October 18, 2008

Cal High?

As the oldest high school on its original campus in California tries to find its way through the maze of current educational reforms so that it can stay on the top of most “best of” lists and maintain both its API and AYP the answer to too many questions has been more middle management. A mistake made time and again in the business world is now being made in education. Of course there is a need for educational leadership on the public school campus, but I believe that this leadership should come from classroom teachers raised up into leadership roles without taking them out of the classroom.

Anytime a teacher steps away from the classroom and into a support position of any kind they lose touch with the most important part of teaching: working daily with students. Only when a teacher is teaching do they truly know first-hand what it means to fight the good fight daily. Once they are out of the ring (or the octagon) their experiences may remain valid, but teaching kids is a fluid and dynamic experience that changes moment to moment. If a teacher is not in the moment, they are disconnected from the teaching experience, and lose their ability to make meaningful and effective changes.

You see it on the university campus all the time. Professors of Education have great theories about education with very little application. Theory is nice. Every great teaching method works great on paper, but the test is in the classroom, and not the lecture hall. Educators can sit around and talk all day about pedagogy, but that conversation has little to no effect on the relationship of teacher and student in the classroom that is necessary to ensure that the students actually learn something.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t want to be an administrator. I am considering a PhD in Education, but only if I can keep teaching in the public education classroom. However, I do have an idea of how I would want to run my campus if I were a principal. Here’s my plan for “Cal High”.

There are only two full-time administrators at Cal High. The Principal is the educational leader on campus in charge of Curriculum and Instruction and master schedule. That is all. The principal works daily with teachers in classrooms and is highly visible and known to all students on campus. All educational reform ideas generated from teachers filter through the principal who makes sure that the teachers are all on the same ship heading on the same course. The Assistant Principal is the public face of Cal High. Their responsibilities include building and grounds, testing, attending all district and public meetings and security. Who does the rest of the usual administration of the campus including attendance review, counseling and discipline? Teachers.

The teachers at Cal High teach four periods daily. Their schedule includes a conference and preparation period and a period for administrative duties. The teachers administrative duties lie in the attendance, counseling and discipline of their own unique set of 20 to 30 students. These students stay with the same teacher for all four year of their high school experience. The teacher meets with his or her students regularly either on a pull-out basis during the school day, or during hours structured into the day before, during or after school. Imagine a seven period schedule where teachers instruct for four periods, prep for teaching during one period, check on their small group of students during one period, and then have an additional time, say 15 minutes of so, to meet with their small group. Simple.

Many teachers get frustrated with their administrators. Administration is a brutally time consuming and challenging job taken on by brilliant and well intentioned former teachers who wish to have a more global effect on their campuses. This is good. Unfortunately, many administrators get caught up in the management and loose touch with both the teachers, and more importantly, the students. Some are seen as outsiders attempting to force their will on the proletariat. This is not good.

I think that many campuses would benefit from fewer fulltime administrators and more teachers taking on small portions of the administrative responsibility while they are still teaching in the classroom. Sure, it might mean some more work for the teachers, but I believe that this structure would be better and more effective for educating the students. After all, we are all educators.

October 01, 2008

Who do you teach for?

Most teachers love teaching. But not all teachers teach for the same reasons. Teaching is a difficult, challenging, time consuming, exhausting, sometimes discouraging, often frustrating, and at the same time wonderful endeavor. Think about whom you are working so hard for. Choose from the list below, or add to it, then leave your comment stating why below.

The Students?
The Students are perhaps the most obvious response. Teachers have a need to fill a need and the students bring their needs to class everyday. Students bring their need to learn, to be recognized, and to be cared about. Most compassionate people are moved by the innocents' need to be supported in many different ways. And there is a great deal of satisfaction to be gained by participating in the improvement of another individual.

The Parents?
Some teachers teach for the parents of the students they teach. You might not agree at first, but in the end, who are our clients? The kids? Well, sort of, but really it’s their parents. The parents decide where the child goes to school. The parents complain to the teachers, or the principals, or the newspapers when schools fall short. And the parents pay the taxes that ultimately pay our salaries (if working in a publicly funded school).

The Administration?
No tenured teacher would willing admit it, but we do answer to our administrators. The administration of most schools consists of the educational leadership of the campus. In addition to providing support for the teachers, they also work with curriculum, scheduling, textbooks, and other needs teachers require to do their jobs. If the administrators are not happy, the teachers are often not happy.

The Paycheck?

Be honest. Getting paid to teach is a huge motivator. Some days I still can’t believe I get paid to do what I love. You can bet that if teachers didn’t get paid, they wouldn’t teach. As much as I love teaching, I could not afford to teach for free. Where I work in California teachers get paid fairly well, not so for many other states. In some states teachers need two or three teaching jobs to pay their bills. But teach they do.

The Individual (You)?

Teachers have a deeply personal need to teach. It’s not always the same need, but it is close to the core of who they are as people. Maybe it’s part of our DNA? There is an undeniable motivator that keeps us going to class everyday, dealing with the classroom management issues, staying up late correcting student work, and other challenges that most “normal” people would reject out of hand.

My Response

I teach for all of these reasons (cheap answer, I know, but let me explain why). I enjoy spending time with students while they are actively engaged in the discovery and learning process. I feel like the time I devote to teaching people to be better people is time well spent and a positive contribution to the world around me. I also teach for the parents. Being a parent I am sympathetic to the needs and desires of parents to ensure that their children receive a worthwhile and useful education. It’s important to me to be accountable to the guardians of my pupils. In addition, I teach for my administrators. Not only because my administrators are responsible for my evaluations, but also because they are the “educational leadership” of the campus, and if I do not follow their leadership then I am not being an obedient servant. While I am in no way completely satisfied with the leadership of my administration, I am thankful for their efforts and their support to my students, my classroom, and me. I recognize their efforts and share their overall vision for student success. Having a large family I also appreciate getting paid to work. Teaching pays me just enough to stay in teaching and not seek employment in the “real world.” Plus working as a teacher feeds my pathos. I will not deny that I need to teach as much as the students I teach need me to educate them. Honestly, I am afraid that I would be miserable in any other profession, and I am in no hurry to find out.

Teaching gives me a great feeling of personal satisfaction and puts meaning into my life. That’s important to me. Others may be able to detach from their professions, but being a teacher is huge part of how I define myself. I teach for me.