This morning, more than 3,000 D.C. Public Schools teachers flooded into the Washington Convention Center for a “Welcome Back D.C. Educators” event put on by the city and the Washington Teachers’ Union.
After a continental breakfast (muffins, poppyseed bread), the teachers—-who were paid to attend in lieu of finishing preparations at their schools—-were treated to 90 minutes of speeches from the likes of Mayor Adrian Fenty, Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso, Council Chairman Vincent Gray, WTU President George Parker, and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
Early on, in between their various platitudes, the speakers seemed to be jockeying to tell the virtually SRO crowd who had the most DCPS bona fides. Reinoso started out by immodestly mentioning his degrees from MIT and Georgetown but promising teachers that, in fact, it was his public-school education that meant the most to him. But when he mentioned Monday would be his oldest kid’s first day of school—-“In so doing, I will become a DCPS parent”—-he managed to win big applause. But Gray had him beat soundly on the chest-beating front, noting not only that he was a native Washingtonian and a “proud K to 12 product of the public education system of the District of Columbia,” but that his mother and wife are both teachers. It was Parker, though, who got the biggest rise out of the teachers, when he had them perform a Stuart Smalley-style affirmation: “I am a teacher. I am proud to be a teacher. Support me. Respect me….Pay me.”
After viewing a lengthy clip from the documentary Ballou, Rhee went through her own résumé: “In case there’s any confusion, I’m Korean. I’m 37 years old. And, no, I have never run a school system before. But…I used to be a teacher.” And that seemed to be good enough for the crowd, especially when she threw out red-meat digs at lazy, uncommunicative DCPS bureaucrats and those who suggest that installing air conditioning might be a waste of money. Afterward, she took questions for more than 20 minutes, and teachers swarmed her after she left the podium.
Rhee got kudos for her question-taking: “Didn’t have a book before her. Didn’t have anyone whispering in her ear,” said teacher Mary Penn-Beveney of Miner Elementary in Stanton Park.
After the big shots finished their spiels, teachers were scheduled to hear a keynote from West Virginia governor-turned-education activist Bob Wise, then to breakout into smaller sessions based on subject area. (Among the offerings: “So You Are Using School-Wide Data, But Are You Using the Data?”, “Managing Differentiated Instruction: Why, What and How,” and “Constructive Chaos”—-that’s science tutorial, not a management seminar.) And they’ll be doing it all over again tomorrow.
Rick Stern, a special-ed teacher at Kramer Middle School in Anacostia, says that the event was worthwhile and that he likes what he’s hearing from Rhee. “It’s good she’s holding the central office accountable,” he says, though he’s concerned about losing two days to seminars. “Our classrooms are not prepared. Being here for two days is really going to screw you.”
At least they got a goodie bag out of it: a red tote emblazoned with the DCPS and WTU logos filled with file folders, three kinds of envelopes, sticky notes, and pens.