By Carly Mitchell / New York City
(The author, a public-school teacher, is using a pseudonym for professional reasons)
It’s official. My students and I survived the first week of the New Year. Hip Hip, Hooray! Cue the marching band and bring out the majorettes!
This past week, spirits have been high at the middle school where I teach in Brooklyn, N.Y. When we returned to the classroom after the holiday break, students were buzzing with excitement about the New Year, and the fact that they are already halfway through the seventh grade.
As a fun return-to-school activity, I had students in my English Language Arts classroom write a “break-up” letter to the year 2022, in which they reflected upon the positive parts of the past year, wrote about what they wanted to move on from (think bad habits), and consider what they are looking forward to in 2023.
Upon reading students’ letters, I was proud to see how self-effacing and honest so many of my pupils were. There were lots of promises to spend less time on devices, to work harder in school, and to avoid pointless drama and fights that cause nothing but tears and distractions. (These kinds of resolutions are always my favorite, ahh the passion!)
My wonderful colleagues also seemed to be quite happy. I am fortunate to work with some of the best and the brightest in the business, I am convinced! There were many fewer teacher absences compared with this time last year, when Covid was running rampant. While we all joked about the break being a bit too short, it seemed that most of my fellow teachers were well-rested and ready to get back into the hustle and bustle.
This energy is important to maintain, especially as my district goes through some big changes. They include welcoming a new superintendent and starting the process of becoming an International Baccalaureate School.
What the heck is an International Baccalaureate (IB for short) school you might be asking? Allow me to explain. The IB Programme (yes, programme–it’s European), is a curriculum that emphasizes student-centered learning, real-world application of concepts taught in the classroom, globalization, and the importance of receiving a higher education.
Check out its mission statement, “The IB develops inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through education that builds intercultural understanding and respect.” IB students are expected to be “internationally minded” and should strive to embody 10 attributes that are referred to as the IB “Learner Profiles.” These are: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective.
As the name suggests, the IB Programme is internationally renowned and the curriculum is taught around the world. According to its website, as of January 2023 there are over “7,700 programmes being offered worldwide across over 5,600 schools in 159 countries.”
You do not just become an IB school overnight. It is a lengthy process that involves a request for candidacy, a consultation, an application for authorization, a verification visit, and loads of professional development for school leaders and teachers. Did I mention that it is also pricey? The application fee for the school is $4,000.
This teacher understands the benefits of us becoming an IB school, especially because the program (yeah, I have to go back to the American spelling of program on this one), is highly student-centered, project-based, rigorous, and seems to prepare students to become citizens of a global society. The professional development workshops I have attended have been interesting enough, and the resources I have received about how to unit plan according to the IB Curriculum are thorough and certainly helpful.
That’s the good news this semester. Alas, there are still a few troublesome issues. The most glaring one for me at the moment is that we do not have a working library at my school.
Last April, I wrote a piece in The Insider called “Judging a Library by Its Cover,” in which I lamented the fact that my school, a New York City public school, does not have sufficient funds to operate our library. We have a library. We have books. But there is no librarian, the most recent books on the shelves are from 2015, and the room is in disarray. It is a glorified storage space, where teachers can house old textbooks that they no longer want in their classrooms, or where students can go to make up a test that they missed.
In every single IB professional development session I have attended, the role of the school library is discussed. This means that to become an IB School, you need a functioning library.
Do you see where I am headed?
The fact that budget cuts have resulted in our not having a library is something that is never really brought up. My fellow teachers and I have mentioned it to one another, and our administration is certainly aware of this being a major problem, but so far there is no talk of any sort of solution.
The more I reflect on the fact that we want to become an IB School without having the proper resources, the more I come to realize that we are merely a microcosm of a huge problem in general, especially in New York City education. When it comes to educational reforms, it seems that there are always new ideas and talk of bringing these ideas into fruition, but rarely do folks focus on the small stuff.
Nevertheless, our days in the classroom consist of the small stuff. There are no lessons without pens and pencils, without paper or books. These are the small but mighty things that are too often overlooked in favor of big picture ideas.
So when New York City Mayor Eric Adams stepped up to the podium recently and talked about his new education initiative proposing that 50% of public school lunches be vegetarian, I thought it was ludicrous. Still, my students and I will make the best out of what we have, and have fun doing it. Let’s see what you have in store for us, 2023! We are ready for you.
Carly Mitchell (a pseudonym) is a public-school teacher in Brooklyn N.Y. who loves to learn, to educate, and to expose the hypocrisy of New York City politicians.