Archive for the ‘complaints’ Category

An Open Letter to Education Reformers

Dear “Education Reformers”:

You know what? I’m convinced. I’ve decided to believe you when you say that you want what’s best for kids, and that you are concerned about the future of the children of this country as well as the future economic prosperity of the country itself. I, and every other educator and parent I’ve ever met, share your concern and your desire to improve education in this country. It is, after all, important.

But let’s talk about the methods you’ve chosen to achieve this goal, shall we?

Do you have children yourself, Mr/s. Ed reformer? Have you ever tried to convince one of your children to do something they didn’t want to do? And, in this attempt, did you threaten your child with consequences if they didn’t do what you wanted them to do? How did that work out for you?

“Eat your peas, or no dessert!”
“Clean your room, or you’re grounded!”
“Mow the lawn, or you can’t use the car this weekend!”
“Stop crying before I give you something to cry about!”

Odds are, you got the behavior you wanted, be it eating peas or a mown lawn. But did your threat of punishment make your child enjoy eating their peas? Was the lawn mowed better than it ever had been before? What was the quality of the work the child produced? Was it the last time you ever had to threaten punishment to get the same behavior? Did the quality of the mowing, or the enthusiasm of eating peas maintain the same high level? Or did you get a half-hearted, bare-minimum attempt to fulfill the request you’d made, along with a bitter, surly child who said they hated you? Or was it that you simply wanted compliance, not a real change in behavior, not real quality work?

Have you ever tried to get an adult to do something for you? A co-worker, subordinate, spouse, or stranger? What approaches have worked best for you? Threatening discipline or termination, divorce, or physical violence? Or appealing to their sense of professionalism, responsibility, or community? Asking them to change, or telling them to change? Have you seen significant drops in crime that you can attribute to the threat of severe consequences alone, or do such drops come with an accompanying increase in police presence and community improvement initiatives?

I think you’ll agree: you can’t threaten or punish people into doing what you want them to do; at least, not if you want them to continue doing it after you let up on the punishment. You get them to do what you want when you work with them, treat them with the respect they are due, and value their contributions.

So, being the smart, dedicated people you are, I ask you: why do you think taking away teachers’ unions, due process rights, salaries, and professional standing will make them teach better?

“Care more about students, or we’ll cut your salaries!”
“Teach better, or we’ll cancel the collective bargaining agreement!”
“Work harder, and longer, for less money, or we’ll replace you with long-term subs who work cheaper!”

Look, we get it; the economy is bad, and everyone has had to tighten their belts (well, at least everyone who isn’t a CEO, but we’ll ignore that point for now.) Teachers and other school employees around the country have done exactly that, accepting pay freezes and cuts, furlough days, and abbreviated school years along with reductions in support staff, cuts in classroom supplies, fewer visits from the custodian, and larger class sizes, all accompanied by the ever-present threat of the RIF notice, and have accepted them largely without complaint and while minimizing the impact on kids in their classrooms. And in exchange for these sacrifices, we’ve been told that we’re overpaid, lazy, and concerned more about our big, fat pensions than we are our students’ achievement. We’re told we can’t be trusted to do our jobs without frequent visits from “experts” who have never actually worked with kids to make sure we’re doing it right. We’re told that years of experience and advanced degrees are meaningless in comparison to the “enthusiasm” of a Teach For America teacher with 5 weeks training and an Ivy League college loan debt they’re hoping to have forgiven after 2 years. We’re told that insisting on the right to bargain collectively for salary, benefits, and working conditions makes us “defenders of the status quo” who don’t care about kids.

So, we comply, but our heart isn’t in it. We’ll administer the standardized tests that don’t really tell us what you say they do, and in the process we’ll kill our kids’ natural curiosity and joy of learning, because “you measure what your treasure,” and if it’s not on the test, we don’t care. We’ll read scripted lessons to our classes of 35+ kids, and refuse to answer questions that aren’t in the teachers’ guide because we can’t be trusted to do so. We’ll skip art, music, and PE because they aren’t tested. And we’ll burn out and leave the profession in droves, because that’s what you want, and you’ll find (probably too late) that our kids are worse off than they were before.

Well, here’s another option: include us in the process. Let’s work together to make schools better for kids. For kids, not for CEOs, not for politicians, but for kids. We want to do what’s best for kids; not what’s cheapest, or most popular amongst the Tea Party set, but what is best for kids. Treat us with respect, and we will be willing to listen. We want to make our profession better, just as you claim; work with us to make it so. Please.




It’s Called “Grey,” People!

We are a nation, maybe even a world, of “either-or:”
Coke or Pepsi?
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Import or Domestic?
Yankees or Red Sox?
PC or Mac?
Winner or Loser?
Friend or Foe?
Us or Them?
Liberal or Conservative?Support the Troops or Hate America?
Labor or Management?
Reformer or Defender of the Status Quo?
Charter Schools or Traditional Public Schools?
Standardized TestinOverload or No Accountability?
Black or White?
With Me or Against Me?

My Way, or the Highway!

This polarization has become so pervasive in our society that we don’t even debate issues anymore: we just stand up and shout our side’s talking points, as if they automatically counter the other side’s, and refuse to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there’s a middle ground. One need only read the comments section of an article on a news site or watch one of the Sunday morning talking head programs to see this in effect. Why is this?

My theory is that people are either too lazy to perform the critical thinking necessary to synthesize their point of view with an opposing one, or that we have become so territorial and competitive that the recognition of validity of an opposing viewpoint is seen as weakness.

But the reality is that many of these are false dichotomies: it is possible for unionized schools, with tenured teachers, to be fantastic schools; Charters offer programs and choices for parents and students that traditional public schools don’t, but aren’t automatically better than traditional public schools; It’s possible to offer both a rigorous STEM curriculum and physical education, art, and music.

Until the folks on both sides of these issues are willing to stop shouting and start listening, though, no lasting change is going to happen. While one side may have temporary control, as soon as the winds shift and the other side gains the advantage, everything will be undone, whether or not it was working, because it will be the promise of undoing that will sweep the other side into power.

I don’t mean that people should abandon their principles or that we shouldn’t believe passionately in anyt

hing, nor do I mean to imply that there is never a time when compromise is wrong. There are times when one side of an issue/conflict is clearly without merit; why anyone would be a Yankees fan is completely beyond my understanding, for example. But the world around us is not like the world Jonas inhabits in The Giver but instead is a world filled with a rich diversity, and clinging blindly to our own point of view is to ignore that richness.

We’re not failing…

“Schools are failing!”

“Kids are being short-changed!”

“Something must be done!”

“Accountability for teachers! Charter schools! Vouchers!”

You’ve heard it all before, a million times. Public schools are simply not doing what it is they are supposed to do. Change needs to happen. Now. Yesterday.

I had this thought today: No, schools are not failing.

Failure would mean that schools are not doing what they were designed to do, were not accomplishing the goals that had been set for them. But, we are doing that.

The problem is, schools are doing what they were designed to do a century ago- producing workers for an agricultural/industrial economy, one with minimal consumer technology, one with global communications measured in days or weeks rather than seconds, one with racial segregation as a matter of law, one with gender roles defined by generations of habit rather than individual ability. One that, in short, isn’t this world.

And try as they might, schools have been unable to adapt to the new world effectively. Well, unable to do so effectively as measured by standardized test scores and comparisons to other nations’ standardized test scores. Why?

Because we, as a nation, can’t agree on what we want schools to do. Sure, we all say, “Get them ready for the jobs of tomorrow!” What jobs are those, exactly? “Prepare them for the technology they’ll use in the future!” Do you know what technology that is? Because, if you do, I’d like to know so I can invest in the right companies today. Provide them with self esteem and a sense of responsibility! Give them basic skills! Offer after school care, dental, vision, and hearing screening! Teach them reproductive responsibility! Get them ready for college! Differentiate for their individual learning styles! And above all, raise those test scores!

Oh, and do it on the cheap, because we don’t want to pay for it.

The only solution, as I see it, is to close all schools down for 3-6 months, reconfigure classrooms, re-equip them, and give teachers, administrators, counselors, school psychologists, instructional assistants, even custodians and food service workers intensive training. But- and this is even more far-fetched than closing every school in the country for 3 months- we need a common, universal vision for what our schools ought to do. We need to be working towards the same goal, one for this century. We shouldn’t be preparing students to work in factories, because those are all moving overseas.

I don’t know what that vision is; there are far smarter, more experienced, more important folks than me who bear that responsibility. But I’m certain that we won’t every really figure this out unless we’re willing to make some commitments to change and some hard choices.

Gripe session

My wife is an elementary school principal. I love her, and respect what she does, but, frankly, sometimes her job gets on my last nerve.
Take this weekend, for example. It’s the time of year when teacher evaluations are coming due, so my sweetheart has spent the last two days at her computer working on them. I took the kids to swimming and karate, did the grocery shopping, 5 loads of laundry, entertained the kids, got them bathed and put to bed.
I know. Many readers will say, “But that’s not just her job! What kind of sexist pig are you? Can’t a woman have a demanding job outside the family?”
Let me make this clear: I do not resent having to do these things because I feel they are not gender appropriate; I resent it because I have to do them all the time!
My wife and I have a wonderful relationship. In the 12 years we’ve been together, 10 of which we’ve been married, we have never had a fight. We’ve disagreed, certainly, but never stood in the living room yelling at each other. Our relationship has been an equal division of labor since the beginning, each of us taking responsibility for the things we prefer to do. I like to cook, she doesn’t like the way I do laundry, so those tasks are divided accordingly. Under normal circumstances, things run very smoothly.
But the point of this whole thing is that, for the 2 years she’s been a principal (and to a lesser extent when she was an assistant principal), I’ve had to take on more of the household responsibilities, and from time to time it annoys me.
When our kids were first born, we would have a conversation in the morning about who was going to pick up whom from daycare. Not anymore. Now it’s assumed that I will pick them up, get them home, and get dinner started. She’ll call me from work and ask if I have them, but I don’t know what she would do if I was to say, “Gosh, I thought YOU were going to get them! I’ve gone to happy hour with my friends!” (Actually, I think I know what she would say, but this is a family-friendly blog!)
Don’t get me wrong: I am fully aware that this is a selfish point of view, and I don’t think I would ever actually tell my wife any of this really annoyed me, because I know she feels conflicted about it already. But here, in the safe anonymity of the blogosphere, I’m willing to let it out.
Anyone else have similar stories to tell?