I'm still smarting from the troubling end to the school year. Why did administration choose a sore subject to end the school year with--a subject that has plagued teachers like me for weeks, a subject that reminds teachers that we are simply peons in the eyes of some--do-its with no choice or voice over so much of what we do, professionals whose years of experience, study, and commitment are too often overlooked, undervalued and not supported?
Why couldn't the focus have been on all the good work that happened all year long--the extra effort, meaningful child-centered work, creativity and care. Why didn't we talk about the promise and potential we hold as a committed team for transformative work and care towards children.
Yet, I guess the meeting put me in my place, and helped me to tone down any grandiose ideas I had about teacher voice, creativity, responsive teaching, distributive leadership, and inclusive, transparent communication. That's right, I'm a teacher who is given a strict guideline about what to do and then asked to do it to the best of my ability. No need for thinking, creating, analyzing, or working as a professional since for the most part there's a prescription created, in part, by some who rarely to never work with children or engage in discussion about what really works in classrooms.
This is not what I believe creates good teaching and learning. I believe that good teaching and learning is much more passion driven, research directed, and child-centered. I believe that teachers should teach children first and content second. The excitement and meaning of the job comes with matching curriculum goals with children's needs and interests in sensitive, creative, meaningful ways--that's where the daily magic of teaching and learning comes from. Simply following one-size-fits-all directives is not what creates deep, rich, and engaging teaching and learning programs.
But, that's what many who direct my work believe--they spend hours crafting lists of lessons, materials, and time for me to follow, and then with little to no voice or choice, I'm told to follow those directives with the threat of "insubordination" at my back--they have power over me and they know it.
This experience supports my belief that much of the problem schools face lies in the structures used to lead and manage schools--a structure that mirrors old time factory hierarchies with leaders and doers--administrators and teachers. As if children are manufactured items, some see teachers as the assembly line workers who do as they are told to each child as he/she is moved along the assembly line of day-to-day teaching and year-to-year grade levels. My reading and research tells me that this is not how children learn, instead each child is unique bringing to us his/her own set of needs, interests, strengths, and challenges, and when we personalize the learning in ways that matter, each child moves forward with strength. That is the teaching and learning venue I believe in and have seen work again and again in my many years of experience as a grade school teacher.
To do the job well in a meaningful way, many teachers simply stay silent. They nod and smile then do what they believe is right and good. Yet that silence does not contribute to dynamic teaching/learning communities, but instead supports the misuse of money, time, staffing, and materials--when people don't speak up, unjust and ineffective teaching/learning efforts are allowed to continue, and this continuation creates situations that don't support the potential that schools hold for helping every child do well. Our meaningful, open, and honest share, research, and collaboration is what builds wonderful, dynamic learning communities.
So what's a teacher to do in the face of all this?
As noted before, I will continue to advocate for what is right and good for schools with respect and care. In the meantime, I will do as I am told in order to keep my job and support my family. I will also work with my union team to see what we can do to help elevate teacher voice and choice in order to build the schools that children deserve. Onward.