public Schools.
I had to come out of retirement and return to the classroom for economic reasons. I found an art teacher position in IPS. I joined a staff of more than 50 teachers in a K-6 school with mostly a young staff (less than 10 years' experience), Teach for America teachers, administrators with no teaching experience and no teacher's license, and a building with a high-needs student population that was in complete chaos.
The principal and assistant principal were concerned only with “creating classroom culture,” or making sure that all the students walked in straight lines with “a bubble in their mouth” (closed lips with puffed-out cheeks), hands clasped behind their backs.
Data collection and testing were the driving forces behind everything, and it was of utmost importance to point out to any staff member their “numbers” to make sure the customers (parents) were happy.
With all the emphasis on the outcome and none on actual learning, the building was reduced to violent fights and constant behavior disruption, as evidenced by the 12 staff members dedicated to behavior remediation.
When I made comments, or brought up ideas about changing the way behavior was addressed, or considering more emphasis on learning and less on data collection, I was regarded as a horrible relic from the past who had no idea how to teach in today's public schools.
I was force-fed Teach for America propaganda, pummeled with articles about data from pro-TFA researchers, and coerced into watching videos on the TFA YouTube channel to bring my thinking into the same place as the inexperienced teachers and administrators who demonstrated they knew nothing about how public schools work.
As a teacher for more than 30 years, with all kinds of recognition and accolades for excellence, I could see that the new normal was not about learning but more about the appearance of success.
I was the fourth art teacher to hold the position during the school year, and I entered the classroom with only six weeks left in the school year. The art teachers before me quit or just walked out because of the near-daily fights.
The students in the school are angry and frustrated because they know they are not learning, and the majority of the school suffers from TFA policies that are not based on real educational study and research but a political agenda that benefits TFA and not the students.
If any of us have any hope of stopping the normalization of what isn't normal for learning, then we need to identify the sources such as Teach for America and end their participation in public education.
Teresa Kendall has taught art in Indiana schools since 1977.