A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, May 26, 2014

Nothing personal

With all the prestidigitation that accompanies big money, big data, and sub-group accountability mandates in education, perhaps the single most important educational outcome is becoming lost in the shuffle. What is happening to the relationship between students, parents, teachers, and their local schools? To what extent are core relationships in education, personal considerations, individualized needs, and local factors being undervalued with decision making in our schools exponentially tilting away from local, common sense, classroom level decision making, to the data-driven, centralized decision making of educational Czars? As “value-added” business metrics increasingly drive educational decision making, has the talking point in central offices become, “nothing personal, just business?”

Similar to the conflicts between big states, little states, and questions of inalienable rights that led to compromises at the Constitutional Convention, pressure is welling up along classic fault lines in education. Consolidation breeds natural efficiencies, especially the sharing of resources, particularly information pooling. In a world of tightening belts, arguments in favor of consolidation in education carry tremendous weight, backed with the force of numbers. Consolidation is thus an easy sell to taxpayers, but what are some of the disadvantages?

In my case, the decision of a respected local Principal and university professor to renew my contract was overruled by somebody in the central office. Despite my Principal’s argument that “the numbers speak for themselves,” that last year, if I had not been an effective teacher, my students would not have experienced the same level of success as they did with me, an argument supported by widely accepted research indicating that effective teaching is the number one predictor of student success, without any apparent input from my Principal or me, I am out of a job in a few weeks, and “not for performance reasons.”

Once state testing is completed after the first week in June, I will consult with my Principal and contact HR, because going forward, having personally invested so much, I need to know whether the door is closed for me in education and whether the time has come to cut my losses. I need to know who or what may be poisoning the waters. Until after state testing is completed, my singular focus needs to be preparing my students for their Math and U.S. History tests, because to do anything otherwise would be irresponsible.

What I wonder is how and when to break the news that, in all likelihood, I will not be returning next year? Yesterday morning, I finally mustered up the courage to tell my wife that my 1-year contract would not be renewed. Fortunately, we have options. She replied, “Damn, now I’ll probably have to move to Texas,” but what do I tell my students and fellow staff members? How will they respond?

How will the departure of one teacher affect the students and staff at one local school? The cost of pencils I provide: about 8 cents per pencil. Many of my colleagues argue that, in providing pencils without complaint, I am contributing to the learned helplessness of my students. By my calculation, on the other hand, I question the costs in terms of lost class time and public humiliation of my students, whose parents are not taking the time to monitor the educational needs of their own children? From a public relations standpoint, my ability to quietly foster positive relationships and communicate effectively with parents, both in writing, and in everyday conversations, as well as with students and my fellow colleagues, has allowed me to resolve countless potentially serious problems at the classroom level, without the need for administrative input. Because of my non-judgmental demeanor and unique level of personal responsiveness, I have become a trusted, reliable adult role model in a world where trust and reliability is too often in short supply.

My response to the mantra, “nothing personal,” is that nothing is more personal than a child’s future. As for me, I will probably be putting my home on the market and moving on.