Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Are we being set up for mediocrity?

By on August 12, 2010

I can’t get into my room at my own convenience. It’s less than two weeks to launch and I can’t even get into Mission Control when I need to. They aren’t handing out keys yet, so I can go during limited hours, but there’s no air conditioning until next week, I’m pregnant, and my peak hours of ability to shove around desks doesn’t seem to correspond to the office staff’s schedule.

I’m willing to come in on the weekends to work, as are friends and family who can help me shove desks, staple boards, and set up computers…but I have no key. It seems only the office manager and custodians are considered professional enough to carry the precious metals.

I am willing to work out of contract to set up a stellar classroom environment that sets a tone right off the bat in my room the minute the kids walk into the door.  After all, it’s my first shot at rigor and management, and the kids must look around from minute one and think, “wow, learning happens here. This is the place to be, and I want to be a part of it.” I need more than a couple of days to do that, yet we are seemingly only given the time for mediocrity.

I got in the other day and one of my bookshelves had collapsed, the one behind my desk with all my supplemental materials and professional books, books by such authors as Jim Burke, Kelly Gallaghar, Donalyn Miller, and Jeff Anderson. When putting a work order in, I was asked if I really needed all those books.  All I could reply was, “Yes, I need the books.”  It is my supplemental material and my own self-sought PD that makes my curriculum exceptional.  The weight of what I bring to my classroom clearly was too much for the bookshelves.  I take the blame entirely.

I know that each tier in our school is working their tushies off to do their job, but by not utilizing the teachers’ talents when they are prepared to do so seems inefficient to me.  I know our school counselors have not even slept this summer, trying to pull together student schedules with little guidance, but could not some teachers have been pulled into the process to help in some way?  We have a new AP (one I anticipate will be great but who is inundated now) who was handed the job of doing the master calendar just this summer, and many teachers are frustrated that we haven’t been informed for sure of our schedules for this year as of this post.  Could teachers be let in to the secret building of the master schedule in the spring so that we might help design it by the end of the year, allowing teachers their summer of lesson design and curriculum tweaking?  This isn’t an issue of our own convenience; it’s an issue of student achievement.

I need to begin planning my curriculum, tweaking what worked and what didn’t, redesigning new lessons based on what I myself learned this summer. Finding out definitively that I’m teaching both 7th and 8th or one or the other a mere few days before school limits the energy and creative power that I can bring to those designs. Just opening up the textbook and teaching what’s in the teacher editions is standardized, never enough for excellence. Standardization itself caters to the mediocre.

We are being sold short of excellence by having so many gatekeepers in education. Look, I don’t want an administrator’s career, but surely teachers can be used to help offset some of those skills. We all have skills that go beyond those that are used in the classroom, why can’t our skills be utilized to help our site, our district, or education as a whole function more smoothly and more efficiently?

Slightly off-topic: Could not teachers also be used in designing assessments that reflect a deeper ability to communicate knowledge and less of a regurgitation of content?  Assembling the master calendar, seeking out our own professional development, designing schedules, creating assessments, trusting us with the keys to our own classrooms – it’s all about tapping into the talents of teachers to aid in education.

I recently met an online colleague from CTQ (the Center for Teacher Quality) who started a teacher-led school in Denver, CO. I’m still learning exactly what this means and how the school functions in such a collaborative leadership, so I can’t say for sure that this model is what I strive for, but, what I will say is this: based on what she’s doing, teachers outside of this model are being under-utilized.

When I spoke to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last spring (see my earlier posts), it was to try to offset the fact that teachers are kept out of the loop of educational policy making in this country. But a more stunning fact is that we are kept out of the loop in our own school sites and districts.

When others are permitted to make decisions for us that limit our practice, what does that say about our own professionalism? Teachers are ready to do what it takes to do the job right, but is the system?

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