Month 3 of 10

Public school is often unnecessarily hard labor, and it is the teachers who ultimately bear the greatest burden in the profession.

POINT OF NO RETURN 

By the third month of the academic year, the culture and climate of US public schools have started to become firm. At least one round of report cards has been sent to the families who are tending to the delicate balance of managing their trusts in the best ways they know how. Our communities and students comprise the majority of public education’s stakeholders and often apply blind faith with respect to (and for) the educators. 

Meanwhile, in at least every fifth classroom, there is a bad coach who will harm many children in their care for the rest of the year.

Miss Shoulda rolls her eyes as she paces around the classroom, looking down on the Others and resenting them for everything they are not. [Some call it a deficit lens; I call her a not-see!] She sees skills gaps, achievement gaps, communities who must not read to their children or actively support them, students who do not value education, and any other imaginable reason or excuse for stagnant learning outcomes in her classroom. Miss Shoulda wants to stay at home tomorrow, and can’t wait until her nine days off for Turkey Time. Do you blame her? 

Mr. Coulda is just going through the motions. He operates like a Blockbuster clerk, offering boxed curriculum to anyone ready to check it out. Half of his students don’t seem to read well enough to keep up, so he shrugs off their chances of passing STAAR tests in the spring. One out of every five children on his roster makes all of the work look easy. Mr. Coulda is doing school without embracing the business of education, an LLC (Literacy, Learning, and Culture). Yet he believes that his job and professional reputation are based on his bottom line — summative, end-of-year data. Do you blame him? 

Mrs. Woulda is confident that her challenges, struggles, and failures are everyone else’s fault. Her endless murmurs, paraphrased:

  • She is only a teacher, not a social worker or surrogate parent. 
  • She isn’t properly trained or paid. 
  • She has to write her own weekly lesson plans on borrowed time. 
  • Her instructional coach is stretched thin — no help. 
  • Mrs. Woulda’s principal is invisible during school hours and clueless at all times.
  • A tiny percentage of bad kids who never get real consequences run the school.
  • She might be a better teacher if the higher-ups stop adding:
  1. new boxes to be checked
  2. new expectations
  3. new initiatives
  4. new strategies all year
  5. new strategies every year
  • The system is making her sick.

Every year Mrs. Woulda says it is her last year in the classroom. Do you blame her? 

As I wash the blood off of my hands after bashing a few bad teachers, what problems have I solved?!

As much as I disagree with all three of their perspectives, I would have to lie to say I’ve never been like them — for a minute or a week at a time. For coal miners, factory workers, and classroom teachers, occupational disease is real. So, what’s in the air? 

The danger is in the details, specifically the vacuous blind spots. 

A top-down scan — president, national education secretary, state agencies, school boards and districts, to campus leadership — offers a critical explanation. Every political or professional tier of the education sector above classroom teachers is subject to knowledge gaps, problems of practice, and shabby systems that form turbulence on the ground level. Public school is often unnecessarily hard labor, and it is the teachers who ultimately bear the greatest burden in the profession.

So, can you blame them?! 

I can’t… even as many of them routinely blame children, families, and communities. It is never a good time to verbally or spiritually assault teachers, especially given the storms they endure daily. 

The solution to both measurable and mythical “achievement gaps” they face is standards-based.

STANDARDS ALIGNMENT 

The prevalent perspective about schooling prioritizes teachers’ alignment to annual state (testing) standards. Yet it is not a secret that schoolchildren, and the money that shows up with them, are the fuel of the public school engine. So, centering the experiences of our students is the surest standard.

As a classroom teacher, I used my desk less every school year. By year four or five, I began to understand how active the business of education (LLC) is, so I removed my teacher desk altogether. However, we have a powerful metaphor to ponder by looking at our desks as the focus of our individual (and collective) business affairs.

Teachers are often disconnected from the “higher powers” of educational expertise within district hierarchy. Granted the crucial ability to “close my door and teach” 70% of the year, a teacher’s desk is always standards-based since it faces the students directly. 

 “…teacher qualifications are the most important school-related predictors of student achievement.”

Moving up the ranks, the desks tend to shift and spin. For example, the instructional coach could be the principal’s gopher. The assistant principal might be a hall cop, a discipline detective, a paper pusher, etc. The principal may be managing a million-dollar budget, a multifaceted staff, and the many tasks of being spokesperson to the district and the community. Imagine the content expert at the district office smothered in test scores, all the way up to a superintendent turning their attention to corporate partnerships. [If you’re a school board member reading this, what are y’all focused on today?]

If all educators aligned their desks to face the students (and families) for one day a week, what would change? 

I don’t have all of the answers, but one reasonable outcome is that curriculum, instruction, teaching, and learning would be better supported. Until then, the predictability of who succeeds or fails persists. Most teachers are racially, socioeconomically, culturally, linguistically, and geographically different from their students. This explains the wave of cultural proficiency, culturally responsive teaching, and educational equity in the industry. Yet these are tepid efforts, at best, without systemic anchors to hold them in place. 

Any education professional in any role at any level can reference “what’s best for kids” to convey virtuous intent, but who is aspiring to the labor of attending to children’s Literacy, Learning, and Culture? We’ve gotta be moving beyond the language of educational equity to the labor of educational equity, or we run the risk of lamenting what our schools coulda, shoulda, and woulda done with our children.

We’ve gotta be treating teachers like professionals, modeling the high engagement and expectations we want to see in classrooms. We’ve gotta be further professionalizing them, too. Actively. Not micromanagement, but coaching. We need good coaches on the front line, so we’ve gotta be creating good coach culture.

They may be easy targets, but teachers ultimately deserve the same love, patience, and care as the children they are expected to serve. This can only happen when we institutionalize keeping students at the center of our decisions and actions.

13 thoughts on “Month 3 of 10

  1. “ We’ve gotta be moving beyond the language of educational equity to the labor of educational equity…”

    I 100% agree with that statement; I also like the perspectives shared in the article.

    For a country predicated on capitalism and being #1 globally, it’s interesting to see the limited business investment in the USA’s “LLC”… Literacy, Learning, and Culture.

    And yes, that’s inclusive of students and educators.

    Good read #HipHopGrewUp

  2. Brother This Article Is A Tough Pill To Swallow But Str8 Facts. Sometimes As Educators We Get Bogged Down With The Business Of School “hall cop, a discipline detective, a paper pusher, etc.” Instead Of The Business Of School (Educating Students) & I Do Not Mean The Regurgitation Of Material For An Assessment But The Retention Of Material, Students Can Use Throughout Their Lifetimes. Thanks For Sharing… I Enjoy Reading Them And Sharing Them With My Colleagues

    1. APG: Thanks for taking the time to comment here, and thanks again for your continued dedication to centering the student experience in your personal sphere of influence.

  3. “moving beyond the language of educational equity to the labor of educational literacy” has been an issue since I was in school.
    This was insightful for my non-educator self. As you stated many professions can deal with achievement gaps. Very interesting read.

  4. I agree — and this really matters. And yet I struggle with this. I sometimes wish that we had a professional culture that welcomed hard conversations — as an opportunity to grow and think and learn for the children. I know in my career, I’ve grown a lot when somebody flat out said, “Hey. That’s not okay.” Of course there was trust there, and I felt safe. But that sort of tough talk is sometimes a very big sign of respect. At least to me it was. Anyway, my point is this: I think that all of what you said is true, AND we need to have a culture that welcomes tough stuff. Sometimes when I broach hard conversations, I feel there is a sort of censoring that can happen — a move to go toward, “You don’t appreciate how hard this is” as a way a deeper issue. I could also be really wrong here. But it’s been on my mind a lot. It is hard. The hardest job ever. And there is little support.

    1. This is a great addition to what’s written here in Month 3. I don’t think the coaching necessary to support children’s Literacy, Learning, and Culture is complete without hard conversations. In much of my work, we use the Courageous Conversations protocol for that exact reason. Give me a call soon, Deb. I just thought of a conversation topic for you and I. Thanks!

  5. “We’ve gotta be moving beyond the language of educational equity to the labor of educational equity…”

    This statement needs to be digested by everyone in education (me included).
    Getting/ being stuck in the language and neglecting the LABOR is the very reason we have some (to many) Mr/Ms/Mrs/Dr -should’ve, could’ve would’ve but DIDN’Ts.

    The mere fact that many of us can get so lost in the language (LLC) or even worse don’t buy into it, is the very reason that so many students have slipped between or under the cracks (one is to many).

    Each read is just as real and powerful than the one before. I am still processing the questions from the 2nd read.

    Thank you for sharing your needed perspective and brilliance.

    1. Thanks for the authentic insight from the field. It’s great to know that these monthly reflections are useful to respected and seasoned professionals!

  6. “We’ve gotta be further professionalizing them, too. Actively. Not micromanagement, but coaching. We need good coaches on the front line, so we’ve gotta be creating good coach culture.” My teacher heart loves the concept of professionalizing our teachers actively and that it doesn’t mean micromanaging. I see that micromanaging mentality from higher ups as a major roadblock to new learning by teachers. So much gold in this entire post. Appreciate you, Bavu and so thankful I get to work with you!

    1. Yes, indeed. Thank you for stopping by, for always welcoming me into the department and district, and for your fervent commitment to the labor of educational equity.

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