Wonk Wednesday: Teacher Vulnerability

Wonk Wednesday is going to be my new weekly post, in which I will reflect on whatever I am currently doing in school, and most weeks I will post the reflection essay (identifying information removed) for my History of School Reform seminar, based on my readings and reflections for the week.

This week, I’m thinking about teacher vulnerability.

There’s a lot of dialogue around why teachers are so hesitant/resistant to change their classroom practice, despite the never-ending attempts of policymakers to force this to happen.

Teacher vulnerability is my number one explanation for why this doesn’t happen.

1) Teachers are primarily in it for their students. Changing up “how to do school” is risky for students, running the chance that they will become overwhelmed, scared, or angry about the changes. Students can suffer damage to their confidence, as well as to their learning. When the entire foundation of your purpose is helping students grow and learn, that is one hell of a risk to be taking without any guarantee of payoff!

1b) Teachers are strongly emotionally invested in their students and their work. While many professions take pride in their work, there are few professions that involve such an intimate intertwining of practice and personality. When a teacher engages with students, the teacher is making him or herself vulnerable and putting themselves at risk along with the student. Teaching is an act of emotional giving, and how we teach is deeply personal. Thus, not only are we being pushed to change something that is fundamentally who we are, but we are running the risk of ruining whatever rapport, trust, or relationships we have built. Teachers, particularly in extra-demanding districts and classrooms, are profoundly emotionally vulnerable, so our defenses are up a lot.

2) Parents say they want reform, but what they actually want is for their kid to get good grades, go to a great college, and get an absurdly high-paying job. They do not actually two figs about whether or not Junior is having a deeply inspiring classroom experience–that would be dandy, but if it comes at the cost of Junior’s SAT scores, no matter how meaningful and motivating the experience was, almost all parents will consider that a bad pedagogical decision. Curiosity and inspiration is encouraged, but RESULTS are valued. This means teachers are in jeopardy of disciplinary action, up to and including losing their jobs.

3) Admin. See above.

4) Policy trends move so goddamn fast, and often in this ridiculously cyclical fashion. It is entirely plausible that by the time a teacher has rewritten an entire curriculum, completely revamped how they structure their classroom, and managed to promote the deep change within themselves needed to really get into this new “adventurous” teaching, there’s a very good chance that we’ll be back to the old way. Seriously. It’s ridiculous. Because policy is so closely intertwined with elections, things tend to change a lot. Teachers become like rocks, washed in the rain of policy–sure, things might change, but it’s gonna take centuries, so I hope you’re prepared to wait. Because by the time teachers have subscribed to this current trend, they’ll have to switch around and go on to something else if they want to keep their jobs. It’s easier to protect yourself by only adhering in a very cursory fashion.

Ultimately, teachers want to be the best teachers they can be. They want to try new things and they want to learn and grow. However, the opportunities are seldom presented, and they are very rarely presented with the kind of support, resources, and time that are needed. Teachers do work that is so demanding that adding additional vulnerability into their already challenging positions will automatically be met with resistance.

essay1 <–the ugliest ever PDF imbed of my reflection essay on this topic for my reform class

Texts for this week:

  • Cuban, Larry. (2013) Inside the Black Box of Education. Cambridge, CA: Harvard University Press.
  • Cohen, David K. (1988), Teaching practice: Plus que ça change. In Phillip W. Jackson (ed.), Contributing to Educational change (pp. 27-84). Berkeley: McCutchan.
  • Elmore, Richard F., & McLaughlin, Milbrey W. (1988). Steady work. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

09/24/2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized.

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