Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Surfing the Waves of Reform

Bud (this Bud?) asks:

I'm a fifth year teacher often frustrated by reform efforts that don't go anywhere, both in my school and elsewhere. When do we stop caring and become cogs in the system? Or simply leave for other pastures? I can't articulate this question as well as I'd like to, but it seems like you're a teacher that's kept his head and heart focused on making a positive difference. How'd you do it?

How do I?

I should point out that my career as a classroom teacher was short and when my position as technology coordinator was eliminated at Feinstein, it wasn't too hard to walk out the door. I'm not really a talented teacher; I'm too far down the Asperger's scale, I think. So I don't deserve credit for having the answer to a long career in progressive education. My wife, however, does, and my parents both had full teaching careers, as well as many of my friends. So I have some perspective on this.

One thing that is important is to understand that this is not going to be a decisive campaign leading to total victory. Educational reform is a never-ending war of attrition. You take your gains where you find them and fall back into a defensive crouch when you need to. When I was in a crib, the small town junior high my father taught at went through a textbook redesign to the then new middle school model. By "textbook" I mean, great leadership from the principal, teacher buy-in and participation in every step of the process, ample funding from the state and federal government for a state of the art building tailored precisely to their design, full funding for in-depth professional development, etc. Then, iirc, on the first day of the new school the principal ran away with his secretary, and the next decade was spent drifting rudderless mostly back to a fairly standard school, albeit with pockets of innovative practice that are still considered cutting edge today. So the process of waxing and waning reform feels burned into my DNA.

So, you have to accept that this is what you've signed up for. You have to know what you stand for, what you're trying to do, why you do it, and you have to be able to assess each wave of reform critically, to know what to embrace unconditionally, when to hold your nose and leverage the good parts of something and minimize the bad parts, and when to just duck.

You have to be politically smart, picking the right opportunities to carve out a niche and know how to defend it. There is a reason Chris is talking about setting up an endowment for SLA. He's getting plenty of support from the district now, but how long will the current district regime last? A bunch of the people who helped him start the school have already been laid off.

In the end, you need some cynicism to protect you from the whims of politics. You just have to find the right balance.

1 comment:

tellio said...

You need to believe--to believe in something way more important than schooling. You have to have a more or less constant faith in learning and our natural capacity for it. It is a truism, but one that struggles against the reality of teacher/student, guard/prisoner, and master/slave that undergirds all school systems. And you gotta stick it to the man every chance you get while your friends watch your back. I shit you not.