To Pretend Perfection, Sinful; To Aspire Towards It, Divine

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Banksy Art, "Wall Art Swept Under The Rug"

Today, I sat with some fellow math teachers across the district to further investigate the new Common Core Standards. We’re looking through the new standards, creating questions and analyzing tasks (while I intermittently joke about my CoCoLoCo theory). We’re churning up great ideas while the moderator’s doing his best to moderate a bunch of rowdy NYC math teachers and coaches. At some point during lunch, the people at my table invited one of the people who is developing high performing tasks that may make it into the body of work for the Common Core assessments. What a novelty. The three of us working on those tasks are such great resources for the room in that we’re already getting trained, and we’re working towards making things happen.

It’s a departure from the current culture of NYC education, really.

When the guy sits down with us, he keeps it relatively real: “These tasks work well with my kids, and after a while they get used to looking at the rubric to assess themselves.” When asked whether he uses Everyday Math, the textbook of choice for elementary school teachers in NYC: “No, not really. I’ve stepped away from it a lot, and I pretty much do whatever I want. It’s nice when you don’t have someone looking over you all the time trying to find things out about you.” I wore a tight expression on my face, waiting for the other to finish their points about the otherwise excellent assignments. “What’s wrong Jose?”

“What’s wrong? Well …” I thought it out and slowly let out, “I’ll tell you that I’m mostly in agreement with you. I agree that teachers need autonomy. Unfortunately, some people in this very room don’t want to hear all of that. Actually, for your school’s purposes, you might have stopped at just the discussion about rubrics.” He saw what I meant, and the rest of the table nodded. One person wondered why we have to censor ourselves when everything the first gentleman was exactly right, and I thought the same thing.

After all, shouldn’t we be trying to look perfect for our students, and not for the stalwarts? It’s also why I have a soft spot for principals; when you’re the head of a school in NYC these days, you’re held far more accountable to people than others give you credit for. Network leaders, community politicians, people from “downtown,” and parents who just want to sue at the slightest irregularity can unnerve anyone trying to run their schools effectively. Oftentimes, that leads to principals trying to get their teachers and other staff members to speak in a certain code or language, and CYA is the operative acronym in this business.

Another part of Joel Klein’s legacy is ensuring that, upon telling principals that they’re the CEOs of their companies, they get all of the blame and none of the acclaim for their own initiatives. Furthermore, this relationship gets juxtaposed into the relationship between the principal and the teacher, so principal looks to be an overseer of education instead of guide and vision-keeper.

For those working within any given system, it’s about the look of perfection and not actually striving towards it. We can’t admit we don’t know; rather, we have to say we have it and we just need to augment it. It’s absurd, but this is what accountability does. It reminds me of the game Tag, where people are trying so hard to avoid that they’re passing it along to someone else as long as they get it. Thus, they’re ignored.

Now, if only people realized that everyone at some point in the game of life, they’ve been It, then they’d know how to cure this “It” so people can get away from playing their mind games.

Jose, who just don’t know how we keep getting wrapped up in the conversation of “ed reform” …