Mike Sweeney is an extraordinary educator, one of the best teachers I have ever had. His classes and mentorship ensured that my public school experience at Lincoln was dynamic, challenging and superior. I loved learning and hanging out in Room 135, and I think that unless there is an insurmountable need to move him, he ought to be able to stay in the room in which he has been inspiring students for 26 years.
He is a master teacher by any measure, and deserves the respect due to anyone who demonstrates great merit over time. The problem with the principle's pronouncement that he would have to move classrooms is not that a teacher has to move classrooms. (According to Peyton Chapman's own post at www.sweeneysroom.com, it was not a "request;" it was handed down as a firm administrative decision.) The problem is that the way the administration approached the situation is a symptom of chronic devaluing and disrespect for teachers--which couldn't be less in the students' interest. Let's think about this logically. The need: a larger office for the International Studies/ International Baccalaureate programs. The administration's solution: relocate two teachers and completely move the contents of two classrooms and one office. Ummm...wouldn't it make more sense to involve fewer rooms in the room-switching tango? Put the office in whatever classroom is available, and let Sweeney keep his room. But maybe that's too logical and easily-accomplished. Without being privy to the administration's whole collection of motives, I certainly don't know why they made these nutty moves.
But anyway, what is the job of a school? Is it to make sure that all the offices are in the same hallway? As far as I know the work of a school is to educate students. This is what Mike Sweeney does, par excellence. This move by Chapman and her administration follows a string of maneuvers that have alienated and demoralized faculty and students at Lincoln, and in context it's easy to understand why the room change became a "line in the sand" issue. Far from being the story of an out-of-touch teacher, this dust-up comes across as the story of a relatively new administrator, threatened by a beloved teacher with much longer tenure than her own, who made a power play to assert her dominance.
Or, you know, maybe it was just a proposal that wasn't thoroughly vetted and was presented in a divisive and clumsy way. Either way, a good administrator--whose job description must include providing leadership and some kind of vision for the school--ought to recognize that there are multiple solutions to the problem of needing a bigger office for an important program. A good leader wouldn't need to alienate a great teacher in order to run a school.
It's too bad that this is playing out in a public forum, but here it is. There are so many of us who are deeply grateful for having had Mr. Sweeney as a teacher that the outpouring of support is likely to keep flooding towards Ms. Chapman's office. Here's hoping the players find their way to a decent and respectful rapprochement. Maybe if the weather cools off in Portland, this drama can cool off a bit too. Or maybe Obama can invite Sweeney and Chapman to the White House for beers, and they can work it out there...Because in the unlikely story that is Room 135, there has never been anything false about hope. Right?
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