Take a Bow

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I’m not sure if I still have a couple of sports fans reading, but notice how as soon as the Red Sox won the World Series and A-Rod opted out of his contract, the weather in New York got extremely bitter. Only with baseball does this happen.

Virtual Insanity VideoIn any case, after the workshop model post, the doctorate post, and a million conversations with educator friends, I started thinking about the instructions and mandates we comply with. A good colleague of mine who I fully expect to retire in the next year or so said imparted one of his infinite wisdoms upon me:

If the master tells me to tie that horse to the pole, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Even if it’s a healthy horse, it’s raining outside, and I know it’s going to catch pneumonia, and its next stop is the glue factory if all that happens, that’s what I’m going to do, so when they ask me what happened, I’ll say “Well, that’s what you told me to do. I didn’t say to do all of that.”

It got me to thinking of my own struggles with authority, or as Amber put it, my Authority Defiance Disorder. Why in the world would I want a perfectly good horse to get tied to a pole and leave it for dead? That’s insane; the master tends to forget that he was the one who asked me to tie that horse to the pole, spinning it to his neighbors and other servants that he had no part in all of that.

This all leads to the argument that educators who care are slaves to this work. We’re constantly asked to change what’s working and stay with what’s not all for the masters’ cause. It’ll be little things like, take a pay cut here and we’ll “transfer” it to your pension, but unfortunately, most teachers never get that far.

And we’re also slaves to the work because a lot of us genuinely care about the actual students. I mean, I have a problem when we waste money on no-bid contracts with outside non-profits who pay off principals like Education Station, NESI, LearnIt, and the nastiest of them all, Platform Learning, and waste time on giving Princeton Review data to play with, but we still have classrooms where the teacher can’t get sufficient books for his or her classroom and we’re providing serious disservices to our bilingual populations. I also have a problem with administrators assuming that just because we love our kids, we’re going to work 14 or so hours whenever they need us to in order to finish up that bulletin board or organize this event or that one in the name of the school.

And these are realistic cases that happen. The more normal stuff is the constant adjustments they ask us to make. It isn’t just about the workshop model. It’s the 8 interim tests NYC schools will be put through, the pre-tests, post-tests, diagnostics, and other data-driven paperwork up to our necks. Because it’s part of the job, we take it, and take it good. Meanwhile, my kids won’t be ready for those tests because we spend all this time testing and testing. I’m all for formative and summative testing; it’s important in assessing how a kid’s doing. I do them all the time informally and formally.

But usually, the assessments don’t really assess anything except the city’s ability to annoy the crap out of teachers just trying to do their jobs. I don’t see how I’ll have time to actually administer my own tests, take care of the school’s tests, and the city’s tests, and the state tests. Increible! I think it’s great to have high standards, but to weigh the teachers and children down with all these mandates really leaves little room for innovation and creativity. This hunger for data to skew, twist, and spin into positive news should really disturb us more than it does, but we’d rather live life with rose-colored lenses.

Plus, it leads us all to believe that we don’t care for the kids, but for the numbers. If we take away the teacher’s freedom to teach, properly assess, seat, and discuss, then all you really have is a moderator, something an unskilled worker can do. We can easily replace experienced teachers with people who haven’t the slightest care for the profession or the kids.

Then again, doesn’t it make sense to leave your employees with as little knowledge as possible? Why would you want your servants to take a course or two in educational policy as part of their masters’ program, instead requiring classes like “artistic expression”? Would you want them to discuss amongst themselves and form a community with each other so they can really discuss things, even if it’s just curriculum planning? Wouldn’t you plant certain people in certain positions if you knew they’d be more divisive amongst the rank and file? So many of us take the good teachers, administrators, and parents for granted, like they’re always going to comply, but don’t it be an issue where we don’t want to anymore. These higher-ups aren’t on the front line, so it behooves them to treat us like pawns in their war.

Even with my modest and quiet demeanor in school, I still emit revolutionary ideals. I’m tired of wasting horses for the sake of the master. We need to make serious changes to how we perceive ourselves within this system, or we might as well just bow out now.

jose, who’s always willing to give the right opinion if given the right question …

p.s. – I would make this sound more like an article, but frankly, I’m none of my buddies on my blogroll ;-).

p.p.s. – I’m not bitter, but annoyed by the constant complacency many of us educators succumb to.

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonTake a Bow

Comments 8

  1. Alisha

    Jose,
    You don’t sound bitter at all to me. That might be because you sound like how I feel having to go to meetings ALL THE TIME. These meetings are RIDICULOUS – long, drawn out, boring, and a $%#&*! waste of time (that’s cartoon language for bleeep)! Anyway, you are absolutely correct. I try real hard to elicit comments/opinions from the faculty. I would like to think that they are honest with me, but I am not always sure. I treat them the way I wish the “higher ups” would treat me – trusting me to make the right decisions for the students I serve – after all, they did hire me to do that. I feel like a puppet most times, though. There are those times when I am rebellious – if it doesn’t make sense for my school (and the teachers agree) I just don’t do it – whether I conveniently forget – or just omit it altogether. I just tell the teachers if we are not going to do it, what we choose to do had better work!!! WHEN it works (because we really do know what’s best) what they WANTED to happen doesn’t really matter anymore – not even to them.

    Dang, that was long! Whew, I feel better . . . thanks for letting me vent :)

  2. Hugh O'Donnell aka Repairman

    Jose, I’m with you. The hard part is getting the job done AND maintaining your revolutionary stance. If you don’t speak your mind, who will speak for rationality?

    Alisha is with the program. What do you think about forming a virtual (and actual) alliance, in the edusphere and all over the nation, between teachers and administrators who share the same POV with regard for student achievement, and a disregard for PC and political horse pucky?

    Anyway, we hafta keep putting the good stuff out there. :)

  3. Jonathan

    I don’t like these interim assessments at all. I mean, we agree that my class tests must stink if they are bringing in replacements, right? But I hate what New York State just did. The “sampler” (stupid name) they issued for algebra is horrible.

    My fault, right, for wanting to teach decent math…

  4. pissedoffteacher

    You are not bitter, just realistic. I am so tired of being told to change the way I teach. I’ve gotten great results for over 30 years. The kids like me and like my class. The parents like me. I refuse to use a horse shoe or individual work stations. My kids need me to direct their activities. I am not going to change for anyone.

    Years ago, administrators were bright people. I might not have liked them, but I respected their teaching ability and their subject matter knowledge. Sadly, that is no longer true. My AP is not a good teacher and I think his knowledge of math is limited. I’m a rebel, like you. I’ll do what I think is best until the end.

  5. Pingback: The Carnival of Education

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    Jose

    @ Alisha: if you’re going to vent like that, then keep on keeping on

    @ Hugh: I’m going to e-mail you about it in a few seconds. I’m glad I remembered to check back on this.

    @ Jonathan: the sampler’s completely and utterly bullshit. we’re teaching decent math and if we continue the fight, we’ll be in very good shape to make our idealistic positions stronger.

    @ POT: I noticed that, too. I don’t know how an administrator who’s never been in a classroom can tell me anything about teaching. The best coaches played their sport thoroughly, even if it’s on a college level. Some of these cats have never ever touched a b-ball. Ugh. More on that later.

  7. Pat

    Another waste of money is being evaluated by people who haven’t been in the classroom for so long, they have no idea of the “real world”. Some of these evaluators who did teach, aren’t evaluating people in their field which is truly a skewed evaluation. Then according to our state and NCLB, even though I have been teaching 20+ years, NCLB, Masters + 30, I was not highly qualified until I passed a test. I pass the test without any studying or preparation and poof, I’m highly qualified! Another teacher who is clearly incompetent is considered highly qualified, and is finally fired for her incompetence. I’m with you on letting people know how we feel!

  8. Jeff

    Jose,

    Just started reading your blog (found it via Dan Meyer’s blog) and I’m hooked. I’m always on the lookout for writers who can say what I’m feeling without sounding as dorky as I do when I try to articulate it.

    I teach in a really affluent district in the suburbs, but we’re in the same fundamental master-servant relationship as city folk are. I’m in a fight with the district censorship people about using internet resources, and our district suddenly decided to go all Differentiated Instruction on us, beginning with an all-day Staff Development lecturefest last week. DI is a great idea; modeling it by having 280 faculty sitting in a dark auditorium listening to a presentation and watching a PowerPoint for five hours is not. Especially when, after we took our learning styles inventory, so many of us came back as tactile/experiential learners that they couldn’t “properly differentiate” us (read: get us into manageable groups). It kind of boggles the mind.

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