A teacher relates,
“I’ve been teaching math for a quarter of a century in the same school until it closed. Once in a while I’d be observed, it was always complementary. I was a mentor and for the last few years the acting Assistant Principal. When my school closed I was hired in a small high school. The principal is young, he’s not from the Leadership Academy, he taught for a while and was an assistant principal. He’s a strong disciplinarian and the students respect him. He came into my room for a few minutes almost every day, he’d make suggestions. I told him I knew what I was doing and found the visits intrusive. Tells me that he viewed frequent classroom visits as an essential part of his job. His suggestions became criticisms: discipline was poor, I didn’t make use of the disaggregated student achievement data, I didn’t differentiate instruction, etc. He thought I could benefit from videotaping my lesson and he’d go over it with me. I spoke to the union rep and he advised against it. ‘What can he do to you, you have tenure?’ I told the principal these kids came to school unprepared, they lived in the projects, weren’t interested in school. He has to understand their limitations. He told me my attitude was unacceptable and perhaps I should find another school.”
A principal responds,
“I drop into classrooms everyday for a few minutes, most teachers are used to it. Later in the day I may ask a question or make a suggestion. At the beginning of the term I provide each teacher with an ‘error matrix’ of the State exam results. I ask them, regardless of their subject area, to address the areas that need support. I urge them to develop projects and give them planning time to work with colleagues. One of the math teachers has been teaching a long time, his classroom discipline is poor, he has no rapport with the students, he pays no attention to the disaggregated data, he plods along, and resents any suggestions. At our last meeting he denigrated the kids and uses the neighborhood and their background as an excuse. I told him it was our responsibility to move them forward, the neighborhood was an obstacle, not an excuse. I suggested he might be happier in another school, he ran to the union rep who tells me I’m trying to push him out because of his age and salary.”
Generational differences both within the union and between senior staff and younger supervisors are deep-seated problems within schools, Susan Moore Johnson at Harvard University is involved in extensive research exploring this issue.
For decades urban school systems faced teacher shortages: poor pay, lousy working conditions, a lack of status, teachers stayed a few months or a few years and moved along. School success/failure was zip code driven. High dropout rates, school violence, poor attendance were accepted as a reality of urban education. School staffs evolved, a cohort of “lifers,” who ran the school and an ever changing population of new teachers, most of whom left for another profession. In the mid-nineties 17% of NYC teachers were uncertified, they were unable to pass the low level teacher entry exams but were allowed to continue to teach.
For the senior teacher a teacher’s job was to teach the kids who chose to come to class. If students chose not to come to school, not to do their homework, not to study, so be it, that was their decision.
“We’re not social workers, we can’t solve intractable problems of the inner city; technology is a distraction more than a tool.”
Melissa Dittmann observes,
boomers may believe gen Xers are too impatient and willing to throw out the tried-and-true strategies, while gen Xers may view boomers as always trying to say the right thing to the right person and being inflexible to change. Traditionalists may view baby boomers as self-absorbed and prone to sharing too much information, and baby boomers may view traditionalists as dictatorial and rigid. And, gen Xers may consider millennials too spoiled and self-absorbed, while millennials may view gen Xers as too cynical and negative.
The younger supervisors/teachers are used to working in groups, sharing ideas, sharing lesson plans and materials. They believe schools are part of communities and school staffs must function within the communities. The culture of the community cannot be ignored. Working with faith-based organizations, the local precinct, community-based organizations are part of being a teacher. Jumping into your car at the end of the day and driving home to be suburbs is no longer acceptable behavior, so says younger teachers/supervisors. They believe the teacher union contracts must not be impediments or excuses to effective teaching/learning strategies.
Peter Senge, the management guru, famously wrote,
“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”
The expectation of teachers has changed, the bar has risen. Simply walking into class and teaching, ignoring the interconnection of teaching and learning is no longer acceptable. The role of the teacher leader has evolved to a change agent. To work with new teachers in skills acquisition as well as to support experienced teachers in new skills acquisition, to involve all teachers, new and experienced, in the change process. Participation reduces resistance.
Change is inevitable. Teacher evaluation will include, to some extent, pupil achievement data. New roles as lead teachers or mentors or curriculum experts, with higher remuneration will become part of teacher contracts. Teacher dismissal will take months rather than years. And, the Teacher Data Reports, the new State teacher evaluation system (grades on 100 point scale), over time will become, like baseball batting averages, readily available.
We have to figure how change can be made less threatening and includes those who are being changed.