A number of years ago, I read The Death of Common Sense
by Philip K. Howard. The book made more sense than any other book I've ever read. One of Howard's points in the book was that in government and education we should hire good people and allow them to make decisions. But instead of that, we end up micromanaging by making all kinds of rules and policies for them, and frequently those rules and policies, although well intended, end up doing more harm than good by tying the hands of those who have to carry them out. I know from experience that that has often been the case in public education, and our school recently had a sterling example of it.
Our entire high school faculty received an email from our administration last Friday that showed micromanaging at its worst. I know that there are some teachers who are knee-jerk anti-administration types, but I have never been one of them. The email we got, however, left me furious. I'm furious because of the lack of respect it showed for those of us who take our jobs very seriously, but I'm also furious because of its stupidity.
The email directed that all faculty members were immediately to begin posting lesson plans for all of our classes each day on our school's website. No questions, no discussion, nothing. This item was pushed through by a parent on our school board who decided we should do this because a neighboring school district does.
It's not that I'm unwilling to use technology to improve communication with parents. Beginning last year, I began inviting parents, especially those with kids who weren't doing well, to join my American History address group so I could send them schedules of upcoming assignments each week via email. This would be targeted to the parents who wanted them, and they would receive them each week, so there would be no need for them to go searching for them on our school's website. No one ordered me to do this. In fact no one even suggested it to me. I just thought it was a good idea, so I did it because I take pride in the job I do. I felt like a professional.
I am not going to feel that way about following our administration's order. Yes, I guess our school board does have the authority to issue such an edict, but a lack of respect for teachers was literally oozing from this directive. I know that there are those in the public who believe that teachers have a cake-job and that we are all lazy, and the email we received seemed to reflect that opinion. Teachers are really all looking to collect a paycheck while doing as little work as possible, we aren't really interested in doing a good job, so we must be ordered to do things that are good for the students.
As I indicated earlier, I also found this directive so infuriating because it so obviously came from someone who has no idea what we do. Due to cuts our school system has been making for the last several years, many of us feel completely maxed out on our workloads. Throughout my career I have always enjoyed tinkering with my curriculum and trying to find better ways to teach things. This often means adding something to what I've been doing. But those cuts our school has been making have meant more classes for some of us and larger class sizes for all of us, and I've gotten to the point where I just can't add any more. For example, the gentleman who had the AP American Government class before I took it had three other classes to teach besides the AP Government class, and two preparation periods and one study hall. I now have the AP Government class, five other classes, and one preparation period. Besides that, I have larger American History classes than I ever had before. I'm sorry, but I can't give any more time and effort to my teaching than I already am--not without getting to the point where burn-out becomes a real possibility, and that is something I am determined to avoid. I am not the only teacher in our school who feels this way. I talked to one teacher the other day who gets to school every day at 4AM to prepare. She asked, "Do they want me to come at 3?"
Speaking for myself, I need to use my teaching time as efficiently as I possibly can. I began my system of emailing my weekly schedule to American History parents because it made sense for those parents in that class. I regularly give homework in that class, and there are a number of kids who are very disorganized, immature, or lazy, and having parents aware of what is expected and when could be helpful. On the other hand, it makes no sense for me to do the same thing for my Basic American History class because all the work is done in class. There is no need for parents to be reminding kids to do their homework. And my AP Government class is a college class, and I am supposed to be giving them a college type experience. Should I have to count on the mommies and daddies of so-called college students to hound them to do their homework?
Now I am going to have to do exactly that. The problem is that, since I feel like I'm doing as much as I can, if extra duties are going to be added to my workload, then something will have to go. And that something will have to be in the area of instruction. I will have to quit doing something that I've been doing because I believed it would help students learn more or better. Maybe I'll have one of my classes do less writing, or maybe I'll have to cut back on evaluating assignments which, of course, means that more students will decide not to do those assignments. It will also definitely mean that the next time I get an idea for something extra I can do that I think might make me a more effective teacher, I won't be able to do it.
I am all for communicating with parents, but I am already spending a ridiculous amount of time and energy on that--weekly progress reports for every student I have with an IEP, a minimum of two progress per quarter to parents of any students getting C- or below, progress reports to parents of any students who fall into failing territory during any week during the quarter, weekly lists of failing students to the high school office, and of course, my schedule of upcoming American History assignments to parents on my email address group.
Yes, communication with parents is a wonderful thing, but you know what? The amount of time and effort I'm able to put into instruction matters, too. I want to be the best teacher I can, but in order to do that I need be given some latitude regarding the use of my time. I just wish citizens on school boards understood that.