10/21/11

TEACHERS: Don't cannibalize, ORGANIZE

I understand teachers are not normally political hounds, yet, sometimes I wish they were more aware of the who is really making the big decisions in our profession; for it's certainly not other teachers.

To illustrate my point, yesterday I attended a focus group at the Department of Education with other teachers from across the District. Being an art teacher, I have been luckily spared the weight and stress of standardized testing in my subject area. I am hoping this day never comes for that will be the day I find another career; and fast. In this crowd at the Department of education there happened to be two art teachers, me included, and when the conversation touched upon standardized tests some teachers began to spout out how of course we loved our jobs, we're not in a 'testing grade'. For those of you totally unfamiliar with eduspeak, a 'testing grade' is a grade level in which a large percentage of a teacher's standardized test scores for that year counts towards your final evaluation, which will then be used to inform whether or not you remain a teacher and to help label you 'minimally effective', 'effective', or 'highly effective' for that year.

The negative energy coming from these 'testing grade' teachers towards 'non-testing grade' teachers is what I like to call 'cannibalistic behavior'. I love words that bring up an instant visual. Cannibalism brings forth mental images of people biting at each other; not a good thing. I have noticed this type of 'cannibalistic' behavior before in teachers and it's most often displayed when teachers are under a great deal of stress to 'perform' and they take their frustration on to whomever they see is not suffering their same fate; art teachers are often the recipients of that frustration. Yet, the behavior of spewing negativity at a peer or a colleague whom they perceive as 'having it easier', yet, who has the same level of powerlessness as you, will never make things better. Instead, this type of behavior separates us within our profession. Unfortunately, as an art educator, in a country that has less and less of them, these behaviors are quite common and wearing all of us down.

I once read that teaching is not a 'profession' for teachers do not set parameters for their own profession; non-teachers make all the decisions that befall teachers. As painful as this may be to swallow, it's absolutely true. Teachers make little to no decisions concerning their profession, pedagogy, curriculum, calendar, nothing. When parents get mad at me that we have professional development days, I tell them I did not make that decision. In an attempt to seem inclusive, teachers might be 'consulted' about some decisions by the powers that be, but teachers overall are not part of any major decisions in the running of any school Districts in this country.

In other professions, like in the medical field, a doctor may rise up the ranks and one day be the Head of something and help make larger decisions affecting a larger populations. Yet, in teaching, great teachers most often just want to be in their classrooms until they retire. Great teachers just want to interact with kids all day. We've all met these amazing teachers; they're the ones that show up to your 20th year reunion, for they still work at the same school. Unfortunately, this lack of teacher involvement, teacher energy in education policy is directly feeding into why teaching has become such a stressful career.

The question then becomes, how do we get teachers interested in becoming involved and demanding a 'seat at the decision making table'? It's always been my understanding that the closer the decision makers the better suited the decisions are. I suggest that graduate schools should not only address pedagogy, behavior and curriculum, but they should also help make teachers aware of the obvious connection between policy and their practice. Nothing will ever get better unless more teachers become politicized, involved, engaged and aware of where these miserable decisions are really being made.

Perhaps a vision for the 21st century teacher is a school system run by caring, deeply passionate teachers.....the cynical part of me says, "yes, but then what would the lawyers, millionaire philanthropists, politicians and 2-year Teach for Year 'leaders' do?"

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