The Death of a Team
The Death of a Team Society pays more attention to its sports teams than to its children. Today in L.A. the world shattering concern is whether to keep the Lakers’ roster intact or break it up and get new players. A great deal of thought is put into salary caps, locker room and court chemistry that it takes to put a winning team together.
There is also talk as to whether the U.S. Olympic team will have enough time to mold itself into a team. Teams are difficult to assemble and even more difficult to maintain. Egos, personalities, leadership and money all determine success.
I was fortunate that I came up through the ranks as a teacher. I started in the Los Angeles City Schools as a janitor or custodian as we preferred to be called. In order to get my credential I had to teach two years at a Yeshiva where I taught grades K-12 (all in one classroom) – I was the only goy, non-Jewish teacher. Once I got my credential I taught at a public junior high school for three years and then at a high school for five years. It was a great experience, it taught me how to teach.
In education classes we talked a lot about team teaching but in the schools very little of that went on. The only time that the teachers got together was in the smoking rooms where they complained about the students, rarely sharing their experiences or their teaching methods. They went to in-service classes but that was only to get service points that counted toward salary increments.
Through experience I found that a team at any level whether it be in sports, the schools or life itself is rare. So it seems stupid to break one up when successful especially in education where so many young lives are affected.
But this is exactly what is happening in the Tucson Unified School District where under the cover of night Superintendent of Schools John Pedicone and his gaggle of board members are dismantling a highly successful team in order to feed the mendacity, the whims and racist notions of state and local elected officials.
It is a team that has defied the rule in the education that Mexican American students cannot learn. More often than not they drop out of school at a rate of over fifty percent. In contrast, the TUSD Mexican American Studies students want to learn; they don’t want to be warehoused and parrot material so they can pass a test.
For mainstream teachers, rote memorization is a matter of survival. They must adhere to the reality of the wrongheaded standard that how the students perform on a test is the measure of the teachers’ effectiveness. How well the students do, determines whether they are doing a good or bad job and whether they keep their job.
This leads to an institutional racism where teachers and teacher unions excuse their performance with pretexts such as that the students are mostly minority and from poor communities – the terms “educationally and culturally” disadvantaged” have crept back into our vernacular. They say that it is not their fault; it is the students’ fault for being poor and Latino.
This is lamentable since what is wrong is the system itself and teachers should be fighting system not the students.
Before I get too far into the discussion I want to clarify what team teaching is. To begin with, there are very few Mr. or Miss Chips in education. Indeed, the popular teachers are often the worse teachers.
Team teaching is a strategy where teachers improve each other’s performance by sharing teaching experiences and strategies. Team members share a common purpose and feed off each other’s’ energy. The team works as a support network.
The team functions more like a kinship than a nuclear family. In Mesoamerica kinship units offered support especially for women in a household. (The Spaniards controlled the Indians and women forcing the nuclear family on them).
Team teaching strategies are more often used in middle schools. Ideally the team members regularly critique each other and the program. Teachers also motivate each other to make changes.
A strong, productive team recognizes its strengths and weaknesses. Members work together to create curriculum that helps them achieve common goals, a characteristic of all teams.
They develop a spirit of team teaching, which benefits students’ academic and social growth and performance. The end is guiding, not directing students, so they can make their own choices. The bottom line is that teaching should be horizontal not vertical.
In Tucson through trial and error a multi-racial team was assembled whose members have established close relationships. Much of this solidarity is forged by combat which has strengthened the bond among team members.
Sean Arce has emerged as a leader because he has fought for the program, and put it all on the line despite vicious attacks and his brutal dismissal. Other members of the team have also sacrificed and fought for its survival.
Titles do not determine leadership. This is the old model which is vertical.
In my fifty years plus of years of teaching, I have known very few great leaders who successfully built teams. The one that stands out is my first junior high vice-principal, Hugh Hodgens who I owe my career to. Hodgens was a Republican, worse at that time, a Methodist.
Hodgens was a leader in a school that was mostly Mexican American and black and literally divided racially by the railroad tracks and a wash. At first most of the teachers including myself dismissed him as a light weight because he had been a shop teacher. But he set out to change the culture of the junior high that was divided by racial divisions and class divisions.
Hugh made me a believer. He told me, “Students have to want to come to school. They have to like you before they want to learn.”
It wasn’t perfect; we had some weak links. You could not always be certain that the students you received in 8th grade had learned sufficient skills in 7th grade. But we had fewer fights on campus, from five a day to one a semester. Students smiled.
In Tucson the founders of the program did a great job of putting together a Course of Study. A team emerged from their shared faith in the curriculum.
Teaching goes beyond the pay check; it is not about being a profession, it must be a vocation.
The MAS program has been successful because teachers have faith in and trust the students and each other. What they are teaching is important to what the students are learning. They don’t see students as robots but as human beings.
I don’t believe that most people, even in Tucson realize the stakes in this fight to preserve MAS as well as the team. It goes beyond their constitutional rights. It is the loss of community. It is the death of a team.
I remember when I knew every name on the Ram’s roster. I remember when my doctor knew my name and took time to know me.
The decision to break up this team is much more important than whether the Lakers keep Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant returns. It is about the kids; it about the future. But even more important it is about education. How to teach and what we teach are important.
It troubles me that education is more and more being controlled by non-educators who want to privatize it and reduce it to a business formula, mass produce students whose success is measured by computerized tests.
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Sean Arce and José González Under Attack
RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.
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