5/25/12

Systems. How they can inspire or burn us....

                Systems. We exist within them, we work in them, we send our children to them. There are systems all around us. School systems, government systems, economic systems, food systems. After my experience working in DCPS for 3 years, I have become ultra sensitive to systems and how they have the potential to make its participants either thrive or wilt. This is one of the reasons I am resigning from DCPS. 


                Currently, I work for DCPS, a system notorious for being highly disorganized, top-down, and distrusting of its teachers. Most of its teacher-directed policies are created with the premise that,  'there are some really bad teachers out there who are not doing their job right and we must weed them out". This was all fine at the beginning of the process, but every year we have what Washingtonians now call, "Churn and burn". Most currently, I have been appalled to see the very open and heavy recruitment and hiring of non-DCPS employees. All the while, some 333 effective DCPS teachers wait to get rehired by any school after being displaced due to funding reductions to their schools. Hundreds of new teachers coming in, hundreds going out. 


                 The morale-busting continues with the excessive 5-times a year obligatory observations of which only one is scheduled, the rest are pop-ins. In a 10-month period that means we get observed every 2 months. No matter how effective and experienced the teacher, they still get this many observations. One could be 2 years from retirement and have been a great teacher all their life yet still getting 5 observations in a 10-months period. Next, the increasing number of enormously costly, two-week long, standardized tests. Every child, beginning in 2nd grade, goes through this grueling 2-week process yearly. Each year, there are more and more subjects added to be tested. At the expense of our kids' education and time, the results are then used primarily to help fire teachers and to promote unhealthy competition amongst teachers. I don't have an issue with evaluation of children's education, yet the use of the scores to grade the teacher (called, "value-added") has been proven to have a corrupting affects on education overall.  


                  Next, the mandatory and over-collection of data. This requirement to collect and report data back downtown has become so time consuming in the last few years that classroom teachers are out of the classroom for hours on end collecting data from individual kids. Where are the rest of the kids while this is taking place? with substitutes, who are not teachers.  
              
                    In comparison, I would like to give you a sense of my experience interviewing with Arlington Public Schools. I feel a comparison is needed here to get parents, especially, to understand why this systemic problem is also our problem. A teacher beat down by a system is less likely to be emotionally available to our children, and when they are not emotionally available they are less likely to inspire, connect and enrich the lives of our children. In Arlington, after three years, the observation count drops dramatically and teachers get to have a say about how they will improve their own practice and even asked declare ways they will address any weaknesses as part of their yearly evaluations.  These type of teacher-related policies communicate trust. Trust then allows great teachers the freedom to do what they do best, teach, inspire and connect with our children. As incentives, teachers get incentivize through professional development opportunities as a way to advance in their field. This communicates respect. DCPS, by handing out monetary bonuses to their highly effective teachers, promotes favoritism; this negative practice foments unhealthy competition with the same peers with whom collaboration is required for a good working relationship.  Having been with this system for three years now, I have been feeling my morale, my energy and my creativity quickly wilting and it was time I listened to my body. I am an excellent teacher, but DCPS as a system, got me down. DCPS made me feel paranoid and made me feel ineffective most days. After each observation I would feel helpless for days on end. 
                     
                     I have become convinced through this experience with DCPS that in order for any system to be sustainable, run effectively and smoothly for years to come, its leaders need to insure that its big, overriding ideas become the driving force behind all its policies. In addition, its big, overriding ideas need to have respect and trust embedded. All policies, no matter how benign they seem, communicate assumptions about a group of people. That assumption, however subtle and nuanced, will work its way to the inner psyche of all its participants and either inspire and energize or wilt and harden them from the inside out. 


                      I have chosen not to become hardened and wilted and sought shelter in a less harsh waters. To be an effective teacher I need to remain open, fresh and inspired myself. If my blood-pressure is to the roof, and I am losing sleep over increasing the percentage of higher level questions I am asking in any given lesson, I have lost all focus. As Einstein said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." I needed to be someplace where the stuff that can't be counted, like inspiration, still counts. 


                      























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