Archives for the month of: November, 2015
What a great way to spend your 27th birthday.

What a great way to spend your 27th birthday.

I had the pleasure the other day of helping out with one of our many clubs at school, the Cooking For the Homeless club.  My friend and colleague is the faculty advisor and she meets with students twice a month in the Home Ec kitchens to prepare and freeze a dish to donate to our local food kitchen.  Wednesday was vegetable soup day.

About twenty kids in small groups commandeered five kitchens and commenced slicing carrots and celery, opening cartons of stock, measuring alphabet noodles, and laughing, chattering, updating one another on their daily doings.  All sorts of good cheer, bustle, and bonhomie.  My friend didn’t have to do too much other than oversee and figure out how we were going to put the hot soup into ziplock bags without melting the plastic (solution: refrigerate the pots of soup overnight and load the bags next day).  It was the kids’ show.

And apart from the ubiquity of cell phones and the blind necessity of texting friends who aren’t present, they sounded just about the way I remember my friends sounding to my ears when I was in high school and we had met to make posters or draft speeches for forum or get ready for a dance: giggles, wise cracks, concerned questions in undertones, complaints, hopes, worries, basic good health and youth galore.

I think one good measure of a high school is how many clubs meet regularly and what percentage of the students are actively involved in a club.  It’s certainly a delightful thing for a teacher to see this side of kids, when you aren’t trying to persuade them to take an interest (in history, algebra, or Shakespeare) and instead can stand back and observe their forging ahead.

Plus the homeless will get some soup out of it (I believe they heat it up at the food pantry).


Teachers have no voice in the debates over public schools.  Billionaires who have zero experience in the classroom can sway national decisions, but those of us who have spent our lives teaching kids are shut out.

Sometimes those powerful people consult superintendents or principals, but never teachers.  They feel badly enough about this to lie a little (see the Common Core creation story), but not enough to actually ask a teacher a question.

And administrators’ ears are often closed to teachers’ input.  The problem stems from a division of labor between administrators (most of whom are former teachers) and current teachers.  Some administrators retain respect and admiration for what we do.  Some do not.  There can arise a culture in administrative circles of disdain and condescension for teachers.  Some administrators come to see teachers as lazy, good-for-nothing whiners.  They can no longer see that when we plead for time between marking periods or smaller classes that those things allow us to do a better job.  We ask for them so we can be more effective.  They can come to believe that teachers only seek their own benefit, not their students’– when in fact what is good for teachers is typically good for kids.

Also, administrators frequently complain that teachers have a limited view of the challenges and issues facing a school district.  Teachers, they believe, want what they want without respect to the larger concerns of the system as a whole.

So: what if teachers and administrators were the same people?  What if all administrators taught at least one class per year, and if teachers could be selected (by vote? by a faculty senate?) to teach fewer classes and take on some administrative roles?  What if we had one, unified, group of experienced educators who saw to the needs of the whole school?  Who understood the entire system?

No overlords.  No peons.  Full communication across the district among all roles.  And when a billionaire wanted to know the score, we could tell him the whole, informed truth.  What a concept!

(and isn’t it funny that when billionaires want to play Lady Bountiful and circumvent the democratic process, we have to hope that they at least consult all parties, which they don’t feel a need to do?)

Adminiteachers arise!

Adminiteachers arise!

As I see it, what is going on in education is a debate about what education even is: what does it mean to educate someone?  And by extension, what is a teacher?

Some folks see education in its ideal form as a standardized process of instilling knowledge into empty vessels.  We need to instill more knowledge, faster, and test, test, test to be sure that knowledge has landed hard into those vessels.  Anything less than that cheats kids out of their proper equipment to live and thrive in this world.

According to this view, a teacher is a delivery system.  Teachers don’t need to think up what kids need to know– that’s all handled by Common Core– and they don’t need to connect with kids or find out much about them, because the kids are empty vessels.  The teachers just need to keep pounding that knowledge down, down, down into the vessels.

Teachers hard at work, overseen by Bill Gates and Arne Duncan in their fancy new hats.

Teachers hard at work, overseen by Bill Gates and Arne Duncan in their fancy new hats.

My friend told me that at her old district, administrators used to say to the teachers regularly, “Your kind is a dime a dozen.”  Your kind!

Or, as John Kasich recently said:

If I were not president, but if I were king in America, I would abolish all teachers’ lounges, where they sit together and worry about, oh woe is us.

What we actually worry about is if we can get all the grading done in time for the end of the marking period and why our colleague who is a new mother is being denied unpaid leave and why we don’t have exam days anymore when we could get caught up on our work.  It’s not so much woe is us as woe is what you’re making of my otherwise really interesting, rewarding, important, and labor-intensive job.

District administrators and school board members appear to believe that we are hired help, completely interchangeable with one another.  Nobody is special, nobody makes a difference, everybody is replaceable.

It’s interesting that nobody actually wants a galley slave for a teacher.  We all can recall teachers who were artists, who inspired us and brought out our best.  We want that for ourselves and for our children.  Indeed, neither Bill Gates nor Arne Duncan sends his own kids to a school that has to adhere to the policies they have promulgated.  Their kids go to private schools where teachers can practice their art.

And what does that look like?  Fostering, guiding, mentoring, loving, creating conditions under which creativity and inquiry can flourish; exploration; discovery.

Good teaching.

Good teaching.

It’s just a complete disconnect between the culture of the classroom, where respect and openness are essential, and the culture of school leadership, where you win points with the public by giving us another flick of the lash.

100 Day Journey

In which we explore and discover.

Katherine Good

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