He gives teachers a voice outside the classroom

Retired teacher and librarian Deborah Grill (left center) and Swenson High English teacher Christopher Paslay chat with a passerby while they protest Michelle Rhee's speaking event at the Kimmel Center. (Morgan Zalot / Staff)
Retired teacher and librarian Deborah Grill (left center) and Swenson High English teacher Christopher Paslay chat with a passerby while they protest Michelle Rhee's speaking event at the Kimmel Center. (Morgan Zalot / Staff)
Posted: December 19, 2011

BY DAY, Christopher Paslay teaches The Crucible and Thoreau's Walden to juniors at Swenson Arts and Technology High School.

By night, the 39-year-old teacher-turned-blogger maintains a website, Chalk and Talk, that gives public-school teachers a voice.

For Paslay, it was the advent of the No Child Left Behind reform model - the idea of holding schools to standards judged by test scores - that triggered his advocacy on behalf of his fellow teachers.

"The disparaging of public-school teachers all the time got me a little upset," explained Paslay, who's taught English at Swenson, in Northeast Philadelphia, for 15 years. "They're doing good things, and you don't hear much about it."

Chalk and Talk, launched in 2007, includes Paslay's writing and posts by other teachers, giving their perspective on issues in education. In September, Paslay published a book titled The Village Proposal about education as a shared responsibility among teachers, parents, the community and school leaders.

"He tried to make this 'village proposal' to kind of re-engage a higher sense of parent involvement and, of course, student involvement, also," explained Ray Guzman, who teaches art at Swenson.

"He's not making excuses for responsibility and accountability that teachers have. He's just bringing everyone's focus to the other players that are involved in this whole dynamic."

One major change Paslay wishes would happen in the district is a "common ground" that offers room for teachers to be creative, rather than the current rigid teaching steps required in the district's curriculum.

"You cannot snuff out creativity and spontaneity," he said.

Despite the challenges teachers face, Paslay said he has faith in the new members of the School Reform Commission and doesn't let himself become cynical.

"I enjoy teaching and like the kids," he said. "But things need to be said about policy."

* Nominate a Difference Maker in the Philadelphia School District by emailing dnschools@ phillynews.com.

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