In 2009, after working for three decades in magazine publishing, John Owens decided to become a teacher. He quit his job and enrolled in graduate school for a year before being hired as a writing teacher at the pseudonymous “Latinate Institute,” a high school in the South Bronx in New York City.
Owens faced many challenges right off the bat, one of the greatest being the school administration’s relentless focus on data. “Ms. P,” the principal at Latinate, demanded teachers maintain an 80 percent student-pass rate for their courses. Owens managed to meet this quota, but still had trouble pleasing his higher-ups. At one point, he declined to participate in a workshop for writing teachers in New Jersey because he didn’t want to take time away from the students—a move that Ms. P interpreted as noncompliance. Later, when he had problems with a parent, his principal not only refused to defend him but didn’t ask for his side of the story.
Suddenly, Owens writes, “It became clear to me that Ms. P & Co. weren’t so much interested in making me a good teacher as proving I was a bad teacher.” <Read the interview.>