Not a Second To Waste

Fast-growing UP Education Network has an innovative approach to educating low-income students that starts with not wasting a second of valuable learning time…

Editor’s note: UP Education Network operates five schools in Massachusetts, including two in Lawrence, where the author of this piece taught. While the school she describes is operated like a charter school, it is a neighborhood 6-8 middle school that students are zoned to attend. UP recently received $4.3 million fMultifunctional Timer PS50 Stopwatch Professional Chronograph Handheld Digital LCD Sports Counter Timer with Straprom the US Department of Education in order to replicate and expand its high-performing model. 

I was hired to teach at UP Academy in Lawrence, MA starting in August of 2014. Everyone on staff had a duty and mine was to stand in the girl’s bathroom and make sure that the students were leaving quickly and that they only used two pumps of soap and took two paper towels. If they used more I was supposed to give them a demerit. Everything is timed and teachers walk around with timers. Kids are timed when they go to the bathroom and when they have their snack so that they aren’t wasting valuable learning time. At orientation, which lasted a month before the start of schools, we spent an entire day on how to pass papers and how to get the students to compete against each other as they did this.  

When it comes to math and English, UP Academy is teaching a lot, but there’s no emphasis on anything else. Students get social studies and science for half a year; PE and art are considered *specials* and students only get them for an hour a week. The only time students leave their classrooms is when they’re going to PE, art or lunch. After sitting all day, they have to line up in single file in total silence, not making a single peep, hands behind their backs, everything tucked in—like perfect soldiers. I’d have to transport them to my classroom, giving them merits and demerits along the way.

Braille-Unisex-ADA-Bathroom-Sign-SE-1778-320x320.gif (320×320)There were fifteen minutes total for the the entire class to go to the bathroom. This was twice a day, in the morning and later in the afternoon. There was an average of 32 kids in the class and when we called their names, they would indicate whether they had to go to the bathroom or not by saying *yes, thank you* or *no, thank you.* You’d start from the top of the list in the morning and those people would go to the bathroom. In the afternoon, names would get called from the bottom up. If students didn’t get called, they couldn’t use the bathroom. Students have two emergency bathroom passes they can use during the semester. If they use them up they get a detention.

The school is taking away the joy of learning. You don’t hear laughter. You don’t hear kids being kids. They took away my joy as a teacher. I would come home at the end of the day and I would tell my husband: *I don’t have a story to tell you. I don’t even want to think about it.* It was killing me. The school was taking away the culture of these children, almost of all of whom were from the Dominican Republic. There were two girls, they were sisters, and one was in 8th grade, the other was in 7th grade and they would come in every morning and they would say goodbye with a hug. They would get detentions if they were caught saying goodbye to each other. They were sisters! And they would get reprimanded for showing affection. They knew that with me they could at least hug goodbye. 

UP Academy gets teachers from Teach for America. They have no real world experience or any experience with what teaching is like. And the school would take them and mold them into this system.

UP gets teachers from Teach for America. They have no real world experience or any experience with what teaching is like. And the school would take them and mold them into this system. They’re young, they’re energized and they are encouraged to be what the school called *forces of nature.* If you were to get the *force of nature award,* that meant that you came in early and left late, and we were already coming in at 7AM and the day didn’t end until 4PM. Teachers don’t have desks in their rooms because they’re supposed to be monitoring constantly. I’m sorry, but we’re human beings. We can’t be standing for eight hours. I insisted and fought until I got a desk in my room.  But I was the only one who had one. 

UAK-Fall-2016-Website-Banner.png (800×360)The discipline system was incredibly lopsided. The kids were getting demerits for not being in SLANT, or for retrieving a pencil without asking for permission, or for missing belts, but there didn’t seem to be consequences when kids really did do something bad. At one point a student broke a huge window, and when he came back the the next day, everybody acted as though nothing had happened. In fact, his homeroom teacher praised the administration for allowing the student to reintegrate back into the classroom *like nothing happened.* You’d see the principal walking around some of these kids all day, just saying over and over again: *Come back to class. Come back to class.* It was like a mantra.  And when the kids did go back to class, the school psychologist would reward them with candy bars.

I wasn’t planning on coming back but decided to reapply for my job. I’d just passed my teaching certification test with flying colors but didn’t have another teaching job yet. When I went to the website, I saw that my job was already up for grabs. I reapplied anyway, and when I didn’t hear anything, I asked my manager about it and she said that it was because of my observations. My manager, who was 23, told me that my observers were impressed with how I was challenging the kids, but that I didn’t believe in the kids and that I wasn’t challenging them and that’s why the school had decided not to give me my job back. When I pointed out that this seemed to be completely contradictory, she had no answer. She looked for one on her laptop, but couldn’t come up with anything. Then she said there was one other thing. *You complain a lot,* she said. When I asked who it was I’d complained to, she said *to me. You complain a lot to me.*

*But you’re the manager,* I responded. *Aren’t you the one I’m supposed to come up to when your consequences aren’t working, or you don’t have any consequences, and the same children are getting into trouble over and over again?* I asked her if she was familiar with the saying that crazy is when you keep on doing the same things expecting different results. *You guys keep doing the same things.* I guess that’s why I didn’t get rehired…

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13 Comments

  1. I appreciate your story and your honestly but, frankly, I think you need a bit of an encounter here. You complain about all you were told to do, yet you did it. And not only did you do it, you reapplied to do it all again and the only reason you’re not doing it all again is that you weren’t re-hired. I understand jobs are scarce and that unemployment is scary, but you also need to take a good hard look at your willingness to be part of a system that you recognize as harmful.

    Good luck finding a better job.

    1. Aren’t you making the *vote with your feet* argument that’s so often made about schools? I wish I could have included more about what she did to resist the rules – and to encourage students to do the same – but there wasn’t anyway to do that without compromising her anonymity. The reason I wanted to share her story was that it shows how schools like this, which will soon be the dominant kind of schooling in cities, are extraordinarily difficult to change because 1) they rely on very young teachers with no experience of anything else and 2) teachers who do push back don’t last long. Ironically, this same network announced last week that it will cease its controversial practice of suspending kindergartners. This happened not because teachers protested, but because parents revolted.

      1. You can’t change a cult from the inside. All you can do is get out. And once you’re out, let the world know what’s going on. I’m sympathetic to her experience the first time around, but the fact that she reapplied troubles me.

          1. I agree. It is easy to criticize the soldiers from a safe bunker far removed from the front lines. But the is common in many jobs today and a powerful tool to keep working people down. Complain and you are out, blacklisted, and destroyed.

          2. Rob,
            I hear that line of thinking quite a bit, especially in regards to GAGAers in the education system. My response to those who choose expediency over justice (from a wonderful book by Comte-Sponville entitled “A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues):

            “Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete. . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value?. . . Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.”—Comte-Sponville [my additions]

            OH, and those GAGA ers:

            Going Along to Get Along (GAGA): Nefarious practice of most educators who implement the edudeformers agenda even though the educators know that those educational malpractices will cause harm to the students and defile the teaching and learning process. The members of the GAGA gang are destined to be greeted by the Karmic Gods of Retribution upon their passing from this realm.
            Karmic Gods of Retribution: Those ethereal beings specifically evolved to construct the 21st level in Dante’s Hell. The 21st level signifies the combination of the 4th (greed), 8th (fraud) and 9th (treachery) levels into one mega level reserved especially for the edudeformers and those, who, knowing the negative consequences of the edudeformers agenda, willing implemented it so as to go along to get along. The Karmic Gods of Retribution also personally escort these poor souls, upon their physical death, to the 21st level unless they enlighten themselves, a la one D. Ravitch, to the evil and harm they have caused so many innocent children, and repent and fight against their former fellow deformers. There the edudeformers and GAGAers will lie down on a floor of smashed and broken ipads and ebooks curled in a fetal position alternately sucking their thumbs to the bones while listening to two words-Educational Excellence-repeated without pause for eternity.

  2. UP Academy got its first no-bid take over in Boston while Michael Kinneavy, the fixer for the late, former Mayor Menino, was on UP’s board. I went to the Boston website to check out current board members and this is what I found:

    UP Academy Charter School of Boston Board of Trustees

    Tchintcia Barros, Equity Portfolio Manager, Columbia Management
    David Biele, Legislative Director & Legal Counsel for State Rep. Nick Collins
    Beth Clymer (Vice Chair), Vice President, Bain Capital
    Stacy Cowan, Of Counsel, Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP
    Tamekia Groce, Parent Representative, UP Academy Dorchester
    Amar Kumar, Senior Vice President, Office of the Chief Education Officer, Pearson
    Daniel R. Manning, Chief of Staff, Civic Engagement Cabinet, Office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh
    Robert McConnaughey (Chair), Head of Equities, Columbia Management
    Nii Amaah Ofosu-Amaah, Principal, Berkshire Partners
    Cecilia Santana-Lind, Parent Representative, UP Academy Boston
    Jesse Solomon, Director, Boston Teacher Residency
    Barbara Sullivan, Portfolio Manager for Education, Strategic Grant Partners
    Mariama White-Hammond, Community Activist and Dorchester Resident
    Nelly Xavier, Senior Vice President, Samson Capital Advisors

    So many educators, it’s amazing! (Mariama White-Hammond, listed as a community activist and Dorchester resident, happens to be married to the mayor’s Chief of Education.) Pearson, Bain, Heads of Equity firms, lawyers. No wonder it doesn’t matter if 68 of 177 kindergarteners were suspended last year at UP Holland!

  3. No legal experience here, but I always thought that power-
    plays by teachers/administrators that involved food or
    using the bathroom were forms of abuse.

  4. Crazy scary story. All that timing… Farcical and horrific. The whole thing sounds abusive to me. I’m sorry those kids don’t have you to commiserate with any more and find shelter in. But, it’s great for you that you’re not there. I will share your story. It’s the least I can do, for those kids trapped there. Best wishes with job searching.

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