• Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Categories
    Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Archives
    Archives Contains a list of blog posts that were created previously.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Posted by on in School Culture

It’s hard to believe that violence in the workplace still exists in schools. Sadly, there are still incidents that require leadership to step up and alleviate it. 

A few years ago, we decided to go with a computer program that required quite a bit of training and recalibration. Needless to say, some were not happy with the switch, as it required starting from scratch in a variety of ways. One of the seasoned secretaries was just having a rough go at all of the change. While a myriad of training both online and in-person was offered, the secretary just could not understand.  During one session over the summer, a representative from the company came to the school to conduct in-person training. The representative entered into the office to find a group of people around the secretary’s desk trying to assist with the program. When the representative signed in and asked where to go, the secretary responded with, “You’re here for this training? I’d sure like to punch you in the face.”

The representative was taken back, and rightfully so. Never had she, or I either, heard a secretary say she’d like to punch her in the face. The representative conducted her training without a hitch. A few hours later, the CEO of the company called me at the office to inform me what happened. I was furious. I was upset. I was shocked.

I immediately contacted the secretary’s supervisor and asked for an immediate investigation. Naturally, the secretary denied her actions, but the representative had recorded the entire conversation and had it on tape. The secretary was relieved of the position that afternoon.

No association, union, or group will advocate for a member who engages in workplace violence. No leadership will tolerate such behavior, and, if they do, they should be removed as well.

...
Last modified on
Posted by on in School Culture

clock

Talk to teachers-- or former teachers-- across the country, and you hear similar complaints. An increase of job responsibilities, without the necessary time or resources to complete them. When we talk about unfunded mandates, we usually mean some program for which the government has told the district, "You must do this, but we will not give you any money to pay for it." But it is another kind of unfunded mandate when a school says to a teacher, "You are being given new tasks to complete, but we expect you to donate the time to do them on your own."

In addition to your regular teaching duties, and preparing to teach, and grading papers, and recording the grades, we would like you to also administer some pre-testing tests and then crunch the data. We'd like you to create your lesson plans in a new piece of software, and use that software to build scope and sequence for your courses. Create some emotional and social development programs for the students. Call every parent. Keep everything up to date and entered on your school website (using the new software that we expect you to teach yourself).

Before you squawk back, here are two things I know about this.

One is that teachers are not alone. I have nurses in my family, and I have watched how the health care providers solve budget issues by the not-very-clever method of simply reducing the number of staff, which can be done by declaring, "You still-employed people will now do your old job and also somebody else's old job." Many companies also use the technique of cutting employee hours, but not employee responsibilities. "Do what you've always done-- just do it in half the time." So, yeah-- I now that teaching is not the only place suffering from these unfunded mandates.

Another thing I know is that teachers are professionals and not hourly wage workers. When I signed up for an English teacher job, I knew that those essays wouldn't grade themselves, and I wouldn't have six unassigned hours during the school day in which to grade them. Any teacher who thinks she can do the job within the hours of the school day and no more is kidding herself. The out-of-school hours are part of the gig.

But teachers are good team players, and therefor terrific institutional enablers. Administrators add hours to the teaching day like drunks add gin to their glass, and some teachers just keep saying, "Well, that's okay. I'll make sure the kids have a normal Christmas and take the phone calls from your mother."

Teachers suck it up and squeeze in the new duties instead of telling their administrator, "I can do this, but I'll need direction from you on which duties you wold like me to stop performing." They donate the extra hours to the district, and then complain that administrators aren't fixing the problem, but here's the thing-- from the administrator's perspective, there is no problem. The fact that Mrs. Bagshot is sad about all the hours she spent at work is not an administrative problem. It's not an administrative problem until the job doesn't get done and Mrs. Bagshot is telling her boss, "No, I didn't get it done. I ran out of time."

Of course, if Mrs. Bagshot works in a charter school or a state that has "freed" its teachers from the "inflexible" union rules, Mrs. Bagshot will donate the extra hours or else suffer unemployment.

But for the rest of us can draw lines.

That raises the question of where, exactly, to draw those lines. Because in some cases, failure to donate free time to the district creates more problems for us or the students than we really want to see. It's decision that everyone has to make on their own; you're the one who has to live with your choice. For me, it boils down to this-- my job, the job I signed up for, is to use my expertise and knowledge to help students learn how to be better at reading, writing, speaking and listening. On the bigger scale, my work is to help them discover and grow toward the best version of themselves, to help them better envision what it means to be fully human, how to be in the world. So anything that helps me do my job is worth my time. And anything that doesn't, isn't.

I can't tell anyone else where to draw their lines. But if we want to be respected as professionals, we need to be careful about giving away our time for free. After all, how can we expect someone else  to value our time if we don't seem to?

Last modified on
Hits: 1808 Comments

Posted by on in School Culture

complacency

I just finished reading one of the best books ever. The Operator by Robert O’Neill is the story of the Navy SEAL who dedicated a good chunk of his life fighting for American freedoms. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it should; he’s the SEAL who fired three rounds into Osama Bin Laden.

The boy from Butte, Montana, gave his all for all of us for over 16 years. He didn’t stay 20 years (20 years gives a pension and benefits); he left after 16. He left for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest factor was how he was becoming complacent when he was going on missions. He shared about one specific mission where he was so lax that he was smoking cigars a few minutes before a planned ambush of terrorists. After the ambush, he was hanging out with guys who were tossing around damaged RPG heads as if they were nerf balls. O’Neill said flat out that if he kept up his complacent ways, it would literally kill him, which had me thinking.

What about those in education who become complacent? The teacher who is waiting until 25 years? The principal who won’t do anything that would “rock the boat”? The superintendent who is just trying to keep everyone happy? All of these complacent actions are killing the creativity of both staff and students and dashing the hopes of some, keeping them from being the best they can really be.

We’ve all seen these so-called educators in our schools. We’ve either subjected to them as a student, worked with them as coworkers, or even supervised them. If you think that none of them are where you work, you’re being foolish. They are everywhere. Some are placed in positions that have the least student contact, some have positions created for them (or a position is created to keep them occupied and out of everyone’s hair), some become lapdogs for administrators, and some even brainwash an entire community into thinking that they are so important that whatever they do is equally important. What these people project versus what these people do is just flat out sad. Their complacent attitudes end up just wasting space and tax-payer dollars.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in School Culture

In my capacity as Head Stage Manager Guy at my school, I have spent my day on duty for a concert sponsored by a local church. It makes for a long day, but the crowd is always pleasant and the featured band this year is one my kids used to listen to growing up (Audio Adrenaline, for you people both of faith and also of a certain age, though like most decades-old bands, they are now essentially a ghost band made of all-replaced parts).

At any rate, during set-up this afternoon, I ran into a former student I haven't seen in years. I'm going to call him Bob.

I had Bob as a freshman and as a junior. Bob had some real strengths as a reader and a writer, but a low level of achievement. Some days he was a real pleasure to have around-- outgoing and genial. Other days he arrived at school with a great deal anger stuffed inside. He could be that kid who tries to teach you a lesson by figuratively punching himself in the face over and over. And he would periodically disappear for many days at a time. Big on drama, low on responsibility. Occasionally really cruel and thoughtless, but with occasional flashes of real kindness and decency. Still, most days he flopped into his seat like a lanky pile of loosely associated parts, smiling at things like the sheer hilarity of me asking him to try at whatever we were doing.

As a freshman, Bob was an "at-risk" student with no real support system at home (what at my school we sometimes call "better off raised by wolves") and group of friends who shared an interest in better living through pharmaceuticals. As a junior, he was circling the drain, hard to reach and with no effs left to give. Before the end of the year, he dropped out.

That was a few years ago. Today, he approached me and stuck out his hand to say hi. I asked him how he was doing, what he was up to. In the intervening years, he has earned a GED and gone to tech school to become certified as a welder. Now he is considering leaving the area for work or joining the armed services. He says if he does that he'll use the time to leave the area and get a good start elsewhere he comes. "I've seen too many guys come back here and screw it all up," he says.

I've heard versions of this story a thousand thousand times; so has any teacher who's been at the work for more than five years. It is the umpty gazillionth piece of proof that just because a student doesn't march right through twelve years of school and get the good grades and ace the swell tests and show the correct behaviors-- it doesn't mean that young human is doomed.

You know all the stories. Kid takes six years to finish high school and one day a light bulb goes on and she says, "I'm going to make my life different than this." Or the other stories. Honor student blows up his marriage ten years later by getting caught in a motel room trading sex for drugs with a minor. And THEN gets his act together and gets into a healthy marriage with beautiful children. My director of special ed tells the story of a student with special needs who could barely pass, well, anything, but declared her intention to become a nurse and all her special ed teachers tried to gently steer her away from it and now, today, she is a By God Nurse. My director of special ed tells that story and says, "Now I never say 'never'."

These are the stories I think of when some government bureaucrat announces that we should be able to look at a child and declare definitively whether that child is on the correct direct path to College and Career Readyville. Are you nuts? Have you met some actual humans? For anyone to look at a young human and declare, "I know what path you are on " is just nuts. For many, if not most, we reach our destination in our own way, in our own time. Insisting that everyone should reach the same place on the same path in the same way is just... well, dumb.

If you had asked me years ago if I would bet on Bob, I would have balked. He had tools, but not many, and he seemed determined to trash them. And yet there he was, standing before me like a grown-ass man with his act pretty much together, confident and determined.

To imagine that we can see to the very core of another person is startling hubris. To declare that someone is certainly doomed, that their problems are inescapable solid-state fundamentals of who they are, or that we can prescribe for them what they need or have or lack-- that's just a failure to understand what it means to be human.

I've seen the same line on several t-shirts tonight. It seems like an appropriate to this string of thoughts, even with the folksy non-standard English:

Lift your head. It ain't over yet.

To give a student a test, or to sum up their status in school, to tell them, in effect, just put your head down, because it's over for you-- I can't think of a greater crime to commit against the young humans in our charge. Ignore the test. Skip the test. Forget the pronouncements about college and career readiness.

Lift your head.

Last modified on
Hits: 1491 Comments

Posted by on in School Culture

I wrote this a week ago. It doesn't feel any less real today.

So today we had early dismissal so that we could spend the afternoon running active shooter drills.

Loads of local law enforcement and other agencies participated in the drill. We had fifty-ish hand picked students to play the part of student victims. We had several previous PDs to go over how to handle ourselves. And we had two live "bad guys" with blank-firing guns to make it all nice and realistic.

We ran four drills. Because my room is far off in one wing of the building, I missed most of the excitement. I did not even hear the gunfire or the screams, and would not have known what was happening had the office not provided announcements (as part of the drill) like "Shots fired in the science wing." That was for three of the drills.

We were not, of course, told what simulations would be run. I don't know if it would have helped. Probably not. But Scenario #3 turned out to be a lunch shift. My lunch shift.

The shooters prepped the students and put them at ease. Selected some to stand against the wall and be shot dead, a couple of others to be wounded. Administrators, observers, local press stood along the walls to watch.

My usual post is on the wall with the entrance doors. The shooter fired first outside, in the hall. The shots were loud-- we knew they were coming and the students still shrieked in surprise and alarm. The shooter entered and began. My colleagues at the other end yelled for the students to go toward them, to get out. I had to walk the length of the cafeteria to get to an exit, the shooter to my right, executing the four pre-selected victims. Students dove under tables, huddled against the wall. I waved them up, toward the exit. We go out, went around the building to the safe zone.

I don't know if I saw all the students. I don't know if I got them all out. I'm pretty sure I didn't, and even with preparation and the fact that it wasn't real, the choice between shooing them out and lagging back to make sure they were all up and moving while the gun was still shooting- BAM BAM BAM BAM-- was a little bit beyond my processing powers in that moment.

I won't lie. I was shaken. I'm still shaken. We debriefed at the end of the day and the law enforcement folks said we did well. Maybe that's true. All I know is that tonight instead of thinking through how to cover the reading in my classes tomorrow, I'm replaying and wondering how many pretend students I got pretend killed today. Maybe I would do better if the real thing happened, having been through this training. But right now, having this business take up space in my head is, well, troubling.

Is this part of the job now? I suppose it is. Maybe it is. This is certainly not the first occasion to think about it. It's been over a decade since a shooter went to a prom less than an hour away from here. But damn-- all the things you do to get better at the work, at your craft, and then this on top of all that. And now it's not just did I get that concept across, did I reach that student, did I get that planning done, but also, did I get any students killed today. I absolutely cannot imagine how teachers go through the real thing ever deal. I want to find every one of them and give them a huge hug.

I'm springy. I'm resilient and stubborn. I write what bothers me out of my system. I'll be fine tomorrow. But I'm not fine tonight.

 

...
Last modified on