Monday, May 16, 2016

Top Down or Side by Side?

A few weeks ago our department ran NYSESLAT testing. I’ve written elsewhere my opinions about this test, its lack of validity, and its Common Coriness as opposed to measuring the language ability we're supposed to encourage and enable. Whatever my opinions of the test may be, we had to administer it.

In the past, we had a clear person in charge of this test. One year it was me, as LAB BESIS coordinator. I didn’t much love the job and opted to go back to the classroom after I did it for a year. So this isn’t meant as a knock on anyone who ran it in the past.

This year, we ran it more cooperatively. There wasn’t really any one person in charge. As things needed to be done, we got up and did them. Papers needed to be distributed. Phones needed to be collected. Someone had to run here or there to get this or that. Things happened, and we calmly dealt with them one at a time.

This is a model of what I almost never see. Working for the DOE, it’s usually some High and Exalted Supervisor telling everyone else, “I have decided all of YOU have to do this THING. THIS is how I want YOU to do this thing. If YOU don’t do this thing, YOU are in TROUBLE. And YOU better do this thing the way I say, or YOU will be in TROUBLE.

On the other hand, my colleagues and I looked at this task, thought about how best to do it, and simply did it. A great thing my AP did was decide NOT to do it in the trailers, as we’ve done in the past. This year, like every year we’ve ever done this, it rained. By bringing it indoors, neither we nor our students got wet.

So when a few colleagues of mine showed up on Monday, we figured out how to distribute wooden work boards in the auditorium. We needed something on wheels because they were kind of heavy. I found a rolling chair on the stage and a colleague and I wheeled it around, placing the boards where they needed to be placed. My colleague hates opening plastic packages, so I did it for her. We alternated making announcements until we found the person we decided had the best speaking voice.

Absolutely no one got angry at anyone.

This is what happens when you leave things in the hands of teachers and trust them to do the right thing. This is what happens when you don’t have top-down mandates from people who refuse to participate or assist with the actual work that needs to be done. This is what happens when no one stands over people making ever-shifting demands on the people who do things that are too lowly for that person to mess with.

I wonder why we can’t run our education system like this. I wonder why we can’t run our schools like this. In fact, I even wonder why we can’t run our union like this. The top-down model is rejected by the system that rates us, and fully expects us to enlist the cooperation and enthusiasm of our students. Yet principals do any damn thing they feel like, with no regard whatsoever for those of us who do the actual work. Even under alleged socialist hippie Bill de Blasio, they likely set themselves up for promotion by indulging in ineffectual top-down nonsense, thus making the system even worse.

How does demoralizing teachers systemwide help us to be role models? How does it help us to inspire children? How does it help children?

And how did we come to do things this way?
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