Wednesday, January 08, 2020

On Teacher Morale

Our school is generally a good place to work. Sure, there are things to complain about, and I spend a good portion of my time complaining about them and/ or trying to fix them. Nonetheless, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that, having gotten rid of two really insane supervisors recently, we haven't got any more of them. Of course, that could change at any moment, but for now I'd say we're beating the odds.

What are the odds? I'd say maybe one in three you get some lunatic telling you what to do. Of course it's not completely their fault. There's a whole lot of trickle-down crap from the geniuses in Albany, and it's all you can do these days to get in there and teach anything that students actually need to know. Making a jump from one school to another, though, is risky business.

I've long maintained that "getting out of the classroom" is just not a worthy goal. Anyone harboring such a goal doesn't love teaching and likely as not doesn't know how to do it well. The most efficacious way to get out of the classroom is to go into supervision. Sure, you have to go through the C30 process, but there's no guarantee the person the C30 board likes will get the gig. You know, if you happen to be spending Wednesday afternoons with the superintendent over at the Comfort Inn you might have the inside track. If your mommy works at Tweed that wouldn't hurt either.

Yesterday I was discussing so-called emergency sixth classes with a supervisor. The supervisor said, "I used to get a hundred applications for every opening, but now it's really tough to find people." That kind of amazed me. The supervisor theorized that perhaps people, comfortable with whoever is Danielsoning them, don't want to take a chance with anyone else.

That makes sense to me. Ever since Danielson came along, the fear and loathing among staff has been palpable. For several years, I heard we got observed too frequently. Other districts got observed only twice a year. People told me it was a priority to reduce the number of observations. I heard it at work, I heard it in the comments here, and I read it elsewhere.

Several of us pushed for this in the last contract, However, as soon as we won it, I started to hear, "What if my observations suck? I'll have less chance to compensate for it." I started to see that message everywhere. Now reasonable supervisors will say okay, I'll come back next week, or okay, I'll give you another shot. You will likely not be shocked to learn that not all supervisors are reasonable.

So what's the problem? I'd say it's twofold. One part, of course, is the epidemic of terrible supervision in NYC. This is, in part, a result of the lack of oversight in the hiring process, not to mention the fact that Bloomberg actually ran a Leadership Academy in which Vindictive Supervision 101 was the core course. Thus, a frothing-at-the-mouth mad dog had a great advantage over a sensitive, thinking human. You know, sensitive, thinking humans are inconvenient, what with their natural tendency to question stupidity, poor judgment, bad programs, and other inconveniences that mar our system.

The other thing is that this evaluation process was conceived specifically to fire teachers. No matter how well or poorly it does the job, everyone senses that. If you're in the trenches, you see the feeling, know the feeling, have the feeling. How do you fight that? I have no idea. It's helpful if you have a chapter leader who does the job regardless of potential consequence. If not, you may or may not know to go up the UFT ladder.

Between terrible supervision and a system that inspires fear more than anything else, teachers are in a tough spot. We can do better. An evaluation system ought to be one of support, not the Sword of Damocles. Rendering it as such is a big ask. It's quite complicated to get from point A to point B.
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