Promoting Mediocrity

286bbe1I just read an interesting article from my LinkedIn network. Rob Wyse talks a bit about why everyone’s boss seems to be mediocre – an experience I have had both in and out of education.  They may have been good and even great in certain areas, but I have, over and over, seen visionary people passed over in favour of the “safe” choice.

Wyse says that from a business perspective, the people doing the hiring are not necessarily looking for visionaries; they are looking to stop anything bad from happening.  Not what could improve, but how do we not backslide.

From an educator’s perspective, especially as a secondary educator, this is the argument I tend to fall back on.  I want my students to be able to – after they walk across that stage – be visionary and creative and to be able to improve the companies and societies they are present in.  But we also have to prepare them for this side – the boring and bureaucratic side where they have to follow rules and do things in a way that they might not prefer.

I think that if we don’t prepare them for the ACTUAL world we live in – not just the one we wish or think is out there – then we have failed them .

Professional Organization Association

UnknownWhen I started teaching, I was a member of NCTE – The National Council of Teachers of English.  I was working on my MAT Secondary English Ed., and I had an awesome professor (Dr. Kaywell) who emphasized heavily how important affiliation with your professional organizations were.  My second year of teaching, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the NCTE National Conference in Philadelphia.  It was energetic and inspiring – I had so many great ideas to bring back to my school and my classroom! I wrote this after returning from that conference.

But no one cared.  Not really.  We were in the midst of switching to a scripted curriculum (College Board’s Springboard – just say no, people) where anyone who spoke out about it was accused of being racist, against students succeeding, and subsequently demerited in annual evaluations.  Since I was no longer able to create my own lessons, it just depressed me to keep up with my professional affiliations.  So I quit them all and followed along like a good worker bee, trying to do the best I could for my students within the system we were stuck in.

Now, I am in the process of job hunting out of state, and while I keep hearing horror stories about how bad it is up there (it’s no treat anywhere, right now – believe me), in my interviews, when I tell them about the curriculum I was teaching with, they all make “yucky faces”.  Isn’t that a nice change?

I’m packing up my belongings to prepare for my move, and I found old issues of English Journal – which are giving me some hope that maybe I can reclaim some of my creativity in teaching and planning.

Maybe I can rejoin my favourite organization and not be consistently beaten down by feeling that I am not allowed to implement these great ideas.  How cool would that be?

The non-hero teacher

IMG_2598Sometimes I think there must be a special place in Hell for teachers like me who don’t tow the reform line or join in the outcry against them. I ride the fence. I go to work (not school), I do all I can within the parameters given to me by government and school policy to make sure that my students, whom I like on most days, get what they need to not only pass a test, but also to understand the world around them and how to function in it. Of course, I teach high school, and we’re all a little strange up here (ask any elementary educator).

Sometimes I apologize to my kids (my students – yes, on certain days, I like them well enough that they are my “kids”) because what I have to teach them is stupid and worthless, but there will be questions on the test. Since they need to pass the test, maybe it’s not worthless or stupid. Sometimes, we all do things simply to move to the next step.

I get angry when most so-called reformers try to sway me to their side. I don’t think education is failing. I think this is a line used so that business can find ways to make money off of education. I believe there is an honest-to-god conspiracy to get rid of public education (and I’m not generally a conspiracy theorist).

But I also find that on the other side of the argument, many educators go too far. “You can’t standardize any children!” shouts the Badass Teacher Association (which I follow, and generally enjoy). “I am so much more than just a teacher!” “Teachers are lifted up by the children we teach!” And on and on. The language is almost spiritual.

Teaching has become a sacred calling. Like the priesthood.

I don’t get it.

Teaching is a career. It’s a job. Can it be a calling like the priesthood? Sure. It can also be a calling like the way some are called to be engineers or marketing strategists or accountants. You know…the way I liked technical writing over biological anthropology (I was both majors and had to choose).

I worked in licence management and insurance before becoming a teacher, so I have some understanding of how the working world works and its expectations. In that world, sometimes you have to follow policies you don’t like, that you think are stupid, that don’t make sense, and that are redundant. Our kids and our students will have to do it when they graduate and move into the working world.

Teaching is no different. And I truly believe it is our job to show our students the reality of the world they will be walking into. I’m all for making sure our kids get what they need, and I think that the testing is too much. I think students should be prepared to tow the company line and speak out against it if they need to. I also think teachers are a little put upon right now, being blamed for the downfall of education (that again, doesn’t really exist).

But I would like to raise my hand from what I believe is the silent majority that lies between the two extremes – the reformers and the anti-reformers – to ask the question:

Can I, as a teacher, just like my job?

Stepping stones to leadership

PrintJobI have come to the conclusion that many educators have no idea what type of jobs their students will be walking into after high school and college. Teachers and administrators may be just as guilty of inflating students’ ideas of the types of positions available to the average recent high school or college graduate.  Creativity and latitude of response are needed in the working world, but not at the level students will be entering.

That comes later.

For example, many college grads will find themselves working as, say, insurance claims adjusters.  Not the most glamorous job on the planet, but it pays the bills and gives a good foot into the working world.  Managers might find themselves using creativity to manage personnel or work through some creative liability problem-solving.  But your average claims adjuster is expected to follow the steps to establishing liability and cost, fill out the correct forms, make the correct phone calls, and get the amount right in the check request.

By allowing students to decide how to show what they have learned rather than conforming to given perimeters, we have prepared them for the manager position, and not the adjuster position.  Some might think, “Great! We don’t want to prepare worker bees! We are preparing leaders!”

But one needs to be a worker bee before becoming a leader.  Our students will never get to put those creativity elements to work if they can’t hack it as the adjuster, first.

If we don’t prepare our students for both types, we are failing them entirely.

Teacher Burnout

PrintJobI am officially on the cusp of burning out.  I took a test that tells me so, and I land in the highest category.  In fact, the only way I know that I have not actually burned out is because looking at the suggestions in the same site’s article “Recovering from Burnout” made me cry.  Since I really don’t want to pursue any of those options, I’m sticking with “How to Avoid Burnout“, since it makes me feel better.

Luckily, I have already taken steps to remedy my situation, so as long as I can hold it together for the rest of the school year, I think I will be ok.

But I include the “Recovering…” article because there are many articles on avoiding teacher burnout, but few to address the idea that it might have already happened.  Are there other options besides leaving the job?

One co-worker suggested Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project as  a way of addressing burnout, and after reading it, I can see why she made the suggestion.  It creates a focus back on one’s life and the things that are important, which is probably a good burnout combatant.

But I want to know: what else can be done once burnout happens?

Required Community Service?

Required Community Service?

As this MD rule stands, I disagree with it. I believe the idea should be contact with the world outside of high school walls. I think it would be more beneficial if there was a work exemption (i.e. if the student has a part-time job in the equivalent amount of hours and provides the same kind of reflection). In my mind, as a high school teacher, I think of the students who have no outside experience because the only thing they know how to do is go home and play video games until the wee hours of the morning.

What is the purpose of the program? Is it to provide the student with “real-world” contact and experience, or is it to to inspire the feeling of service? I think the second reason will ultimately fail, but if the program is designed with the idea of contact in mind, then it will be more successful with more buy-in.

If the student is college-bound (or thinks they are, regardless of the facts), then they need community-service hours on their application. Period. And the goal of high school is to have the kids ready to go to college if they WANT to. Getting into college is nothing like what it was when I went even ten years ago – the competition is strikingly high. Here in Florida, if students want to participate in the Bright Futures Scholarship, then they must complete a 60-hr. requirement.  Students have already stated an intent to go to college, and THEN their hours are made mandatory.  It exposes them to other things before they apply, and lets them see what it is like outside of their school, which is, in many college admission offices, almost as important as academics.  

So, I like the idea of this “mandatory volunteer” requirement, however it seems as if this program could use a few exemptions upon proof of other circumstances (i.e. a part-time job, extenuating, etc.).

My First #edchat Discussion

I am still a Twitter doubter.  I have tried and failed at least twice to get into the whole Twitter thing, and have found that I have so few friends on the service that it didn’t make it worthwhile, and I was wary of the hashtag thing.  However, I decided to give it one more try and to actually use it in an interesting way.  So I joined up with the weekly Tuesday night #edchat (7pm EST) on Twitter.

It was fascinating.  Because I’m new, I kept my comments to a minimum, but since I was trying to stretch outside my boundaries, I made sure to contribute three or four times (not bad for an introvert, eh?).  Anyway, here’s what I learned:

  1. Pronouns are bad.  When I missed the original tweet, the replies were sometimes confusing because I didn’t know what “it” was. So I found myself being more articulate.
  2. I don’t need to read everything.  There’s got to be a better way than just going up to hit the “16 new Tweets” link at the top of the page, but TweetDeck was acting up, so I didn’t have any other choice.  With something like 25 new messages a minute there was no way to catch up, so I calmed down (it was actually stressing me out), and just read what I could or found interesting.
  3. I met some cool people who do the same thing I do every day.  Just that, by itself, was helpful because, since I haven’t got many friends on Twitter, I finally see it as a useful PD tool, rather than just a microblogging service.

I felt like I couldn’t add much to the conversation, as it was about the way social media should be used and issues with filters, but since I know quite a bit about the filtering (our district is beyond strict – no Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, email – except for teachers through internal, YouTube…nothing), I found I had a niche I could talk about.  So I am cautiously optimistic about this whole Twitter thing, since it seems to be a great way to make connections to learn from.

Here’s a tutorial one of the #edchat founders created for newbies like me.