Voices Of Concerned Educators: Bridging The Gap [Jovan Miles] - The Jose Vilson

Voices Of Concerned Educators: Bridging The Gap [Jovan Miles]

March 22, 2010

Public education is a bureaucrat’s wet dream.  Our school and district level leaders rarely, if ever, create policy or drive education reform. They simply carry out the will and mandates of government officials, politicians, and the loud minority who, in most cases, have never set foot in a classroom as anything other than students. Pushing paper and attending meetings has supplanted teaching as the focus of our educational system. Too many of our school and district level leaders are the puppets of politicians whose opinions change like Georgia weather; empty suits with six figure salaries, impressive titles, and no real investment in what really goes on in our schools anymore beyond test scores and photo opportunities.

But, they weren’t always that way … were they? Didn’t they have to have some integrity, conviction, and emotional investment in this thing of ours at some point? So, what happened? Does the climb up the ladder automatically make one forget that classroom teachers, school counselors, paraprofessionals, teachers’ assistants, and generally every system employee who actually works IN a school WITH students on a DAILY basis are actually the best equipped and most knowledgeable when it comes to diagnosing and ultimately addressing the many problems in the foundation of our educational system, particularly the problems related to poor students, rural students, and students of color? Doesn’t local control, with district support, make more sense as a leadership model for our educational system than the sprawling, bureaucratic, top-down, ivory tower based leadership model we have now? Isn’t a child’s classroom teacher more aware of the child’s educational needs than the Superintendent, Governor, President, or even the school’s Principal?

Classroom teachers (and other school level employees) have to become the real leaders because, everyday, they’re getting their hands dirty, working to create more leaders. Classroom teachers take more than their (our) fair share of the blame and much less than their (our) fair share of the credit for the failures and successes of our schools and educational system as a whole.  Classroom teachers who (gasp!) CHOOSE to serve poor students, rural students, and students of color are often crucified in the court of public opinion when it comes to the perceived under-performance of the students they serve.

Entire legislative packages (NCLB, Goals 2000, etc) have been created by (non educators) politicians seeking to right the incorrectly perceived wrongs that the poor unfortunate under-performing students had to suffer at the hands of their incompetent teachers and uncaring schools. Lack of clearly defined goals for the classroom teachers was the problem. The teachers had too much freedom and not enough direction when it came to teaching the students what they needed to know to be successful in life: success as measured by a passing score on a standardized test.  Millions of dollars are pumped in to adoption of new textbooks, development of new curriculum, and the systematic removal of a teacher’s autonomy to diagnose and address the needs of their students. That power now rests with an empty suit in an office in an ivory tower that may show up one or twice a year for photo opportunities with the poor unfortunate students. The classroom teachers are never in these photos … because they’re too busy working, getting their hands dirty, trying to serve whomever walks through their classroom as best as they can.

Obviously, there is a massive disconnect between perceptions of the public and leadership and the lived realities of the classroom teachers and their students. The public wants someone to blame for society’s ills. Public education and, as a natural extension, teachers are nice convenient whipping boys (and girls). Teachers do not have a single unified voice. Teachers do not have a single unified national certification and/or accreditation organization. Teachers don’t have hundreds of lobbyists pushing their agenda in DC. Teachers don’t have much of anything going for them (us) but their passion for the profession, seemingly infinite stores of patience, and a high threshold for pain.

Enough is enough.

Change, real systemic organizational change, is a bottom up endeavor with some collaboration and support (forced or otherwise) from the top. The bosses are too far away from the schools to see the real problems.  However, the teachers are so concerned with the problems that they do not have the time to truly develop plans of action to fix the systemic problems that exist, sometimes even within their old buildings.

The old leadership model doesn’t work. It is time for something new. Something more personal. Something more grounded in reality. Instead of promotions that completely remove effective teachers from classrooms and place them in Principal, Assistant Principal, or district level leadership positions, why not require building level leaders to also spend a minimum number of hours in the classroom each week, working directly with the students, continuing to experience the problems firsthand and ultimately preserving their perspective of the problems? These “teacher-leaders” would then be able to use their position to help inform and/or create policy. Move the district offices out of the ivory towers and strategically place them within the schools. Then, and only then, can we begin to bridge the gap between the perceptions of the old leadership and the public and the lived realities of classroom teachers and students.

If we’re serious about the problem…then we need to be equally serious about a solution.

Jovan Miles

JovanMiles.net

This post was written by...

For more about me, read here.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Monise March 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Excellent observations! I share your sentiments with the need for change to start with students, parents, and teachers. The ‘others’ are too far removed from the classroom, kids, and actual issues to understand, appreciate, or even care about what is really going on and how we can fix it (I do believe we can, but it will take honest dialogue, which some people cannot handle). I was actually chastised for expressing the same sentiment about Arne Duncan last week. According to this individual, Dunca doesn’t need classroom experience to make him qualified to serve as Secretary of Education. My opinion was labeled ‘assinine’ and I was expected to debate my stance with this individual. I refused because I know ‘You cannot get into a battle of wits when your opponent is obviously unarmed.’ I kept it movin.

Great post!

Reply

Andrea March 22, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Excellent post! The idea of actually having district offices within the schools is something that I think would be be very beneficial. I have seen ONE principal that I have had who actually worked with the teachers and was hands on. She was very rare. But I learned a lot from here.

There are times when I wonder if I want to even pursue the admin point of view. I have seen how it has changed individuals and shown a complete disconnect what is really going on “in the trenches”. But I think the way that leaders are created needs to change as well. Why is a band teacher (who has never taught a core subject) considered an academic expert? Where is the logic? The way we train leaders as well as educators has to change.

Again, interesting and great post!

Reply

Sue VanHattum March 22, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I’m with you.

Reply

Mr. Owens March 22, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Excellent post. Can we please get this into Newsweek, NY Times, etc… instead of all this madness in the mainstream media.

Reply

Jovan March 23, 2010 at 8:11 am

I just wanted to say thanks to Jose for giving a voice to those of us doing the work every day.

Also, thanks to everyone who read and commented. I will get back to each comment individually before the day is over…but duty calls!

Reply

missincognegro March 23, 2010 at 8:46 am

Excellent post, Jovan.

My Dear Brother said the following years ago, when I was a newbie teacher:

“People step up and notice things when it begins to hurt them. The state of education in the United States isn’t hurting them enough, and thus it isn’t a priority.”

Not much has changed, it seems, since my Dear Brother spoke those words. But, we teachers – the front line workers – continue to create sanity out of chaos.

Reply

Charles D. Moorer March 23, 2010 at 9:10 am

It is clear that you have a good idea of what the problem is and how to solve it. Unfortunately, those who are promoted from the classroom to positions of leadership are often coopted by the very system they want to change. I agree that leaders should spend time in the classroom so they continue to experience the issue firsthand.

I also believe that teachers need to organize beyond national unions and develop a local voice to lobby their concerns at the city and state level to make legistlators understand they are the first line of defence against illiteracy. They need a voice in DC. But they also need a voice in the parents’s homes. They need to make parents understand that no matter how good the teacher is, the parents must reenforce what teaches in the classroom, if not it is like pouring water in a class with a hole in the bottom.

Charter school anyone? or Private School? Check out the Harlem Childrens Zone. I know Geoffrey Canada. I could get you an invite.

Uncle Charles – the your wife and your mom, I said, HEY! See you guys soon, I hope.

Reply

hissip March 23, 2010 at 11:00 am

This is a very good post, Jovan. And what an opening sentence.

Reply

Amanda@Parentella March 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

Well written, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing and I could not agree more. Until we are willing to act, rhetoric is useless.

Reply

Jose March 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm

This is beautiful. I have to agree with you here:

The old leadership model doesn’t work. It is time for something new. Something more personal. Something more grounded in reality. Instead of promotions that completely remove effective teachers from classrooms and place them in Principal, Assistant Principal, or district level leadership positions, why not require building level leaders to also spend a minimum number of hours in the classroom each week, working directly with the students, continuing to experience the problems firsthand and ultimately preserving their perspective of the problems?

That’s important there. Imagine teachers / teacher leaders having a vested voice in policy. Hmmm

Reply

Speaks Beliefs March 24, 2010 at 11:45 am

Speak Jovan!! I concur with you both. When you’re not connected with students daily. It’s very easy for administrators/leaders to lose touch with what’s most important: students.

Reply

Jonathan March 28, 2010 at 1:45 pm

It couldn’t hurt. Couldn’t. I’m just not sure, with change being driven from above, how much it would help.

FWIW, UFT District Reps and VPs continue to teach one class each day…

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: