Opinion

Brandt: Who will stay in Philly?

Philadelphia’s public school situation is driving away education graduates.

Joe BrandtThe current public school crisis has altered Temple’s role in educating Philadelphia.

The founding principle established by Russell Conwell — that Temple is here to serve the North Philadelphia community — is hard to live up to now, particularly for education students. If Temple was able to enforce Conwell’s goals, students in the College of Education would mostly stay in North Philadelphia, using their new skills in the community in order to better it.

It’s hard to do that when there are barely any jobs around here.

The Philadelphia School District has cut 3,783 employees in 2013, including 676 teachers and 283 counselors, in order to cover a $304 million budget deficit.

Without properly funded schools, Philadelphia is driving away talented young graduates one by one.

“Sometimes it’s hard to imagine getting a job [in Philadelphia],” senior early childhood education major Nai Soto said. “Job prospects are slim.”

“Teaching in Philadelphia is something I’d be open to, but it’s not necessarily something I will do after graduation,” Jeremy Schobel, a senior secondary education and English major, said.

There’s nothing wrong with teaching elsewhere — it would be silly to condemn people for not dedicating their lives to fixing the school crisis. There’s no clear way for teachers themselves to fix it anyway. But still, for the people who do want to teach in Philadelphia and help out, it’s hard.

“I was in an inner city school, I know what it’s like,” Soto said. “I just love kids and I want to help them succeed.”

But education students at Temple have an advantage: They get to experience the diversity of schooling situations in Philadelphia — good schools, bad schools and schools that are on the rocks.

“Because Temple students can experience a variety of urban classrooms, they can get a good background,” Soto said.

“It’s almost an advantage that we have,” Morgan Carreón, an early childhood education major with a Spanish minor, said. She has taught at both public and private schools.

But this seems to be backwards logic designed to rationalize a failing system. More and more, public school students are being placed in unproductive classrooms with a lack of supplies and a large student-to-teacher ratio. With multiple schools in Philadelphia, like Abram Jenks Elementary in South Philadelphia, now “leveling” classes and consolidating multiple grades into one room, trends point even further downward.

“These budget cuts are becoming a huge burden to both the students and the teachers,” Carreón said.

When she was in a public school classroom, Carreón said she would sometimes see the teachers scream at students.

Late in the spring, Carreón added, she’s witnessed some teachers “check out” and lose interest in their classroom.

That’s when things get worse.

“It was just a jungle, and I don’t think it was the teacher’s fault completely,” Carreón said about her time at Southwark Elementary in South Philadelphia. “The situation itself didn’t help.” Carreón also noted the lack of supplies and resources available to the students. “It’s just not ethical to have 30 students in a class with a lack of books.”

Moreover, many of the students were Latino and did not speak English well. Carreón said it was difficult for them to understand directions and assignments. Albeit completely unfair to student teachers, challenges like these help to develop prospective teachers.

“Teaching in the public schools is all about making the most out of not having the most,” Soto said.

By making do in the classroom with what they can, students can possibly become better at managing and planning.

For now, Temple students are just learning how to be teachers. The possibility of taking a job in Philadelphia is low, but it’s still useful to know how to teach in an urban classroom.

“You’re allowed to teach in a suburban area if you get permission by speaking with the principal, so a lot of people are doing that, I think to avoid being in Philly,” Carreón said.

Being a student teacher can lead to a teaching job, so it’s clear why many want to student teach elsewhere — that’s where the jobs are after graduation.

“I think because teachers are being cut, there’s really no way we can feel like we can be hopeful for a job here,” Carreón said. “But it’d be interesting to see the situation in 10 years.”

As these prospective teachers relocate, tenured teachers hardened by years in the system are all that remain.

“I know that I want to be a great teacher, but it’s hard when the jobs are occupied by bad teachers because of tenure,” Soto said.

Once they’re finally gone, who’s going to take their place?

Joe Brandt can be reached at joseph.brandt@temple.edu.

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