The Superintendent of Nashville Schools is currently out doing a listening/promo tour for his proposed “Third Way” plan. If you’ve been paying any attention the last couple of years you’ll be familiar with this plan. It involves turning some schools over to the Achievement School District, allowing charter conversions for others and making the whole district “choice”. The whole plan is disturbing on its own, but there’s one component I found especially disturbing.
I was at a meeting at a priority school that had been deeply affected by two charter schools opening up nearby. The Superintendent was explaining what a great job the charters were doing recruiting students and in order to counter their efforts he had to have good schools. One of the parents asked, “What makes a “good” school.” There were a number of factors in the response but key was that community members and teachers had to convince parents to send their children to that school.
A short time later a teacher asked, “Why is it my job to not only teach but also to get out and help market my school. Shouldn’t it be enough that I give it all in the classroom.” The response was, “Its a new day.” Think about that. It’s a new day.
In this new day its not enough for teachers to spend hours preparing for class. Its not enough to give every ounce of energy they have in the classrooms. Its not enough to spend hours collaborating with other teacher to arrive at best practices. Its not enough to spend hours at home grading papers. We now expect teachers to get out in the community and market the school and convince people that what they are doing is quality work. That to me is insane.
The problem is that we may be inadvertently adding to this perception. My daughter started kindergarten this year and at the beginning of the year I remarked about how another school’s teachers had shown up at each new student’s house the day before the start of school with a welcome and a t-shirt. Our daughters school hadn’t done that so perhaps we should have sent our daughter to the other school.
The nice thing about being married to a public education teacher is that whenever you have moronic ideas like that, they shoot holes in them. Truth is if reformers were married to public educators who were in the classroom daily, most of these ideas wouldn’t leave the front door. This time she gave me a look of sheer incredulousness. “What about knocking on somebody’s door and giving them a t-shirt translates to good teaching?” she asked.
Sheepishly, I responded, “It’s nice. It means they care.”
That was not the right answer. “How is that at all connected to pedagogy?”, she retorted.
I realized she was right as usual. Unwittingly, I was allowing the definition of quality teaching to be modified. My thinking was allowing the creation of unrealistic expectations. What teacher had the time and energy to excel in the classroom and then go out and knock on doors to promote her work? I’ll tell you who, a young energetic unmarried fresh out of school teacher. Sound familiar?
There is no way a teacher with a family can meet the obligations that are becoming expected. There is a lot to be said about a teacher with a family. My son has a pre-k teacher that has been outstanding for him. A big part of that is that she has three boys of her own, so she gets it. I’m not saying that a teacher without children is less qualified but I don’t think a talent pool devoid of teachers with families is desirable either and we’re chasing these teachers from the profession. Luckily Teach For America is standing by ready to supply young fresh faced teachers willing to sacrifice to go out in the community and market.
This completely adds to the reshaping of the profession. Teaching stops being something that you devote your life to and becomes something you do for a couple years and then move on. I get that times have changed and nobody supposedly stays in a profession their whole life anymore but do we really want a temp agency pool shaping future generations?
Some may chime in here and say, teachers are hired to teach academics not to shape people. Raising children is a parents responsibility. They know what’s best for a child. Well I don’t know what goes on in your household, but I need all the help I can get. I need somebody with a little bit of a track record. Someone who can help me decipher the instructions. To this point, I’ve been extremely blessed. The teachers in my children’s life have helped shape them in amazing ways and I will eternally be grateful. I’d like to take full credit for whom they’ve become to this point, but I’d be a liar.
We need to take these things into account when listening to “third way” plans. Its why the devil is really in the details. We need to make sure that the “good schools” we are creating are really “good” schools for the community. If they create an environment were teachers from competing schools are out offering I pads or to wash our cars and do our laundry to get us to choose these “good” schools are we really looking at what’s best for the kids. If the heavy demand on teachers time creates an endless churn, how do we get to know the people we are entrusting our kids present and future with?
I have heard endlessly on this listening tour about the importance of “rock star” teachers. (God I hate that term) Yet we create a hostile work environment by not giving them enough planning time, increasing class size, not backing them in discipline practices and by not listening to their voices. Then we turn around and say, “I got an idea. Lets throw a few bucks to the ones that’ll go to the extra challenging schools.” I got an idea why not address the issues they find pressing and challenge them to work in an environment that may be difficult but they’ll be given the tools and ears to make a real difference. Do you think anybody has proposed guaranteeing an hour of planning time a day if a teacher accepted a position at a challenging school? What about child care if a teacher worked at a challenging school? Those may not be a great ideas but they are certainly better then asking them to work overtime as marketers.