What a trying time it has been and will continue to be for us.
It sucks having your profession seemingly attacked. It sucks having the work you do seemingly disrespected. I don’t like it. I don’t like being put into the situation where I need to defend what I do on a daily basis to people who seemingly don’t understand.
I’ve heard from some of you that you “avoid the conversation” if it comes up with family and friends. I get it. It’s easier that way. I don’t blame you for wanting to just take a break from the politics and snippiness.
I don’t like Bill 115. I think it was a cowards way of dealing with fiscal realities and frankly, it was an effort to create a negative atmosphere in education. And it worked. Negativity is everywhere.
And so now, here we are. Our contracts have been imposed and Bill 115 will be repealed. A shrewd political move if ever I did see one. A move in need of some political, vocal response. No doubt about it.
Where do we go from here?
Many of you have suggested we need to continue a “Permanent Pause” and continue our withdrawal of extra-curriculars. I couldn’t agree less. Now, I respect your decision, as I always have, to not participate in extra-curriculars. They are voluntary activities and I believe we should leave them this way. If you don’t want to do them, if you have a family to spend time with, even if you don’t and you just want to go home, get your marking and prep done, and then read a good book, do it. I respect that entirely. But I hope, you can respect my desire to continue with extra-curriculars.
I believe extra-curriculars are more than just a sports team to cheer on or a club to fill a lunch-hour. I believe that part of a rich high school experience is the opportunity for students to connect authentically outside of the classroom with peers and teachers. For many students, these opportunities are the connective tissue to the school community. To some, it is the only tissue. I suggest that we need this connection now more then ever.
We are growing an increasingly cynical and disaffected young population and our removal of extra-curriculars will contribute to a furthering of that sensibility. Not because students “deserve” it or because they are “entitled” to it, but rather because learning is about relationships. Rather than driving our students, and parents, away from our school communities, we should be working to connect them further. Rather than pushing them to community organizations disconnected from the school, we should be connecting the organizations to the school. We need to build an authentic community that believes in the eternal value of public schools, both inside and outside of the classroom. This is our best long-term strategy.
Studies have shown that students who are active in the school, do better, live better, and feel safer, in general (A bit dated, yet still relevant: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs95/web/95741.asp). Our students success is tied to our ability to make them feel connected to their school community.
But that’s not it. I believe it allows me to be a more authentic teacher. It allows me to participate with them in my interests. They can witness and be part of my passions.
And so, what is the removal worth? Where does it get us?
I’ve been told, via Twitter, that we will ‘piss off parents’ so they’ll force the government to settle this mess. Sure, I agree. Then what? In two years, we do it all over again? I am a believer that a negative act never builds community. It only destroys one. Instead, acting positively towards our students and parents, giving them a world-class education (inside and outside the classroom) builds a long-term population that understands the value of teachers, which can only help us.
I’m always criticized for these ideas, because it doesn’t seem to have enough “action”. What do we do now? We start to aggressively build community. We reach out. We stop cowering from the conversations. We tell our tribes to think about the teacher that made a difference for them. We call our MPPs, every day. Not just the few of us, the many. I think of Andy Dufrense mailing a letter a week and then a letter a day in Shawshank Redemption.
Rather than removing what I do in my free time, rather than telling me what I can’t do, rather than mandating the absence of an action, why not mandate an action? An action that puts direct pressure on the government. People are always willing to give up their free time for something they believe in. Always. If we aren’t willing to give up our free time for this, do we really believe in it or are we just following along?
It’s easy to get angry and frustrated and say, “I’m done with this.” But that isn’t a solution. A solution comes when we march forward into the wind. This may be a long fight. We need to uncover tactics that are sustainable. Calling our MPPs every day, may not be sustainable. I get that. However, neither is a “Permanent Pause”.
Together, we face an uphill climb. Old ideas will keep us at the bottom. Easy prey for the next premier, the next government, or the citizen who just sees our pension and holidays. We need to redefine the relationship of the public to teachers, hell, to public education. It starts by building community in our schools. It starts by putting direct pressure on our government. It starts by talking about our eternal value to everyone. That’s being active to me.
Every day, in one way or another, I stand and deliver. I influence the natural patterns of thought of my students.
That’s what learning is all about.
On one hand, I try to avoid being political. I try to keep my own beliefs in the background. I try to bury my bias. My goal is not to sell an ideal but to encourage critical thinking.
On the other hand, I strongly and vocally encourage social justice and the pursuit of cultural awareness. I strive for my students to be active citizens and critical of authority.
This may come as a surprise to many, but I’ve got opinions. I’ve got many opinions on many subjects. Not only do I have opinions, I like to share my opinions.
What job do I ultimately have? To be my authentic, opinionated self, while maintaining a healthy grip of objective reporting, much like Murrow and Cronkite or to be devoid of personality, a list of facts and figures with no bias?
I’d like to say this post is not about what’s happening in Ontario where there is a showdown between the Ontario Liberal Party and teacher unions. I’d like to say that this is a reflective post about the nature/value/danger of my opinion in my classroom.
But it is.
It’s important to know what their teachers are facing. It’s important for students to understand the climate of the school. It’s important for students to understand that regardless of what is happening, their teachers are there for them, despite potential withdrawal of extras.
Does that make students the pawns of both sides?
I also think this post is questioning the rhetoric that what the unions are “fighting” for are the “democratic” collective bargaining rights. I’ve seen it said, “We’re fighting for everyone, not just teachers.”
Yet, I’ve asked colleagues who were teaching during the Harris years and after, did the labour dispute make them overall more political active and the answer was no. Unless the issue was affecting them directly, they were unaware.
If we are railing against the loss of “democratic rights”, why aren’t we up in arms about the federal government’s use of omnibus bills to pass ill-supported legislation?
I suppose at the end of the day, I’m curious, is the nature of teaching political?
How do we make others trust us? Often it is through personal, deliberate acts of kindness, generosity and honour. It takes time. It takes repetition of these acts. It doesn’t always happen.
I think one of the most pressing issues within our culture is our culture of mistrust.
It destabilizes everything.
I was talking to my class, two days into the new school year, about the idea of trust. Who they trust? Why they trust these people? Do they trust me? Earning trust?
The overwhelming sentiment in this Grade 11 class, trust is hard to earn, often broken, and sometimes elusive.
I asked them if they trust the government: overwhelmingly no.
I asked them if they trust their teachers: overwhelmingly no.
I asked them if they trust the police: overwhelmingly no.
If they trust me: not sure.
I recognize that this class is not a random or statistically-relevant sample size, and I do recognize that it may be part of a teenager’s m.o. not to trust anyone, however, I don’t think they are alone. And I think this is indelibly sad and dangerous as we move into a more connected world.
Their thoughts in when they decide to trust someone, when they act first. When they feel trusted, they trust.
It is harder now to gain the trust of a stranger than ever before. But that is what is needed. From teachers, politicians, administrators, parents.
Our culture does not trust.
Being antagonistic is not going help. Being adversarial is not going to help. Instead, interactions of kindness will help. Instead, actions of supreme generosity will help and actions of righteous honour will help.
Trust ends where trust starts through actions of kindness, generosity and honour.
I’m tired of political rhetoric. I’m sick of the extraneous bad radio spots. I’m over talking about wage freezes and retirement gratuities. I think the us vs. them dynamic serves no one.
Let’s start talking about teaching. Let’s start talking about learning. Let’s start talking about the fact it takes a community to raise informed citizens and a generation of critical/creative thinkers. Let’s start talking about how we can work together to make things work.
I know, I know. My union brethren is going to talk about how the government is not sitting at the table. I get it. They aren’t doing their part. So, let’s just start doing ours. Why are we waiting for them?
Let’s start really talking about the inefficiencies in the system, the extraneous. Let’s start talking about how we can be better. Let’s start talking about how we can save money.
Getting into a fight with a waiting and willing opponent is foolish and often dangerous.
Instead, let’s start talking to our students’ parents about how we can create a better learning environment. Let’s start talking to them about how we can make them learn more. Let’s not mention wages, sick days and grid structures. Instead, let’s talk about their kid. The individual. What can we do to help them learn?
Let’s start talking to the world about the value of an education. Let’s start talking about learning something new, not achieving a higher mark. Let’s start talking about what happens in a classroom, for real. Strap up cameras in the room and show the world. Write to our papers. Let’s start talking about why people love their teachers. Let’s start talking about why we need to be better as teachers.
Let’s stop the rhetoric and lame commercials. Let’s stop trying to solidify a better bargaining position.
Let’s be honest.
Let’s start being the leaders we can be.
***Any time an us vs. them dynamic is created, there will be victims. Too often, it is the students. ***
As a teacher, what am I entitled to?
Am I entitled to inherent respect from my students? Silence when I demand it? Uncompromising focus of the tasks I deem appropriate?
Am I entitled to students who are never late? Absent?
Am I entitled to students who want to learn? Love to learn?
Am I entitled to students who leave their dramas at home? Have no dramas at home? Recognize when dramas are real or perceived?
Am I entitled to a cell phone free classroom? Facebook-free computer lab? Social media free interaction?
Am I entitled to laugh every day? A work environment free of politics? A work where your value is fairly acknowledged?
Am I entitled to a quiet space to do my work when not directly working with students? Access to the technology I need?
Am I entitled to a succinct, clear understanding of what my responsibilities as a teacher are? A set of protocols of which I must adhere?
Am I entitled to my own classroom? A teacher’s desk?
Am I entitled to time? Space?
Am I entitled to freedom to make mistakes? Freedom to try something new?
Am I entitled to say no to change? Maintain the status quo? Be jaded, cynical?
Am I entitled to teach how I have been teaching for the past 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 30 years?
Am I entitled to sick days? Personal days? Family care days?
Am I entitled to stability? Job security?
Am I entitled to fair compensation for my effort? My success? A pension? Recognition of my aptitude?
Am I entitled to feedback? To offer professional feedback? To speak for myself?
It seems to me there are many questions about entitlement that are being asked explicitly and implicitly in education right now. There is an expectation of entitlement that is creeping into the daily rhetoric of educators.
The problem with entitlement is we’ll never receive what we are “entitled”. The problem with entitlement is that we’ll never be happy.
These questions can be asked from different perspectives as well. Parents, administrators, governments, students all have a feeling of entitlement.
So, who is entitled?
It is so easy. You know the posture, you are either “with us” or “against us”. “This” or “that”. “Students” or “Teachers”. “Unions” or “Management”
But, that doesn’t work very often. In fact, if anything, that usually disables any forward momentum. It creates an environment of exclusion. It creates isolated ideas.
This happens to the best of us. We get caught in our frame of thinking that we instinctually place anyone who is opposed in an “or” position.
But maybe it is time for us to make the change.
Maybe it is time for us to re-think everything, starting with the word in the middle.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be one way or the other.
Have we, as an education system, as an education reform/revolution movement, spent enough time think with an “AND” mentality?
Have we, as teachers and students and administrators, tried hard enough working with an “AND” mentality?
I hear/read so much about education that frames things as an either/or. Not near enough, do I hear/read about education with a both/and.
What does that look like? How does that change things?
How do we get there?
How can I start developing that frame of reference?
I don’t know where these questions will take me. The following blog post struck a chord with me. Read the inspiration. http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/a-ceo-of-campbells-explains-the-power-of-and/
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