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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/21/22

Looking For Light At The End Of The Tunnel

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"Many education leaders and politicians want to 'do what's best for students' but instead engage in the most expedient, easiest, convenient, or flashiest actions that always wind up costing money and time." - Nicolle Fefferman

The end-of-year holidays are a natural time for reflection on the past year as we try to build up hope for the upcoming year. Nicolle Fefferman, an LAUSD teacher and co-founder of Parents Supporting Teachers expresses her thoughts about education as she prepares to celebrate Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that celebrates how light can prevail in the darkness:

Nicolle Fefferman and LAUSD Board Member Dr. Rocio Rivas
Nicolle Fefferman and LAUSD Board Member Dr. Rocio Rivas
(Image by Parents Supporting Teachers)
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Hanukkah is coming on December 18th and my boys are gearing up for fried food, seeing friends and family, and lighting enough candles to make the kitchen look dangerous. The holiday provides an opportunity to remember that amid winter and darkness, we can make light for ourselves and others. The reminder is necessary as my family pushes through the flu, colds, and, Covid, all while trying to finish the fall semester. We will make it to Hanukkah and we will celebrate, dammit.

I am on leave from teaching this year to recover from almost two decades of burnout. The 2021-2022 school year nearly did me in. It was not until last month that I began to feel like a balanced person again, and even the balanced feeling is a little tenuous. I have sought out therapy to help process how I got to this dark place while doing something that I love so much. While I could have been much better at creating and maintaining boundaries between my work life and personal life, much of what drove me to this crisis can be traced to larger forces within the LAUSD.

My time in the classroom was always spent considering what my students' needs were and how I could go about addressing those needs. I was constantly assessing and reflecting and adjusting. Did we need to dig deeper into paragraph structure? Let's practice writing. Were students getting enough sleep? Let's talk about time management. Did they need more time working through complex historical concepts? Let's provide that opportunity. It was a laborious and fluid process. It did not allow for shortcuts if I wanted to see real student progress. It was tough and of course, very rewarding.

The challenging work in my classroom was made even tougher because I was also pushing against a system that claims to care for student needs but obstructs efforts to authentically address student necessities. Many education leaders and politicians want to "do what's best for students" but instead engage in the most expedient, easiest, convenient, or flashiest actions that always wind up costing money and time.

School staff has begged for years to have class sizes reduced so that students can be supported better. Teachers went on strike in 2019 and won some change but not enough- especially in the aftermath of a pandemic. Students need a higher amount of personal attention on a daily basis. They need in-class interventions that can be provided by shrinking class size or providing teachers' aides. We know that in-class intervention is much more powerful than online tutoring or occasional after-school help from a rotating cast of non-school staff. Instead, we see leadership in the district partnering with or paying "non-profits" and tech companies to provide after-school tutoring.

School staff report that we struggle to make ends meet while working doggedly in our careers. We warned for years that the pay is not equal to the work and now we face a teacher shortage. Despite claims from our superintendent that there are no teaching vacancies, our schools are missing personnel. This lack is requiring staff to do double or triple the work to make up for the holes. Many people are leaving education or choosing not to go into education because of shortcuts and executing flawed plans that are too much for too little. Adults on campus should be paid what their work is worth. Instead, the district leaders offer more "professional development" days, micro-credential programs, and voluminous workshops.

School staff begs for improved mental health support, authentic restorative justice, and joyful enrichments. Instead, millions are spent on optional school days that no one requested and no one planned. District leadership ignores our voices and wisdom. We get a flood of texts, phone calls, and emails to cajole us into opting into a vague schedule at campuses that are not our own and students from other schools in the district. Imagine if that money had instead been invested in making our neighborhood campuses more supportive, safer, and positive.

At the heart of all this Kabuki theater is a disappointing and maddening disregard for our students and their needs. The frustration is staggering because what our students require can be boiled down to simple solutions. We do not need anything groundbreaking. We need more caring adults on campus, more time with each student, more resources to support mental health, and more opportunities for joy. No need to spend wild amounts of money on new programs or more training days and definitely not more standardized tests. Invest in the people who care for and build relationships with LAUSD students and families.

It has been a tough few years for all of us and there have been pretty dark times. Our schools can be the sites of hope and warmth and care. They can function as the light for our communities as we continue to work through an ongoing pandemic. My wish this holiday season is that our LAUSD leaders will quietly provide us with what we actually need to truly support students. No latkes are necessary.

Happy Hanukkah [362/366]
Happy Hanukkah [362/366]
(Image by timsackton)
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Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He was elected to the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and is the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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