Gone – Bruno Dahlgren, the pied piper philosophy teacher, asked his students (I was in the classroom) “Are we capable of doing what the Nazis did?” as they sat on the floor around him eating and drinking (usually not allowed), responding and asking questions in return.
Gone – Anexora Skversky taught Spanish like a drill sergeant and had her students watch Spanish soap operas every night. Her rigor got results on the Advanced Placement (AP) test.
Gone – Art Siebens taught AP (college level) biology and is nationally known for his songs about complex biological concepts which my daughter continues to use in medical school and share with others.
Newly gone – Joe Riener, AP English teacher, taught students how to appreciate and analyze literature and express their thoughts on paper (high results on AP, but low teacher evaluation scores), and mentored students as adviser to the Wilson Players, an edgy student-run theater group, and the Beacon, Wilson’s newspaper, which challenges the school on many fronts.
These are teachers, who when they left Wilson Senior High School, left gaping holes. Or will leave such a hole, in the case of Joe Riener. They are all very difficult to replace because of their intelligence, years of developing their expertise, and commitment to students.
Some get fired, some get tired and leave the profession. And this doesn’t just happen to veteran educators. According to a new report from the teachers’ nonprofit TNTP, most school leaders fail to identify and encourage the very best novice teachers to stay in schools.
What these teachers have in common, other than being great at their jobs, is that they are nonconformists. Because we have a school system that promotes and expects conformity, these teachers often are not valued and pushed out in one way or another. They question, challenge, or just don’t do what they are supposed to if they don’t think it’s “right.” These are often the qualities we prize in our children, but the school system does not in its teachers. This is where parents come in.
Ward 3 public schools would not be what they are without parent support, involvement, and, yes, interference and challenge, at times. And in the case of Joe Riener, students are playing that role. They have put together a petition in an effort to get him rehired.
We will not have the public schools we want unless parents and eventually their children are willing to be engaged. So my advice to public school parents is get to know the teachers, get to know the principal, and give those great teachers your support, so that the school system makes room for and holds onto them.