Friday, May 06, 2011

Being Positive Isn't Easy!

This painting by Munch may be taking negativity too far but for creative teachers it may resonate.

Recently I read a blog from America that I thought resonated with thoughts I have when I look at all the formulaic 'best practice' and accountability measures being pushed on teachers in New Zealand.

The author of the blog began by writing 'I'm bringing the pessimism ( unfortunately truth?) to the party here y'all. If you want warm fuzzies about the joys of teaching, navigate away immediately'.

'And if you work beyond the classroom and get your feelings hurt easily, you might not want to read this either.'

You have been forewarned!

The writer was responding to another blogger who wrote about teachers being negative and as guy who is often labelled as negative by educational leaders ( in New Zealand the Minister and her technocrats) the message caught his attention as it has attracted mine.

It is all too common for those in power to feed in the belief that " negative" teachers( read: anyone who pushes back or questions the choices made by those with power) are to blame for education's woes.

Those in power goes so far as to label resistant teachers as not able to cope with change and to blame for education's woes. If only they would do as they are told.

The blogger was wondering if it is just plain easier to be optimistic about life of a classroom teacher when you're working beyond the classroom. This reflects my thoughts about all the Ministry contracted advisers who 'deliver' expert 'best practices' to schools that they have never introduced in real classrooms themselves.

The blogger is writing 'through the lens of a guy who still works in the classroom and there are tons of things that make it difficult to stay positive as a teacher'

He continues:

'Perhaps most importantly we have little real control over our work even as outsiders scream about holding us accountable for results that they're yet to carefully define'

'We're expected to march our students through impossibly large curricula even as well respected researchers claim that there is too much to cover in the time we're given'.

'We walk moral tightrope making difficult choices every day implementing test-centric classrooms or preparing kids for an increasingly complex future.'

'We're on the receiving end of under informed policies that even recognised experts on organisation leadership and change don't believe in'.

'We've seen experimentation and play squeezed out of everything that we do in schools - and we've watched our classrooms become places that reward automatons and crushing the spirit of the quirky kid.'

'Our profession provides no opportunities for differentiation. We do the same work - and are afforded the same professional respect and credibility no matter what we accomplish in our schools.'

'Our work has been bulldozed. We're buried under initiatives that never seem to make sense. Our schools have no clear direction. Cliches and slogans substitute for leadership in our schools.'

'We watch our peers leave year after year.Our professional development opportunities stink. We're forced to watch our students be defined by a number.'

'Our elected leaders declare war on us. News commentators mock us. Whacks and hacks start organisations that suggest that we have failed to put students first.'

He writes: 'should I go on?' ( Sadly I could .)

'My point is a simple one: People working beyond the classroom like to believe that if teachers would just buck up - work a little harder, think a little longer, give a bit more - our schools would be sunshine and daffodils.'

'The sad reality is that no matter how hard teachers work to find solutions to dozens of problems plaguing our schools, final decisions are made by people working beyond the classroom'.

'We had little control over creating these problems and we'll have little control over fixing them.Instead we'll be expected to implement the solutions that others dream up, no matter how half baked they are.'

'That's discouraging.'

'And it is the reason why I'm pretty darn sure that our schools will never be able to recruit enough accomplished teachers to ever really be successful.'

'We need more than optimism to solve problems'.

'We need authority.'

'And that's something we'll never have because the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of life as a teacher remains impossibly large.'

All this is something our Minister and her technocrats ought to listen too before it is too late.


Bruce said...

I had an e-mail ( from the UK) saying that my blog was just too pessimistic and depressing and that I ought instead to: 'enthuse and excite and rave about about all the good and innovative ways of working with the given curriculum'.

My blog was mainly quoting the feelings of an American practicing teacher but I have heard similar thoughts from New Zealand teachers who believe that there are too many accountability pressures on them ( many of then political ) for them to enjoy teaching. They feel their professional judgement demeaned.

I have been in teaching long enough to know that the 'given' curricula are not aways right and are political expressions of the times.

My blog needs to read along with my previous one where I was writing in admiration of the inclusive and democratic way Singapore is developing a vision for education.

I know there are voices in the UK for a more responsive and creative education ( the Cambridge Review) but the sad thing is that, in NZ, we were presented with a very exciting and innovative 21st Curriculum in 2007 which is now at risk as the new Government is heading down Standards based teaching track - with the possibility of 'League Tables' on the horizon. If we want to be a creative and innovative country we need instead to look to the Singapore process for inspiration.

And keep in mind NZ is well placed on the International Testing 'league tables' - as is Singapore - unlike the UK and the US. We should be selective about who we follow.

And as for being enthusiastic, as the saying goes: 'It is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in crocodiles' - or testing.

Rod MacKinnon said...

The given curriculum has some great rhetoric but words on a page aren't reality. Classrooms are real places where that rhetoric could be transformed into reality if teachers were allowed the autonomy to do what's needed to deliver the vision. - "We want you to make an omelette but please don't crack any eggs."

Bruce said...

You are right Colin. Teachers need guidance and resources in areas they are uncertain of but this guidance must not be at the expense of teacher, or student, creativity.

Recipes ( 'best practices') are ok as long as you can experiment with them. Best of all we need teachers who have the curiosity to develop new ideas to share with others. And to do this they need to have the freedom to break a few eggs.

Deborah French said...

Hi Bruce. I have always loved teaching but over the last two years can just not see the point of trying anymore to be creative and excite students. I am burnt out. The constraints from the ministry etc have become focussed on compliance and rules and regulations.... we are dumbing down the the good teachers.... It is so sad....and I work in a supportive school...outstanding principal...great stuff...but there is only so much you can take as a principal stuck between a rock and a hard place and trying to be true to what you believe. It is a lonely place to be...being creative and trying to lead your school that way in todays climate is career suicide. We need to make clusters of like minded souls to affect change. I think we are all alienated in our little classroom cells....It is divide and rule by the ministry. I don't think it is on purpose...just a lack of understanding...anyone want to be in a cluster with me...get together in person...plan creative stuff and give each other support ...???

Bruce said...

Hi Deborah

It seems to me that the system is determined to destroy the enthusiasm of those who love teaching so much; teachers who want to do the right thing for the kids they teach - and not to impose uncreative ideas. It is important that the constraints of the narrow thinking ( or lack of it) that those outside the school impose are challenged. These outsiders are people who have never had a creative thought in their whole life - that why they are in the Review Office.

Read the article on the Netconnect ( 'google' Kelvin Smythe) site about an ERO visit experience - like being inspected by the SS, or KGB, or FBI, with only what they think is right being the criteria for success.

If only principals were to develop a cluster, or network, to develop some educational ideals that they could all share and present to ERO as the local position. And then, through this network, to share the creative ideas of the few creative teachers that hang in there. This is the only way to keep all this state imposed formulaic teaching at bay.

See if you can convince your outstanding principal that he ought to take a lead - I know there would be others that would follow. Only need two or three to make a start.

Somehow it would be too hard to have just creative teachers working together -although only creative teachers have the insight to get us out of this Kafka type mess we are in. Principals need to be 'lead learners'.

Principals have the solution to avoid the current divide and rule , name and shame, environment they are in - and it will only get worse if they don't.

If principals keep complying, as they seem to be doing, the system is lost - it almost is already.

PS called past your place a week or so ago but you were out -what a lovely bit of paradise.