Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Dignity in Teaching

Here's a very sad story about a teacher who was treated badly. It's not the first story of this sort I've heard, and I'm sure it won't be the last. A callous school district full of tone-deaf administrators dismissed her. She had a dying child and took time off to care for him. There was no good reason for her dismissal, but since she was untenured, they did it anyway. The writer concludes there is no dignity in teaching.

I'm not sure I can agree. Is your dignity defined by the actions of other people? If so, you're in a very bad situation. Let's say you have a Boy Wonder supervisor, as many people do. Let's say Boy Wonder criticizes you because you asked a question and only two people raised their hands in response. Let's say 14 people actually raised their hands, and just to make it interesting, let's say you have video evidence.

Who does this reflect on? Does place your dignity in question? Is it your fault if Boy Wonder forgot his glasses? Is it your fault if he listened to the voices in his head rather than observing objective reality? Is it your fault that admin hired him instead of finding someone Not Insane? If so, you have an insurmountable problem.

I've actually known people who said they wanted their dignity back. They didn't like something a supervisor said or wrote. I understand that, at least somewhat. I've been the target of withering criticisms. These criticisms can come from supervisors, or pretty much anyone. Sometimes they're valid, in which case you have to think carefully and adjust future behavior. Other times, as in the case of the teacher cited in the story, they are nonsensical.

It's very tough to take criticism, but it's important to be able to discern which criticism is and is not worthy of consideration. Some people, like the Boy Wonder supervisors and the President of the United States, cannot take criticism at all. They deflect everything without a thought. They dismiss all questions as fake news or whining. Thus they never learn anything, and wander on their merry way.

As teachers, we need to do better. Can you imagine what your classes would be like if you routinely dismissed questions as stupid and unworthy of consideration? It's our job to get students to open up and examine their feelings and ideas. It's our job to encourage them to think and reflect, so they don't grow up to be Boy Wonders or Donald Trumps.

There's a little controversy now about Donald Trump blocking people on Twitter. Evidently when he does that, he's infringing on their First Amendment rights. Me, I'd love to be blocked by Donald Trump. I've been blocked by Campbell Brown and Dr. Steve What's-His-Name, the charter school guy who jukes the stats to show 100% college-bound in his test prep factories. I'm proud to have offended them to the point where they can't even bear to read my comments.

It's different, of course, when you work for a Boy Wonder supervisor. It's especially tough under the new observation system, where you can be observed, sometimes literally, to death. You then have to listen to him lecture you on why the kids need to hold up the green cards when they understand, the red cards when they don't, and the yellow cards when they aren't sure. You have to nod your head and act as though this isn't complete nonsense, or face even worse Danielson interrogations.

And there are indeed people who lose their jobs as a result of crazy supervisors. The woman in the story is just one. Again, she's not the first and won't be the last. There are distinct disadvantages of being untenured. One is the fact that some supervisors need to get up on their high horses to condemn and fire people simply to show they can do it.

I know a teacher who got several extensions of tenure because she was in a so-called failing school. When she transferred, a superintendent said that many extensions constituted a red flag. She instructed the supervisors in the school to discontinue the teacher. The genius supervisors observed her several times while she was giving tests, and rated her unsatisfactory both times. That was it, and she was discontinued.

You have to ask, though, does that reflect on her dignity? If you measure your dignity based on what crazy people think of you, you're bound for disappointment. If I give a big loud hello to Boy Wonder while I'm walking down the hall, and he turns, sneers and saunters away as fast as he can, I'm good with that. If he can't deal with me, that's not my problem.

I hate seeing union members abused, and I do what I can to fight back. This notwithstanding, there is certainly dignity in teaching. It's one of the most important jobs there is. This story also underlines the need for teacher tenure. When crazy supervisors undermine us it's difficult. Nonetheless we have to make our own decisions. Sad though I am that this teacher was treated so poorly, I'd argue she showed great grace and dignity.

Her supervisors, on the other hand, don't seem to know the meaning of the word.
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