Rebels with a cause (teaching well in spite of orders)

Many, many thanks to Mindstep blog for the wonderful post “Why Getting Rid of Bad Teachers Creates More Bad Teachers.” 

Not only does the writer challenge the too long unchallenged myth that the majority of practicing teachers are “bad” or at least incompetent, but also hints at what might be one of the major causes of poor teaching in America: ill-conceived administrative restrictions.

It sounds paradoxical that those charged with being educational leaders in their buildings or districts may actually be impediments to quality instruction, but that is a truth many of us in the field have to deal with daily.

I’ve had many discussions with outstanding teachers around the country (Teachers of the Year, Milken Educators, NBCTs, and so forth). It always amazes me how few of the teachers being recognized for their accomplishments in the classroom can brag on the support of their administrators. Much more common are stories of subversion, sneaking around policies, breaking the rules, being the “odd one” on the faculty.

Those of you who’ve been in that position know what I mean. I’ve been in it myself many times. I remember one year being commended because a higher percentage of my students had done well on the state literacy test than the previous year and the average score for the group was higher as well. Yet, within a few days, I received a memo that the district had hired a new consulting firm, and I was to stop doing what I had been doing and follow only the classroom activities in their manual. When I reviewed the items, I realized they were of poor quality and would probably set my students back from where they were. I made a conscious decision to ignore the directive. Now, that’s not a light decision in a place where collective bargaining is illegal and there is no tenure for teachers. I had to use a good deal of subterfuge to get through the year; fortunately (actually unfortunately) my administrator did a lousy job of supervising and really didn’t know what I was doing most of the time. That year, my students performance got even better; and the consultants got all the credit.

I don’t disparage those teachers who do what they’re told. It’s no small thing to ask people to risk their livelihoods and their families’ financial well-being or health benefits.

The real question is: Why should teachers, especially those who have proven themselves effective, have to choose the path of civil disobedience to do what we have been trained and hired to do?

Anybody know the answer?