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 from 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.
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.
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…
#UPyourImpact A career with UP Education Network offers the chance to be an educational entrepreneur. Whether you are in our classrooms teaching or in our home office strategically positioning our organization, we believe there are a myriad of opportunities to impact student lives. We bring the best practices from high-performing schools into district schools to catalyze transformative change. Learn more here.