Being positive isn’t easy for this teacher

Blogger’s Note:  I’m bringing the pessimism (unfortunate 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.

#forewarned

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I had an interesting exchange in Twitter today with Todd Whitaker, author and professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University.

It all started when I stumbled across this tweet in Whitaker’s stream:

Thanks to my tweet buddies I wrote piece comparing a group of negative teachers to Hotel California!

As a guy who is often labeled “negative” by educational leaders, Whitaker’s message caught my attention.

I’m probably extra-touchy, too, because it’s become all-too-common for eduthinkers to feed into 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.

One expert even goes as far as to label resistant teachers “fundamentalists.” How’s that for a loaded word?

So I chirped back at Whitaker, writing:

“Negative teachers” can often be a symptom of poor leadership. Demonizing them is easy, but often irresponsible.

The conversation went on for a while, with Whitaker arguing that good teachers know what negativity looks like and that poor leadership cannot be an excuse for bringing negativity into a classroom.

He wrote:

Ironically negative people hope it is something besides them that is cause – poor leadership, problem parents, political leaders.

Whitaker’s comments left me wondering whether it’s just plain easier to be optimistic about the life of a classroom teacher when you’re working beyond the classroom.

 

You see, I’m looking through the lens of a guy who still works in the classroom and there are a TON of things that make it difficult to stay positive as a teacher.

Perhaps most importantly, we have little real control over our work even as outsiders scream about holding us accountable for producing “results” that they’ve yet to carefully define.

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

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

We’re on the receiving end of under-informed policies that even recognized experts on organizational 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 crush 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—for decades no matter what we accomplish beyond the classroom.

Our work has been bulldozed.  We’re buried under initiatives that never seem to make any sense.  Our schools have no clear directionCliches 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 organizations that suggest that we have failed to put students first.

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.

In our Twitter conversation, Whitaker puts it this way:

There is a difference between trying to find a solution to a problem and complaining about it.

The sad reality is that no matter how hard teachers work to find solutions to the 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 really are.

That’s discouraging.

And it’s 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 leader remains impossibly large.

#pessimism

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