Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why Camouflage Is Not A Good Look For Me...Oh, And Empowering TEACHERS

Do you ever feel like getting things done at school is similar to running an obstacle course designed for elite Navy Seals?  And that even with some fabulous camo attire, you still would never quite make it?  Because while you, the teacher, may have power within the your own kingdom classroom (to a certain extent of course...don't want you drunk with power now, do we?) you certainly don't always feel like you have a whole lot of power or influence once you step over your thresh hold?  Am I ringing any bells with anyone?  Or am I standing alone in a ridiculous camouflage outfit that screams 90s in a not-so-retro-fabulous way?

Let me paint you a picture.
Scene: The vice principals office.  We are alone in the office, stand off style.

Me: So, I really think that my friend needs some serious help.  He's getting bullied on the playground and has adopted some really strange behaviors in class like...
Her: (cutting me off)(clearly) How are his test scores?
Me: Huh? (articulate as ever when I'm caught off guard by unrelated bullshit)
Her: His test scores? Are they suffering?  How's his data look?
Me: Um, fine, I guess.  It's been about two weeks since I last took a running record, so we're in the midst of...
Her: (cutting me off) (of course) Well, come back when you have some data.
Me: But I'm really worried that...
Her: Thanks.

And scene.

Cut to me talking about my concerns with the parent.  The parent, who happened to be lovely and responsive, asked me what the school was doing.  You know, about the steps we had already taken since I noticed this new development.  Not wanting to throw the entire school under the bus (which took ever professional fiber of my being), I went over the interventions I had initiated in my own classroom.

Parent: But what about outside help?  Did you tell the administration about the bullying?
Me: Yes.
Parent: And?
Me: Perhaps you should express your concerns as well.  You know, we'll both jump on this one.
Parent: No problem.

Twenty minutes later the phone in my classroom rings.

Me: Hello?
Voice of the Powers That Be: Can you send down So-and-So first thing tomorrow morning? 
Me: Sure.
VOPTB: His parent brought a situation to our attention. I'll fill you in later.
Me: You mean, the situation I tried to talk to you about in your office the other day? (I couldn't resist, friends, I HAD TO say it.)
VOPTB: What?
Me: Exactly.

The upside is that my friend got some needed help.  The downside is that it took two weeks longer than it should have because I had to coordinate with the parent's work schedule so we could find a convenient time to meet, ask for the parent to make an appointment with an administrator and wait for said appointment to occur and then presto!  Something happened.

Now I'm not saying that parents shouldn't have any power.  Or that teachers should be able to over ride the concerns or wishes of parents or make major decisions without consulting parents at all.  I'M NOT SAYING THAT.

However, I am saying that it is absolutely INSANE to me that I had to jump through millions of hoops to get something done (all while wearing camo) because somehow, SOMEHOW...I, THE TEACHER had less power than any other person involved in this situation.

Am I still held accountable for this friend's data even though a) it was fairly irrelevant to the situation at hand at that point in time and b) I evidently am a powerless peon?

Hells yeah I am.   Ah, sweet, sweet logic.

And then, I read this piece. I was attracted to it because it's about my home state (shout out to CT - what! what!).  It's about CT passing a parent trigger bill (which already exists in CA evidently) in which parents would have a larger amount of power in determining whether or not a school should be considered as failing and to force change in those schools.  Get this direct quote:

"Parents and children are consumers of the product, yet they don't have decision-making powers in how a school is run."

Pssst. You know who else doesn't have much decision-making power in how a school is run?

TEACHERS.

Am I disagreeing that parents should be involved? NO.  Am I saying that parents shouldn't have the right to an excellent education for their children? NO.

What I am saying is WHY ARE WE GIVING POWER TO EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER COME IN CONTACT WITH A SCHOOL OR THOUGHT ABOUT SCHOOL OR SAID THE WORD "SCHOOL" EXCEPT FOR TEACHERS???!?!?!

Riddle me that one.

Perhaps it's because we want them to remain Candidate Numero Uno on the old chopping block when it comes time to passing around some blame.  Or keep them in our line of sight so that they are at a arms reach for some extensive finger pointing?

You might have heard that Diane Ravitch has a book coming out.  The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (I haven't read it yet but it has officially shipped and is on it's way to my house as we speak or read or type or whatever.)

You might have also heard (because I told everyone who would listen or was within shouting distance) that she mentioned yours truly in a recent Huffington Post piece she wrote.

You  might have also heard that after endorsing the ideas that fueled business models of education and tough standards for many years, she has, after extensive research, decided that this doesn't work.  Instead, Diane Ravitch, a woman known for being a power house in the field, believes that it is time to re-empower the public school system.  She says after looking at the evidence (or lack thereof), she has become a radical who wants to "blow up the system."

I would say that empowering teachers would be part of that plan.  I mean, can you imagine anything more radical than actually listening to what a teacher says?   Talk about radical with a capital R.

So universe, do Mrs. Mimi a solid and make this happen, would you?  Because things are starting to feel desperate around here...

9 comments:

cascadingwaters said...

Do they make your fabulous heels in camo?

Noah said...

Darling Mrs Mimi -
Doooood!! Ditch the camo. We got a whole new paradigm - empowered teacher fo'sho.
Thanks for the realness - love it as much as the jokes.

Grace said...

Right on! Where do I sign up? (PS - I think the link to the CT parent trigger bill article doesn't work but I'd love to read it if you can re-post the link.)

Mimi said...

Grace - thanks for pointing that out. I guess I'm not the Master of the Internet yet!! I fixed it and it should work now...

Mamie said...

I sure as sh*t never thought I'd be agreeing with Diane Ravitch on ANYthing, though I've long enjoyed her written debates with Deborah Meier. It's odd to rooting for "her" now... but of course, that's the side of REASON currently.

Way to go Mimi, for getting the shout-out in the Huffington post - you ROCK!

Natalya said...

Hmmmm... I have mixed feelings about this. I do agree that parents should have a voice where their child's education is concerned and I've had to make MY voice as a parent heard more than once for the good of my children over the years!

However... I just don't feel that this right should be extended to ALL parents. When a child fails to turn in ANY homework and is regularly absent...does that parent now have the right to point their finger at the school and accuse them of failing? Shouldn't we have some controls built in? Can you believe that there are students in my son's 2nd grade class who turn in less than 50% of their homework? In second grade! Less than 50% of their homework for the year gets turned in (and it is actually more than a handful of students that are not turning in their homework on a regular basis)! That shocks me.

I'm not a big fan of finger pointing in any direction...I think it would be far better for the children if everyone just rolled up their sleeves and worked together to educate the kids. Parents should read to/spend time with/supervise homework responsibilities for their children. Teachers should teach effectively (many do, some don't and should get cracking or get lost). Principals should offer support to all parties (a big problem in some areas with apathetic principals). And government officials with no teaching experience should stay the heck away (duh)!

Perhaps the children who turn in homework every day should get a voucher for their parents to voice their opinions?

Coach J said...

Woo hoo! Big shout out to you in The Huffington!

Urban School Teacher said...

Very true! Trying to do a good job as a teacher is lik trying to run a marathon with your feet tied together. I usually feel a certain amount of control in my own classroom but there is a definite change when out and about in the school. Of course, an increasing number of the problems stem from the so-called management.

luckeyfrog said...

I think there should be a system in place for teachers, students, and parents to report to an independent authority when they see a teacher that is performing poorly enough to need improvement.

I think after a certain number of complaints over the same things, someone needs to look into it. I think teachers in general could be trusted to report others, especially with the understanding that this was anonymous and that teachers would not be immediately fired, but would be observed multiple times by a team of teachers from a similar school situation, and would be put on an improvement plan and given multiple chances to improve before that step.

That's just one example. But I think teachers need to have an opportunity to be a part of the process to make schools better. Too often no one asks.

Who's Peeking?