Friday, May 3, 2019

The Chasm Grows: Public versus Private

My heart is burdened. One of the things that always bothered me as an educator is how polarized I often felt as a private school educator when I attended conferences. Oftentimes the conferences are sponsored by state education departments and even in the opening sessions I can feel completely confused at the acronyms and current mandates being discussed. I have even felt judged at times because I have chosen to teach at a Christian private school at this point in my life as opposed to public schools. I didn't like how the chasm made me feel. I remember discussing it with a public school educator friend and he said, "I think there is a lot we can learn from each other. We each have things we do well. For instance, I stand amazed at what private schools can do with so little money." That very simple statement made me feel the support I needed at that moment.

The desire to mend this chasm started working on me thanks to Edcamp Gigcity. As part of the planning team that represented private, public, higher ed, and k12 educators I made friendships that helped me to see it was time for me to be intentional in trying to break down the walls I felt in order to prosper as an educator in ways that each group could offer. Greg Bagby, the coordinator for educational technology for Hamilton County, Tennessee schools has always been a friend and resource for me. Together, we currently co-moderate #TnEdChat weekly twitter chat. This is a really simple way to get out of the silo of your workspace to hear the thoughts of other educators across the world, not just your state. The connections I have made through this chat have helped me to feel less disconnected with fellow educators.

From that, I started a monthly coffeeEDU opportunity. This concept was first developed by Alice Keeler. Our #CHAedu monthly meet up allows educators from anywhere in the Chattanooga area to get together for one hour, one day a month to discuss educational topics of their choice. What I gain from these Saturdays is amazingly valuable. Representation from different states, districts, and roles helps me to see outside of what is often my narrow viewpoint. And as Jim David once said to me regarding a conference he was attending, "I didn't know what I didn't know." This monthly event is often eye-opening for me.

By choosing to bridge the chasm between public and private schools I've learned that if I want to know something about Open Education Resources, Dan Lawson is my guy. If I have a burning question on how to utilize a chromebook for math instruction, I can reach out to Dan Lyons. If I want to query area schools about their SIS, I can ask the pros and cons of what my friends use and I get real answers.

But I see outside forces making each camp feel uneasy. Even more disturbing, I am seeing educators feel they have to "protect" their schools. Public school educators feel they have to wear shirts that say "I love Public School." Private School educators feel the generalities being said about the boujeèness of their jobs are unjust. Instead of bonding together, the chasm grows. I believe wholeheartedly that I am exactly where I am supposed to be a Christian school educator. I also know my friend Jennifer Rimback feels completely in God's will being a guidance counselor in public education. I stand amazed at the level of care she gives ALL the students at the high school she is at even though the number of students has to feel like a daunting task. I sometimes get jealous of the level of support Greg Bagby gets from software companies due to the funding of those initiatives by his county.

What I know is in my amazement, confusion, and sometimes even jealousy of what is going on in the schools of all my educator friends, we are better together. My prayer is that we can rise above the things that polarize us and continue to grow together to benefit all students everywhere. Less finger pointing, more applauding the positives and helping each other work through the negatives. We are all facing the daunting task of being called to educate the workforce of the future. Let's continue to model the importance of linking arms in this bigger journey called life so that we can learn from each other.

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