How ironic that the generation that grew up to themes like Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A Changing” are so resistant to change. The recipients of those tumultuous times are in the highest echelons of corporate and/or institutional power now and continue to be the biggest obstacle to real change.
At the weekly Los Angeles Unified School District board meeting today (3/31/09) Monica Garcia, president of the board and a real advocate for change, asked the community to “not just say no,” but come together as part of the solution and make real change.
Ms. Garcia acknowledged that change is hard, since she said it four times. She was speaking to all of those who need to come together to effect that change. Although I didn’t hear her say it, I believe she meant all of the unions, community members and all those who are involved with public schools here in
I became a teacher about 20 years ago, after a career in journalism and advertising, then owning my own successful marketing, mail order and retail businesses. I did it because I wanted to get children to love learning. I was successful at that, too, which I will discuss in later posts. My wife had been a teacher for more than 20 years when I finally joined her. Shortly thereafter, she had an opportunity to leave the classroom in a mentor position. Although it was really not necessary I reminded her that adult decisions should always be made with the impact it will have on the kids. She has always done that, but she tells me on almost a daily basis how so many decisions are made by so many people that do not take that simple aphorism into account.
One culprit resisting change is the teacher’s union. I do believe in the concept of unions. I think, however, when we talk of unions of teachers, we have another “member” to consider. We’re not steamfitters or truckers. We’re college graduates with post graduate work, who are responsible for anywhere from 20 to 200 students or more every day. The union folks will say their job is too look out for the teachers first. Uh Uh. We are all teachers and we all owe it to ourselves, our profession and yes, the cliché, the children, to look out for their best interests first. We’re the adults and if we are entrusted to make decisions then we have to realize we are responsible to them. First. If a teacher is bad (and I have worked with too many) that means an entire class of children has essentially lost an entire year of quality learning. We need to come up with an easier way to remove these ineffectual and potentially harmful people from the classroom. Yes, offer them training, but in the end, some people are not cut out to teach. And it’s not just older teachers who are burnt out. There are a few newer teachers who made it under the radar, made tenure and are still around. That’s a change that needs to be addressed.
The fear of union reprisal also gets in the way of some administrators to be honest in their evaluations of teachers who need to be gone – or at the very least, retrained. I’ve seen administrators, usually new ones, struggle with doing the right thing and doing the easier thing. They do have the power. They’ve just been intimidated.
This district is currently in the midst of what many others around the country are facing, which is a terrible budget crisis. This is forcing the district, under current agreements, to replace half of the faculties consisting of young, enthusiastic, specially-trained teachers who want to be in the schools where they are, with older, been-out-of-the-classroom-for-years people. This is happening in schools with nearly 100% poor, minority enrollment. There are dozens of them. But the schools in the middle class neighborhoods, there will be practically no turnover. Something has to be done about that, too.
Parents have to change, too. They have to show up to conferences with teachers and work with the teacher to make change. They need to understand school does not take place only between 8 and 3. Again, specific suggestions will be addressed in later posts.
Teachers have to change. Administrators have to change. We need better training for both groups. And we also have to consider teaming teachers who are better trained in one area to work with a complimentary colleague. This is change that will cost no one anything, except to accept a new idea.
I have escorted principals into a classroom where the math information being delivered was incorrect. (Somewhere in the same category as two plus two equals three. Just plain wrong.) None of the principals saw this misinformation. They thought it was wonderful how the teacher interacted with the students. A fine trait to be sure, but I would like to think we had standards a little higher than that. Unfortunately, we do not.
This district, as so many others, strives for mediocrity. Lip service is paid to how we are going to institute rigor and demand more, but it isn’t done. What many of these so called educators are calling rigor, is more like their own rigor mortis of the mind. Like so much of the banality in the popular press, administrators focus on the trivial rather than what and how effective a lesson is. This only makes it easier for lazy teachers to get away with the minimum. I found it was easier to have high expectations and teach to the highest kid, while bringing along the lower performing kids who always benefited from this method. There are excellent teachers in nearly every school, but right now, there just aren’t enough of them.
Food. Of course we have to make sure our students are well fed and have the opportunity to get healthy, good tasting meals. But why should a school district have to pay for the food and employees in that area, from its funds? Shouldn’t we think about that as part of this change?
As my contemporary Dylan implored, “don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the halls…” Remember, he was talking to you then, and even if he doesn’t sing it the same way now, it means the same. Whatever you’re doing, it’s not working. Can you not see that?
Fortunately, a few, such as Ms. Garcia, know change has to come. She needs to have more people on her side to make it happen. And everyone gets to have a say.
Now you, readers.