Teaching vs. Spreadsheets and Programs…
OR…The Essense of a Teacher and How to Kill It
If you are a reader of this blog, you know that my school is a little heavy-handed with the data and the telling of teachers what to put on their walls and the specificity with which all manner of things must be performed, recorded, and reported. This tends to drive teachers crazy and they quit….in droves. And we don’t have much to show for it aside from tanking test scores and a giant neon HELP WANTED sign we roll out of the basement and light up every summer.
My question is always: Could it be different?
An interesting thing is happening right now. I have recently been having, for the first time here, conversations with an administrator that:
1) I do not dread;
2) Are not hostile;
3) Include positive feedback;
4) I learn from;
5) Make me feel good about teaching and want to do better for my students.
It’s a strange spot for Mr. Teachbad to be in, to be sure. Very uncomfortable, but nice. Like the first time you…nevermind…
I’m trying to put my finger on it. I think the best analogy I can come up with is that my school can’t see the forest because the trees get in the way. This has the strength of being not only an analogy, but a cliché as well.
Allow me to explain.
Everybody seems to be an expert now about what makes a good teacher and what constitutes good teaching. And the consensus seems to be that this can be hammered into people within a couple of years by sheer force. And if that doesn’t work, you shame them and fire them.
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that what really makes a good teacher is something like this. It is somebody who:
1) Likes and cares about kids;
2) Is willing and able to plan instruction that meets their needs;
3) Is willing and able to work to get better at #2 over time.
In other words, an ongoing effort at improving the planning and delivering of lessons. This is where the rubber meets the road. What do I do in my classroom? What energy and attitude do I bring? How organized and prepared am I? Do I know my content? Why am I teaching this lesson? How am I engaging my students at different levels?
These are all reasonable. (Though they can all easily be taken to an unreasonable extreme as well. Believe me, I know.) But they are all about TEACHING. They are about why we started to do this in the first place. This is what this particular administrator I’ve been talking to seems to get.
As an organization, however, the school has lost this focus.
You can go back through this blog and find dozens of posts that describe the asinine requirements of my school in terms of:
1) Exactly what types of useless data must be collected;
2) What exactly must be displayed on all of my walls and bulletin boards;
3) How exactly a lesson objective must be written;
4) What exactly must be included in an assessment;
5) How exactly a gradebook must be set up;
6) What exactly should be the lesson structure on each day of the week;
7) And on and on with Ideas ‘o the Month large and small…etc.
Then there are Action Plans, SMART Goals, Ridiculous Rounds…
I would argue that all of this detracts from my ability to become a better teacher and causes me to enjoy the entire enterprise much less. The requirements and unreasonable expectations freak people out, demoralize them, and piss them off. Is that how we want teachers to feel? Does that “put kids first”? Did I really half-ass the planning of this lesson because somebody was bitching that I didn’t have a data wall? How much time have I wasted doing all this stupid crap and/or being angry about it?
I’m not saying that we don’t need any programs, or that we don’t need to keep track of anything. And I am certainly not saying that the balance is easy to strike or that I would be the best principal you ever could want.
But I do think that teachers are overburdened with unrealistic expectations and ancillary bullshit requirements that are designed to create illusions. This is at the expense of supporting teachers and giving them the time and creative space they need to become better at what they love…before they start hating it.