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Posted by on in School Culture

You may have heard this in a discussion of education policy in general, or if you're a teacher, you may have heard it in internal discussions of curriculum and instruction.

It shouldn't make any difference.

It shouldn't make any difference which teacher you have. It shouldn't make any difference who teaches that course. It shouldn't make any difference if we have to replace you with a new hire next year, or next week, or tomorrow.

It's a variation on the dream of the teacher-proof classroom, a hope for standardization so rigorous that individual teachers can be switched like cogs in a machine or bricks in a wall. And it's wrong. Really wrong.

It is a call to bland mediocrity. Anything that sticks out about a particular teacher, anything that they do better than their peers, anything that is a special strength they bring to the table-- those things must all be lopped out and ground down, because they would be a difference. Do you (like my colleague) teach a unit centered around reading Paradise Lost and putting John Milton on trial in front of a jury of local attorneys and educators? Well, not any teacher who stepped into your job could pull that off, so that unit should not be part of your class.

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Posted by on in School Culture

Ah, January.  The lovely time of year when the white stuff makes an appearance, along with wind, ice, sleet, and other trendy terms like "Cyclone-Bomb" "Thunder-Snow" and "Snowpocalypse". While it's always fun to see snowmen, sleigh riding, and images of serenity that would be worthy of your wallpaper, it brings a sense of mystery for those in charge of opening or closing places. For Superintendents, this is one of the more frustrating components of the job. I tweeted about it a few years ago and retweeted it the other day the night before a blizzard was expected:Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 14.35.50

Besides not being able to correct a misspelling on twitter, I liked the overall message, and so did the 50 others (and 827 who engaged in the tweet, along with the 1927 people who saw the tweet). Twitter allows one to be blunt and get the message out, i.e. my reasoning for hating the calling of snow days.

People ask just what exactly happens when a Superintendent calls a day. There are three necessities I have followed:

  1. You have about 10 web browsers open looking at the weather.
  2. You are a part of a conference call system to see what other Superintendents in your area are planning on doing.
  3. You are in steady contact with the local police Chief and DPW Superintendent.

All three of the above should also rotate around one topic and one topic only: SAFETY. If safety is in play, there is no need to deliberate anything; you close and you're done.

If the buses can't run, you're done. School buses are modern marvels; very different from ten years ago. They are designed to run in all kinds of weather, snow included.  However, safety still has to be considered. AND - the bus drivers who drive the buses need to get to the bus garage.  No bus drivers, no buses.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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