Tag: professional autonomy

A Successful Model

Now that the decimation of public education is official policy in Washington, teachers can resist or use this as an unprecedented oppportunity to return to the solution that was abandoned in the early 20th century: the proven success record of schools developed and administered by women educators.Kalsu Book

In spite of the profit motive that sparked the charter school movement by private corporations using public monies and posing as non-profits, a few women educators have been able to seize the opportunity to find funding for their vision of school today.

We will begin featuring such women educators and their schools so others can see how to finance and approach organizing professional autonomy once again in our field.

The first one we will examine Continue reading “A Successful Model”

The 1930s

We see today the same resistance to women teachers’ authority and autonomy. This is the history of education in America. One surprise in the 1930s  was Hitler’s view of homeschooling.

50s school

Like today, those who went into the “profession” rapidly discovered the contradiction Continue reading “The 1930s”

The Only Way to Win: Pt.2

1900 school  The first fifteen years of the 1900s revealed the early controversy about what public education should accomplish, who called the shots, and the role of women. There are not many records of women establishing and administering their own schools, but Margaret Haley Continue reading “The Only Way to Win: Pt.2”

Band-Aids for Teachers

After my mother passed, my middle sister (the one who controlled everyone contrary to birth order theories), sat us down and divided up the boxes of Band-Aids left over in my mother’s closet to make sure no one got more than anyone else.

Previously, my other sister and I had learned, she had absconded with our grandmother’s china cabinet and the diamond earrings Mother had promised me.

The paltry nature of her concerns was a fitting metaphor,  I thought, of the efforts to help teachers in recent years by a well meaning public. Recently Stephen Colbert featured a campaign, #Best School Day, which raised $800,000 for teacher projects. Previously Donors Choose offered a similar opportunity: teachers post their projects and the public can choose which ones to fund. All wonderful shows of support for teachers.

Colbert’s show featured celebrities picking up the tab for a city, state, or educational level projects, more impressive than a car for every teacher a la Oprah.

I am grateful. Don’t get me wrong. But for those outside of education, I just want to suggest how this translates when you are a teacher.

As a teacher, one year a magnanimous corporate leader gave each teacher in our district $100 to spend at an office supply store. That was great, since lack of budgets for teacher supplies are the rule. We wanted to spend it at another office store, however, with much lower prices where we could buy more for our money. We learned that was not to be, since a high level administrator had preferred we spend it at his buddy’s store with higher markups.

I share this to let those who care know that rarely if ever do well meaning gifts accomplish the intention. With direct funding on the surface such as DonorChoice or #Best School Day, the chances are better that the teacher will actually get to spend the money. However I have seen too many times when teachers have developed grants, received the award, and had to fork over monies to the district or go through so many hoops to get the money that it was discouraging. These teachers have also worked extra unpaid hours to come up with the project ideas beyond an already exhausting schedule. And of course this aid is for the students, really, via the teacher.

A second reality that those who care need to understand is the social status this type of effort reveals. Teachers are charity cases, so much so that now states are offering housing because salaries are so low. That’s a great new provision too that is benefitting many teachers. Yet underneath realize what it says about the value of our work.

labyrinth

We would never dream of offering charity to doctors, lawyers, or other professionals. Yet that is how we classify teachers. They are not considered professionals in spite of equal amounts of education. In our cultural mental consciousness, teachers are still babysitters. (Actually if you do the math, babysitters get paid more). The education of children, as with many other human services, is not high status work in our society.

Teachers are often more vilified than praised. It’s great to see some teachers benefitting from positive PR ( even if the celebrities and not the teachers were on stage). On a few good days, we get praise and some extra Band-Aids. We could really use the bigger checks already cashed elsewhere. Society would be richer.

 

 

Shooting Our Feet

Jessica Lahey, a middle school teacher, recently had an excerpt from her new book “The Gift of Failure” published in The Atlantic. She points out that the relentless pressure to achieve has devastated the love for learning that students begin with. This pressure comes from parents, teachers, and society at large.  I appreciate her honesty and am glad she has had the opportunity to be heard.

However she does what too many of us do – she includes herself in the blame. This would be authentic if teachers had not increasingly lost professional autonomy since the 1980s. Schools by definition are always swinging between contradictory mandates that vie with each other at different times, but which leave teachers swinging like a pinata. One end, the more predominant one, says schools must prepare students for life (economic) success and social adjustment. On the other end is the need to uphold the myth that society wants to support individual freedom to pursue one’s own talents and interest. Even teacher unions have not advocated enough for teacher autonomy and power but have lost leverage, along with other unions, to corporate and political forces. A compelling explanation of this development is Michael Apple’s “Teachers and Texts.” (You can read a review of this work at Levin, H. M.. (1988). [Review of Teachers and Texts: A Political Economy of Class and Gender Relations in Education]. American Journal of Education, 96(4), 560–562. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1085226)2015-01-02 13.49.57-1

The unrealistic expectation of teachers, which I call the “Scapegoat Syndrome”, is that, in spite of all pressures, teachers will somehow rise heroically above conflicting expectations and “save” our precious children from the effects of society at the same time they prepare them to meet them. It is an ongoing outgrowth of the idea our culture holds dear: that whatever social or economic ill we  have can be laid at the classroom door for solving. Of course this is impossible. We go, then, from the Messiah view of teaching to blaming them for failing us. Historically, the role of women, society’s scapegoat.

Nursing, another traditionally female profession, has gained a greater measure of leverage because problems in service delivery are more quickly and visibly felt. Even they, however, are continuing to chafe under impossible demands. Educational fallout takes longer to realize and, unless you are in the profession, less visible. When the fallout begins, the cycle just repeats: it’s the teacher’s fault. Let’s increase the demands and legislate more.

Jessica points out that we have taught her student  “‘that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character.'” We have also taught her that it’s better to quit if success cannot be assured and to worship perfection.

From a woman’s experience, the first statement is different but the second is already too familiar to us. I was raised to believe my intellect made a difference and made me equal. However this has not changed as much as we would like. We still see the ceiling operating. But character? That has been the job of women forever. It’s up to make everyone good. Perfection,  on the other hand, has been our operating principle for a long time. As scapegoats, it is our first tool, a futile but persistent attempt to escape being blamed.

Because education is beholden to public support which has been systematically eroded for greed, teachers must find alternative ways to take professional autonomy back. Some have used the charter school option, but running a school is not the same as teaching. I’d love to hear success stories. But I know the first step is to stop being willing to again take responsibility without authority. Otherwise, we will just keep obeying the order to make bricks without straw, after we wrap our feet.