What I want from my union

I have the utmost respect for unions.

I don’t blame teacher’s unions for problems in education.

That being said, I do believe there are problems.

Obviously, there are funding problems. I’ve seen those first hand. I work on the front lines of education, a rural school on an Indian reservation in an area of extreme poverty – I mean third-world caliber poverty. 90+% of my students are ethnic minorities. 90+% qualify for free and reduced lunch. 30% can be classified as homeless. We have one of the smallest levies our the state. The kids absolutely need and deserve more funding.

Yet, I know we can do better.

With the resources we have.

With the staff we have.

We must do better.

Students trudge from class to class learning from boring, outdated textbooks (mine, which I haven’t used in years, are from 1990 – they are older than my students). They are bored to tears by [lecture, worksheet, test, repeat]- style instruction in many classes.

It’s time to break the mould!

Let’s crush this outdated model and banish it to the recesses of our collective memories to become only the fodder of bad horror movies and lame teenage soap operas.

But, how?

I want my union to stop being a union and become something more.

Before it’s too late.

The major teacher’s unions, the NEA and the AFT must wrest control of the situation away from politicians and business interests. Rebrand ourselves as true professional associations lest our associations be destroyed.

Take the power back.

  • Set standards for effective instruction based on research and member collective wisdom.
  • Set standards for association membership.
  • Evaluate our own members.
  • Prescribe assistance for those who need it.
  • Mentor new teachers.
  • Design and facilitate effective professional development.
  • Revoke membership for those who choose not to improve.
  • Protect those who do.

Let’s not let people who have never taught a day in their life chart the course of education reform. It’s time for preemptive action. The opportunity won’t linger forever. Reform is proceeding forward one way or the other.

The question we must ask ourselves is this:

Are we driving the reform train or waiting on the platform, hoping it doesn’t pass us by?

To whom are we accountable?

This is my guest post at Dangerously Irrelevant on 9/25

accountability

As a husband, I am accountable to my wife, not to the county in which our marriage license was issued.

As a father, I am accountable to my children, not to the State.

As a teacher, to whom am I accountable?  Am I accountable to the State?  Or am I accountable to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction?  Maybe I’m accountable to the board of directors for my school district – aka, my employer?  Perhaps I’m accountable my superintendent or my principal?  Could it be that I’m accountable to my colleagues?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “NO!”

I am accountable to the past, present, and future of each and every child who enters my classroom.

I am accountable to my students as learners and as human beings.  I am accountable to my students’ families.  Children are not vessels to fill with standards and 21st Century skills, but rather living, breathing people with immense potential.  My job is to nuture and enhance that potential.  Every interaction with a student is a opportunity to do this.

Every decision I make in the classroom must be guided by one ideal; the ideal that my students deserve the very best education that I can possibly facilitate for them, each and every day.

This means I must be willing to allow my students to hold me accountable.  I must take a step back, absorb their input, honor it, chew on it, and use it to inform my instruction.  Too often, we teachers hide behind The “State”, “The District”, “The Standards”, or “The Test.”  We blame poor instruction on these amorphous entitities.  We do this to deflect student and parent criticism.  We are human and it is hard to absorb criticism.  It is even harder to admit that the critics are right, especially when those critics are a room full of intermittently mature adolescents.

………………………………………………………..

My students were venting to me about their classes  – and school in general – yesterday.  I regularly ask my students for feedback on what we are doing in class, so that we can adjust our course.  This is an important part of our classroom community.  Opening up the feedback can, though, sometimes leads to a discussion of larger issues.  Kids don’t often receive honest invitations from adults for feedback.  When they do get them, they tend to do one of two things, either (1) they don’t believe you truly value their feedback and clam up/ give superficial feedback, or (2) they  spew a litany of pent up complaints about anything and everything even tangentially related.

So I told them this: “education should be something done WITH you, not something done TOyou.”  They stared at me with blank faces for a silent eternity (okay, it was more like 5 seconds) before lightbulbs started to flicker on around the room.  Of course, several of them thought I was lecturing them to work harder and push themselves.  A few of them got it, though.

Hopefully, my democratic ideals haven’t ingited their anarchist tendencies…

……………………………………………………

I have all of the accountability I need; thank you very much.

Doing the absolute best I can for my students and their families every single day is all of the motivation I need.

My classes are held accountable by producing work for an authentic audience.  The transparency of our classroom, via student and class blogs, and via sharing our work publicly, keeps us plenty accountable.

Accountability comes from generating rigorous projects for a real-world audience. I am accountable to my students and their families. They are accountable to their audience, not to me.

Students are not motivated by “it’s on the test” or “the state says you have to learn this.” Students are motivated by engaging, rigorous content, real choice in how they interact with that content and what they create from it, and the opportunity to collaborate with peers. (Credit to Alfie Kohn, “Punished by Rewards).

By the way, this kind of accountability motivates students much, much more that either the carrot or the stick ever could.  Students who are driven by grades, will work extremely hard when they know they have an audience.  Other students, who have no interest in striving for ‘A’s and no fear of ‘F’s,  work much harder for an audience than they ever would for a grade.  That is accountability.

I am accountable to my students and their families.  I am accountable to myself.  I need no other accountability.

photo cc licensed from the flickr stream of R Kurtz