In late July, I decided to retire from a 34-year career as an educator. I felt that the school system had been hijacked by leaders who didn't understand what it meant to be a successful learner or teacher. I felt these leaders were more focused on their personal ambition and gains, rather than the truth of what works to empower strong, vital, impactful education systems.
Over the years, I tried to work against leaders who put personal ambition ahead of what we could do to build a strong, just, successful education system. While I feel I made a few gains, overall, I am not overly pleased with my work in this area--I still feel that too many who lead education systems, don't do a good job.
As I listened to educational leaders in June and July before retiring, I wanted to hear concern for teachers, students, and family's health, worry and ideas aobut bridging the gaps that existed in the system, and good analyses about what works and what doesn't. Instead I heard a lot of very long discussions filled with some bogus, untrue information as well as mindsets about learning that were outdated, and not supported by recent research. With a pandemic raging, I no longer felt that this extensive leadership team would enable me to teach in the year ahead in healthy, productive ways. I felt they were creating a too-tight, ineffective, unjust teaching/learning situation--the kind of situation that would frustrate me and make me sick.
I spoke up, but few to none listened. Clearly, my ideas and work were not of value to these leaders. The good work I did, work proven in multiple ways, was not a priority for these leaders.
There were some leaders who shared my perspective, but they were not heard or listened to. In fact, I felt they were mocked and underminded in many ways.
So, in light of all this, I retired. I was nearing retirement as it was, so I could do that. I did lose about 1/2 million dollars over a lifetime with this decision, but I likely retained my health, sanity, and the reputation I had gained over years. To return frustrated in an unhealthy situation was likely to lead to disaster in multiple ways.
So, as I think back to this situation, my first reaction is to consider if I sold out or not. While I wish I could have had more say and power over the situation, I didn't, and I do believe I made the right choice. Looking back, however, I see many ideas for better change in schools--the kind of change that gives teachers good power to do the good work possible.
As an educator, I was a hard worker. There were few to no opportunities to develop leadership skills. I think that schools needs to empower and develop leadership within schools, and this will spell better schools in the future. Right now there is a shortage of educational leaders. This shortage means that lots of supbar leaders are getting big jobs in education--this is harming education. We need to grow leaders from the ranks for educators to improve schools.
Change leadership systems
If you study the way that leaders use time in educational systems, you will see a lot of wasted time--time that could be spent truly improving systems. Once, the foundation my husband works for planted trees at a school. At the planting event, he was surrounded by a handful of educational leaders for an hour or so that simply watched him plant a tree while they bantered with one another. What a waste of time! Think of what those leaders could have been doing. Audits of educational leadership time, talk, and initiaitves will illustrate a lot of wasted time. This needs to change. The way educational leadership teams work is often ineffective--this was a constant frustration for me as an educator. They often added layers of ineffective expectations to a teacher's day which kept us burdoned and worked against our ability to do what was possible.
I do believe that part of the fact that I could not make the changes I hoped to in education had to do with class and gender. It's more difficult for people to grow as leaders who have not had leadership models in their lives and who do not represent the same gender, race, or culture of the prominent leadership team in place. Leaders everywhere have to be sensitive to this and work to lift a diversity of leaders.
In many ways, educational personnel are oppressed with expectations that far outlast a work day and require far more supports and resources than schools provide. This presents unrealistic expectations which keep educators low. In some ways, schools are oppression pits, and when people are oppressed together, that creates a lot of havoc as everyone tries to do their job while oppressed. For example, no one has the time to do their jobs well. In fact, some teachers have so much time-on-task expectations that they can't even get coverage to use a restroom. A lot of injustice and lost potential occurs due to this oppression pit, and this has to change.
School systems are ripe for modernization and change. There is so much more we can do to elevate educators, students, and families in this country. We need to find ways to work for betterment in this area.