Monday, January 28, 2013

"What are you willing to get fired for"?

My favorite session at Educon was session 5. You won't find this title in program, but this is a snapshot of a great conversation that I had with Rob Grecko. He asked me: "What are you willing to get fired for? Poor test scores vs. refusing to teach scripted curriculum?"


Photo Credit: muffytyrone via Compfight cc

We all make compromises and do things that we may philosophically disagree with at times to work in a system called a school, district, or whatever. If we are always backtracking to obey district mandates it is a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? When is enough, enough?

But I also have an addiction to food, clothing, and shelter (hat tip to Ron Houtman)  that my wife and children share. I need my job to live and I was raised to respect and obey authority figures. I think a not so subtle belief of my religious upbringing was that they have all of the answered figured out and everyone else is wrong, which very quickly leads to listen to their authoritative voice and don't question it.

If you know me, you know that I have shed the "don't ask questions part" but in truth I am a complicated mixture of rule follower and rebel and don't even know how to classify myself.

So the driving question haunts me because the truth is I am not willing to lose my family income for what I believe is the best for students. The truth is also though that I am not in a position where I have to make that choice.

But let's try an experiment in empathy. What if you WERE met by your administrator tomorrow and handed a scripted test prep curriculum and told that you had to use it the rest of the year and that your students had to reach a certain level on the state test or you would be fired. 

Which risk would you choose? Teach the test prep curriculum and hope you don't get fired from low scores or ignore the scripted curriculum in favor of meaningful student-based inquiry and risk getting fired for disobeying orders. Which risk has the better payoff? Which risk helps students?

What are YOU willing to get fired for?

18 comments:

  1. I'd like to believe I would have the courage to throw the scripted curriculum out the window-literally & figuratively!

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    1. Thanks for the comments here and on Twitter. I know you will keep fighting Steve for the best for students.

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  2. Doesn't your answer to this depend on whether or not you think scripted curricula and instruction are more likely to result in good student test results than however you were teaching instead?

    I'll put my money on adaptive, caring, responsive teachers over bureaucratic, unresponsive scripts anytime, even for bubble tests of low-level knowledge...

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    1. Scott,
      Yes and no. I think the point of our conversation was that teachers are so much like sheep following district mandates because they fear losing their jobs when ironically following those instructions leads to, as you say, poor teaching and failing test scores.

      Teachers worry about the short term consequences and ignore the long term consequences of students who hate school and miss out on authentic learning experiences and skills that they will actually use in life.

      Mike

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    2. So much of 'school' is about compliance...

      Who succeeded best at 'school' when they were kids? Those who often were the most compliant, who did what they were told so they could 'get an A' and 'go to college.' Many of those folks grow up to become teachers; they were successful in school, so they liked school, so they come back. They bring their compliance mindset back to school with them, this time as teachers, and the whole cycle begins all over again, particularly when it's reinforced from outside by 'accountability' mechanisms and policies.

      What happens to those who are noncompliant in school? What happens to those who question and ask why? They're punished. Not a lot of those folks migrating toward schools as adults, even asking questions about the status quo is exactly what we need right now if we want schools to be more flexible and adaptive to our rapidly-changing world...

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    3. I agree with you and interestingly we talked about this. All of the people in the conversation were actually valedictorians of their high school. On the other hand we all agreed that we played the game well and were not actually served a great education.

      What gives me hope is that people like us are asking these questions and pushing back. I do believe that I have been punished for expressing my views in the past but in my current position I am given more freedom to explore student-centered learning.

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  3. The title of this post basically sums up my EduCon takeaway. I will be working on this question for a while and eventually will write a blog post about it, I am sure. The corollary question for me is, what will I tolerate until I have to quit? And then, what will I do next?
    -Fran (@MsPoodry)

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    1. Fran, thanks for joining the convo. I think the answer to your corollary question for me is that as long as I am part of a school that is making attempts to reform toward student-centered learning I can work within it to influence change.

      There is a part of me that would like to start my own school, but I feel that would take me out of the classroom into administration which I have no desire to do.

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  4. I am a single parent. I don't know how we'd survive if I got fired.

    One way to make better choices than what you're being handed down from above with less risk is to ... organize. Like the Garfield teachers in Seattle, who said no to the standardized tests, and have not been fired.

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    1. Sue, great point about organizing. This blog post is a thought experiment for me rather than risking actually losing a job. But I have to ask myself how much bad policies would I tolerate without resisting in some form.

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  5. I am fearful that education is at this turning point. It will either devolve into mass-produced, assembly-line style of education where the Scantron will be the norm, or big-picture teachers will battle to maintain the integrity of the educational system and for the long-term benefit of their students. Unfortunately during the course of this "battle" I am afraid that many quality teachers will fall victim. Faced with the very choice Michael talks about, innovative, creative, passionate teachers who "get it," who see the big picture will stand up for what they know is right and will lose their jobs or fall out of the career.

    In the end it is the students who will suffer the most from carbon-copy educational practices. Bright, inspired, creative students will be shoe-horned into classes driven by 1980s academia and have that fire for learning snuffed out.

    That we, as educators, are reaching out to one-another and talking about this gives me hope. I just hope others are listening.

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    1. Jason,

      I agree that we are at a bit of a crossroads. That is why I think it is imperative that we show off quality work done in student-centered schools. We need to show examples to the public of a better way. I am also optimistic that middle class parents will start to rise up against the abundance of test prep and demand more from schools and eventually "vote with their feet" in public schools fail to move out of the industrialized model.

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  6. I have some pretty extreme views on what I "should" be doing...
    From the very first day I was hired 22 years ago I decided to keep my job by sucking up my personal views and putting them into a box. I suppose survival for many is built on how well they can compartmentalize their feelings.

    Here is a question Mike...did you only become a teacher to teach the content? What else did you become a teacher to deliver? I suppose many might quit if they only see themselves as delivering the content.

    I would say only 30% of my job is curriculum, the other 90% is raising humane kids. That 90% is what feeds me. In my box of letters and emails from kids, that 90% is what they reflect upon.

    There is always a bit of me who says that I chose this. I agreed to work for them. The citizens voted in the Board of Ed who makes the decisions, hires the admins, who tell me what to do. By saying they are wrong am I not also saying that the people who ultimately pay me are wrong? Seems like our issue should not be with the admin or bds of ed, but the people who are footing the bill.

    One single parent complaint would have more of an impact than me quitting. If I do quit, a supporter of standardization will take my spot.

    How many kids lives are you willing to risk by quitting?

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    1. Been thinking about this post since leaving the comment. I think I would leave in a heartbeat if I could, I think I go all rah rah with my answer because of the fact that I am stuck. Can't really think of something I can easily shift to, and moving schools would result in a huge paycut. If I win the lottery tomorrow, I would be finished at the end of the year, and then I would go and volunteer in a museums ed program. Would still be educating kids, just not in prison...maybe volunteering to teach kids in a prison would give me more academic freedom.

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    2. Paul, it probably won't help your frame of mind, but you might like reading Walking on Water, by Derrick Jensen. He writes about teaching writing in a college and at a prison. I'm reading it for the second time.

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    3. Thanks Paul for continuing the conversation. This for me was a thought experiment. I can't ever see myself actually quitting. That statement alone really concerns me. I feel more obligated to take care of my family than use the best teaching methods.

      I have a young colleague who wants to resist the system very much and talks about leaving to start his own school. I told him to go for it and that I would join him once I "retire" from the public school system.

      The good news is that we do need subversive teachers "inside" the public school system and we can make a difference in that role.

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  7. I am not willing to risk a single life, a single mind, a single spirit. I teach art, a subject that the "system" has not fully acknowledged has value and meaning, but ask any one of my 300 students and they will tell you what their art class means to them. If they ever give me a script for art, I think I will ignore it and see how long I can keep going. I know my students and their families will have my back.

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    1. What do you think of this for ninth grade "measurement topics"?

      VA.09.EX10.01.01 Understands the importance of displaying art for public view.
      CREATION: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 2
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.CRF2.02.01 Is skilled at distinguishing between subtle value changes in an image.
      CREATION: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 5
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.CRF5.01.01 Is skilled at using different techniques to accurately translate an image (gridding, negative/positive shapes, point plotting, visual mapping).
      CREATION: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 8
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.CRF8.02.01 Is skilled at using various multi-media techniques in the creation of art work.
      CREATION: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 9
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.CRF9.01.01 Is skilled at observational drawing.
      CREATION: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 10
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.CR10.01.01 Is receptive to criticism and self assessment.
      ART LITERACY: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 1
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.ALF1.01.01 Understands the difference between observational and symbolic drawing.
      ART LITERACY: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 3
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.ALF3.01.01 Understand the outcome of basic techniques and processes used to create a work of art.
      ART HISTORY: AESTHETICS AND CRITICISM: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 1
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.ACF1.01.01 Is skilled at justifying a personal opinion about a work of art.
      ART HISTORY: AESTHETICS AND CRITICISM: FOUNDATIONS: STEP 2
      Learning Target Name Definition
      VA.09.ACF2.01.01 Understands the importance of constructive feedback in the critique process.
      CREATION: CRAFTSMANSHIP: STEP 10

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