Here’s a quick list/index outlining all of Grumpy’s Essays on Education blogs. Just click the listed link. At the bottom of this list you will find the entire text of, AN ESSAY ON THE CURRENT CRISIS IN EDUCATION: “DON’T PAUSE, WHY NOT REWIND AND GO FASTFORWARD.” Just scroll down the page to locate that one.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO VIEW THESE ARTICLES DIRECTLY FROM GRUMPY’S EDUCATION BLOG SITE “TEACHERS DO IT WITH CLASS” JUST CLICK THIS LINK:http://learningcurveplace.wordpress.com/
ESSAYS ON EDUCATION BLOGS: click the link below.
THE CULT OF TEACHING
GRUMPY’S SUNDAY SERMON
KIDS GET IT, DO YOU?
THE END GAME: An Essay on the Current Situation and Possible Outcomes
USING WORDPRESS AS A TEACHER TOOL
What a Fine Mess We’ve Got Ourselves Into, Ollie
THE FOURTH WAY: A VIEW TO THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION
HOW ONE DAY BECAME TWO
I WANT TO WALK IN SAM HAMMOND”S SHOES FOR ONE DAY
THE JIG IS UP WITH BILL 115: Are you in the know?
ARE THOSE DARN TEACHERS COMPLAINING AGAIN? : ANOTHER TEACHERS POSITIVE THOUGHTS IN REACTION TO TEACHER BASHING
WHY TEACHING IS NOT UNLIKE DIGGING A DITCH
GRUMPYS PISSED ADAIN: WHAT’S WITH JERRY AGAR ANYWAY?
WORK TO RULE – IT SAYS HERE NO WAY, NO HOW WHEN IT COMES TO CLUBS AND SCHOOL SPORTS Here’s why!
GRUMPY’S PISSED AND HERE’S WHY
THE INMATES ARE RUNNING THE ASSYLUM
PRINCIPALS WITH PRINCIPLES
AN ESSAY ON THE CURRENT CRISIS IN EDUCATION
WRITTEN IN THE FALL OF 2012
“DON’T PAUSE, WHY NOT REWIND AND GO FASTFORWARD.”
By Jim Johnson
I am afraid for teachers and education in Ontario. They are angry and deservedly so.
There is a slippery slope inherent in a work to rule campaign and/or curtailing volunteer roles by teachers. I’m afraid any good will that has been established with the public since the fiasco of the “Common Sense Revolution” (1997) will quickly evaporate as if baked in the sun.
Teacher unions are at the precipice. I am urging you to tread lightly and softly as you go forward with your strategic plans, remembering that this is a struggle between adults and that students should never be caught in the middle. I believe a work to rule protest will be a “lose-lose” situation if it includes denying volunteer activities for students.
There are other ways to approach a work to rule and/or a Public Relations protest. I’m about to give you some free advice. In a nutshell, I’m asking you to not “Pause” but rather to “Rewind” and go “FASTFORWARD.”
First of all, I am a retired educator with nearly 30 years experience in the classroom. I also was around for many of the early protests including the ill-fated walk-out of 1997. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I was a union steward for many years and I served as a District OPSTF Vice-President for a few terms and worked on the executive for many years. I’ve been around the block many times.
Secondly, I’m hearing from a lot of current teachers, particularly the young ones, a refrain of “I’m paying all these union dues, but for what?”
You see, in a realistic view, the teacher unions have been ineffective at a provincial political level for decades now. We all remember the Rae days, the two week protest in 1997 that cost us income, status and pension credit, the last contract negotiations where the Catholic teacher’s got the 2% bonus, and the public teachers were penalized. And now, the politicians have stripped our contracts through the stroke of a pen by initiating draconian legislation.
It’s about time that unions realized that you can’t win those political battles at Queen’s Park. It’s about time that new strategies and a new paradigm be instituted. We are continuing to fight these battles like we’re in the 60’s and 70’s – like an old style union.
My friends, these old practices don’t work in this new millennium. They are particularly offensive to parents. And, to be honest, every new work to rule campaign just dredges up memories of the last one. Consequently, the teacher bashers emerge from their hovels to decry, “How can those teachers complain with their summers off, gold plated pension plan, and high salaries. If they really cared about kids they wouldn’t cancel kid activities.” “Here they go again!” they shout.
These battles should be fought locally through board negotiations and public relations, team-building and public consensus building province wide, all of which will pay political dividends at election time. New and creative strategies need be developed that recognize the dynamics of this cyber-quick communication world we live in; the economics brought about by recession, and in the end, common sense. We need grassroots’ parents and the general public with us, not against us. We need a truer understanding of the value of a teacher and good teaching. Positive kids, positive parents and positive schools will create a tsunami of support for positive teachers in the schools.
Accordingly, I’ll attempt to think out of the box for you. I’m going to present a list of possible strategies that may better assist teachers toward getting the political clout they need. The first is a list of alternate approaches to work to rule, the second outlines an image makeover for teachers, who we will now call Teacher Managers.
You see, it is in the court of public opinion where you must do battle and win. Fighting lawmakers is like trying to roll a boulder with a feather. It doesn’t matter your effort, or your strength, or your determination. That boulder will always win. Wouldn’t it be better to break that boulder down one chip at a time until it crumbles under your persistence? Thousands of hands chipping away are a synergy strategy that would be difficult to resist or ignore.
ALTERNATIVE STRATEGIES TO WORK TO RULE THAT DON’T IMPACT KIDS
A RESISTANCE MOVEMENT FOR TEACHERS
First and foremost get to the courtroom ASAP and argue the unconstitutional nature of the legislation. Go strong –go hard. That is where most of your effort should be focused.
Every comment by Dalton and his minister must be addressed immediately by a response from the Federations. Do not allow a disinformation campaign by the politicos to go unchecked. Be sure to back every response with hard evidence. Have the government “hang itself” with its own words.
No matter how distasteful it might be, every teacher in Ontario should be encouraged to use each and every one of those sick days. 190 000 teachers booking off 10 days would result in a cost of 1.9 million sick days. The cost of these days at $200 would break the bank as it were, costing the education system upwards of $380 000 000. Even non-teaching friends have said, “Why wouldn’t you use as many as you need if you can’t save or bank them.”
Encourage as many teachers who are eligible to both retire and receive a gratuity to threaten to do so this year. Indeed, have those teachers sign a petition telling the government they are seriously considering retiring at the end of this teaching year. Total up that cost to the government and present it publicly.
Every teacher in Ontario should find a Unit that is within their curriculum (be creative) and teach a theme on civics, government, rights and freedoms and the precepts of law and fair practices. Teach this unit at the same time of the year and early on, say in October. Proclaim October rights and freedoms month or call it Democracy December. Privately call it, “Teach your ass off month!” Make sure there is as much positive news going home from schools as is humanly possible.
Every teacher in Ontario should be concentrating in these early months on dynamic teaching methods and be pulling out their best stuff so that kids are going home saying that they, “Love school! Like their teachers and want to head back with enthusiasm –each and every day!” Leave the tough, boring, mundane stuff until later in the year. Let the kids be your most important PR tool. Saddling teachers with political action, protests, work to rule, cancellation of school activities and the like, pours on more stress. Teachers are your frontline and will take the brunt of any criticism from their communities.
Teachers shouldn’t move furniture, clean excessively, move materials about the school, nor should they be doing anything outside of the definition of classroom teaching and classroom management. All manual labour should stop. Just teach. But don’t stop things for kids –sports, clubs and the like. Remember, it’s “teach your ass off time!”
Disruptive students should be referred to administration early and often. If a child is preventing you from doing your job –send him/her to the principal. Concentrate on what you do best – TEACH.
Managers in public businesses have secretaries to do their typing. Send all letters, correspondence and report card comments and marks to the office to be typed or placed on the report card by someone else.
DO NOT attend or participate in board curriculum activities (committees) or attend any other meeting outside of school hours. Focus on classroom learning and those PR folks that it in front of you for six hours each and every day. Have your clients going home with big sunshine smiles on their faces.
Every “McGuinty Monday” staff should rally in front of the school after the final bell and picket/protest for 20 minutes. Keep up the visuals and keep the issue current for as long as it takes. Make them information pickets and parents/public will come. AD CAMPAIGN: “The teachers of Ontario invite you to talk to them?” Each district should be offering press releases on regular basis. Keep the local press informed and aware.
Constantly remind the public, shout it from the rooftops and press the issue with politicians, that one publically funded education system is estimated to save 1.7 billion dollars. Point out publicly how public policy issues such as these end up costing taxpayers. There are many more issues that could be advanced and discussed publicly. Demonstrate that money can be saved through local dialogue and negotiation.
In a symbolic gesture present the Ontario legislature with a series of invoices for unpaid services rendered. Present one of these each McGuinty Monday for a month. Call them “Dalton Debits.”
A bill for all extracurricular activities charged at $31 an hour. A quick survey of members could get you this information and an estimate made. My own calculations below suggest a bill of over $124 000 000 for one year.
Present a symbolic bill for personal expenses for AQ courses taken by teachers paid out-of-pocket. Most good private companies pay for their employee’s upgrades. Again, a quick steward survey could get these totals quickly. If just 5% teachers take these courses, this bill could be as much as 6 million dollars.
Present a bill for all materials purchased using teacher personal funds for classroom use. MY own estimate based on my wife and I would suggest an Ontario total of close to $100 000 000 is spent each year by teachers.
Ask the government for a refund on all fund raising so that schools no longer need to institute such practices. Eleven Ontario Boards reported in a survey that they raised $26 000 000 through fundraising. If all 26 Boards reported I’m sure the total would be close to $60 000 000. There are also the School-generated funds that are the extra dollars over and above what the province provides in public funding. This revenue comes from things like student fees, cafeterias, fundraising, sponsorships and other activities. From those 11 school boards surveyed that amount was an additional $125 000 000. So $150 million dollars from 788 schools – that’s an average of about $180 000 per school believe it or not. Make the point that education is not overfunded it is in fact – UNDERFUNDED.
Ask why there are user fees for high school students. I know we paid close to $350 in user fees for our high school child last year. Get a total for Ontario and on behalf of parents present the legislature with the bill.
At each bill presentation remind the government/public that teachers are contributing free time, materials and their individual effort to save the government dollars. Schools and teachers are working hard through fundraising to make up for funding gaps provided in the Liberals budgets. I’m sure these invoices I’m suggesting might add up to over billion dollars or more.
The kicker could be, “If teachers are helping out in these financial ways, why can’t educational funding provide a classroom with tissues for your children’s’ runny noses? McGuintynomics I guess!”
Keep up the print ads but change their focus each week. TV and Radio ads should mirror those in print. Instead of attacking politicians use that money in better ways to celebrate teachers and an Ontario education system that is second to none. Attacking McGuinty is like attacking a “lame duck” and, honestly, these attacks can sound like sour grapes to the public. “For-get-about-it”, Dalton is already done like dinner.
NEGOTIATE HARD AND LONG AT THE LOCAL LEVEL. Get creative and find ways to win contract battles locally and to disrupt government meddling with clauses and or items that undermine this political authority. Convince all boards to put a clause in the UNDERSTANDINGS that, “This Agreement is held true by democratic principles and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and cannot be changed, altered or cancelled by edict or political interference without a vote by local trustees of the board.” Words to that effect – I’m not a lawyer. But when that contract is submitted provincially and if the politicians try to remove that clause –the proverbial poop will hit the fan publically. You’ll have a huge PR win!
Develop a PODCAST radio type show that can be downloaded that exhorts the value of teachers and discusses issues in education from a teacher’s perspective. Bring in “real” teachers to tell their stories. Bring in real parents to honor teachers they feel are exceptional.
Get accreditation for your PR Officer to attend and be able to ask questions in Queens Park Scrums. Get that pass and use it on a daily basis. Keep asking the hard questions. You have a magazine; surely you have writers that could get accreditation.
Most importantly, you have 190 000 highly educated, smart and experienced teachers at your disposal. Ask them to generate ideas. Get your own grassroots’ solutions moving up the ranks to provincial? If those teachers can come up with just 10 solid strategies you will be in a far better position to make a difference with politicians and the public. Use the collective intelligence you have collaboratively.
Look, all three parties have been in power over my career. Each and every one of them has jobbed us in one way or another, mostly for political gain. It is the public not the politicians that we need on our side. Focus all efforts on building that enormous power base. Millions of pick axes will turn that political boulder into dust.
But, at all cost, do not put the kids you teach in the middle of this fight. Do not destroy the good will you already have. After all, it did take about 15 years to win it back.
CHANGE THE OLD SCHOOL STEREOTYPE AND RECREATE THE IMAGE OF A TEACHER
TEACHERS ARE WELL EDUCATED MANAGERS DESERVING OF A MANAGER WAGE AND MANAGER BENEFITS
Teachers today are not just educators. They are Teacher Managers. They are highly qualified and deserving of the benefits they receive.
90% of education sector workers are university educated some with Master Degrees and many more with a list of AQ courses.
Teachers manage students, classrooms and school programs much as middle managers do in business. They do it with far fewer resources, far less support and with their client group in front of them 6 hours a day.
If you research the top paying jobs in Canada, teaching is not in the Top 10. It is calculated out that teacher compensation is about $31 an hour. (This based on total hours worked in and out of the classroom) If you did a survey of teacher volunteer time, and estimated the savings by the province by not paying for these hours, I think the number would be surprising.
The public needs to be aware that there are no classroom teachers on the Ontario Sunshine list. There are education administrators, of course, and a whole host of other professions (police, fire, nurses, ambulance attendants, hydro workers) who get on the list because of the overtime they are paid. Imagine the cost saving education enjoys because no overtime is paid?
$31 an hour for out of school meetings, workshops, school sport, parent interviews, report card preparation etc. Wouldn’t that be a lot of money if those hours were paid, especially at time and a half?
Management positions average out at $38 an hour. So sell teachers to the public as Classroom Managers, explaining the myriad of duties a teacher is required to do. Remembering that a teacher MANAGES a client base of from 20 -35 students. The public forgets that teachers are their own secretaries (type letters and reports), cleaners, furniture movers, first-aid workers, councillors, surrogate parent – and the list goes on and on. These duties go far beyond that of a typical middle management person who averages $7 more an hour than a teacher. The current stereotype must be changed.
It is not uncommon that middle managers in business get paid a bonus. I friend of mine gets from $5000 to $7000 a year in bonus pay. Towers-Watson reports that, “Employees received awards averaging 13.4% of salary where targets were established and 11.8% of salary in organizations without formal targets.”
Imagine receiving a bonus every year like that. I guess Government managers did very well. Give me $3000 a year bonus over 25 years of teaching and that’s $75 000, way more than any gratuity one could receive. However, 13.4% of a $75 000 teachers salary would be a bonus of over $10 000 a year. Sign me up, Dalton.
I know coaching a high school basketball team involves as much as 100-150 hours of volunteer time. That’s 100X $31 = $3100. Multiply this amount by the number of teacher coaches in all of Ontario, elementary and secondary and you see what I mean. Let’s say 40 000 teachers in Ontario commit this amount of time –that’s $124 million dollars. Do a quick survey to find out an actual amount, including clubs, outings and other volunteer roles..
But even more revealing is the dollar value of what teachers do as volunteers and through the spending of their own money on materials.
Teachers buy their own materials when required. I know I spent as much as $1000 a year on my classroom. Do a survey to find the actual amount. My estimate would be, say $500 a year average times 190 000 teachers or $95 million dollars.
To upgrade teachers take AQ courses at their own expense. I know a University level course might cost $600 or more. If only 10 000 teachers (5% of the total) take these courses their total outlay is around $6 million dollars. You and I both know that if all paid course were included and the actual number of teachers surveyed the amount would be much higher.
The public also has to remember that teacher wages are paid with tax dollars. So the real cost of the teacher’ salary must be the difference between the net and the gross because all of those income tax deduction go back into government coffers. My wife paid $14 000 in income tax last year. Multiply that times 190 000 teachers and that’s $2 260 000 000 (2.2 BILLION) dollars off the published cost of education. If the government can apply gratuities as unfunded liabilities certainly they can include the real cost of salaries.
It is interesting that the Ontario Ministry of Finance for 2012-2013 has a budget of $14,477,527,414. That’s about 2/3 of the budget for education yet what real value does this department produce. It takes that much money to number crunch and plan economic strategy. Something is wrong here, especially if the deficit equals the cost of producing it. How many people are employed in finance? If there are 190 000 teachers, surely there must be 100 000 accountants. Indeed, 100 000 accountants creating a $15 000 000 000 (15 billion) dollar deficits.
That seems like an oxymoron, don’t you think.
Assuredly, these kinds of financial numbers suggest that teachers are providing a very good bang for the buck in Ontario. We also must consider that the cost per student in Ontario is lower than BC and Alberta, coming in just over $10 000. That’s far less than a private school tuition of upwards of $20 000, isn’t it.
Another way to look at it is based on a 200 day school year the cost is about $50 an day per student or, based on a 6 hour day about $8.00 an hour for full time supervision with a valued education thrown in and perks like after school sports. In your home, how qualified of a baby sitter do you get for $8 an hour?
Did you know it costs from $175 000 to $250 000 to keep an inmate in prison for a year in Canada? It’s far cheaper to develop a good citizen than to punish a bad one. Teachers are at the forefront of accomplishing the former. So let’s VALUE you them for that important role.
It cost our family over $5000 for our 18 year old to play on an elite basketball team. Ask those hockey parents what they pay out-of-pocket for a year of AAA hockey. Given 1200 hours of instruction and daily supervision in a safe environment, one year of education in Ontario is cheap by comparison.
There are other misnomers out there that need to be addressed. A friend of mine was shocked to learn that teachers don’t receive vacation pay because they are contracted workers. He and his wife take nice vacations to sunny beaches every year with their vacation pay.
It also really bothers me when the press or public say we have the summers off. Well we didn’t negotiate this in a contract this is just the historical agriculture based economy’s way of doing things. It is the nature of the game. Of course, times have changed. But, we didn’t bring this on, did we. I know of no teacher that can afford to holiday for the entire summer.
I know of many teachers who coach and volunteer in the summer, and give back to their communities through charity work. Many more take month long courses, while others are busy in early August preparing for next year’s class. A survey needs to be done to measure these out of classroom contributions by teachers. These hours of time spent working/volunteering in the summer need to be recognized.
Most of the public thinks teachers are paid for the summer, forgetting that our 10 month salary is prorated over the course of twelve months. I don’t think 12 month school years would be a saving if a 16% wage hike for those two extra months was added.
Workers that have tremendous responsibility historically are compensated at a high level. That’s why we pay our doctors, nurses, fire fighters, and police a decent wage with decent benefits. The average Ontario doctor bills $385,000 annually, nearly 10 times the $40,000 earnings of the typical Ontarian. Starting OPP Officers earn $52 000 annual with a ceiling of $85 427 while Ontario nurses start at $52 260 and many experienced nurses make more than $100 000 a year. (Check that Sunshine list.)
Starting salaries for teachers are between $41,766 and $44,292. The maximum wage in elementary schools is $92,813 in elementary schools and $94,942 in secondary schools, depending on years of service and education. Of course, that highest wage is for those with the highest qualifications and most experience – the few as opposed to the many. Realistically, the average teacher in Ontario makes between $42 000 and $75 000 per year.
Interesting enough at a $10 000 annual per student cost, one day in a 200 day school year would have a price tag of $50 per day. Multiply that by an average class size of say 30 and you get a per day classroom cost of $1500. Take that teachers salary of $75 000 and teacher salary cost per day is $375. So where are the other $1125 dollars being spent. It appears as if the actual teacher cost per day in a classroom is 25% of the total daily cost. Does this suggest that there might be other areas for cuts? What this says is that it costs $1125 to support a teacher in a classroom PER DAY!
So, when you look at all aspects of the job of the teacher-manager, the PR campaign and the paradigm shift, especially as it relates to stereotypes, must address the following. This archaic image of the teacher by the public, the press and politicians has to change.
Let’s re-educate these critics with real facts and real understandings.
Teachers are in the care of and responsible for children for 14 to 15 years of their education, six hours a day, 200 days a year for a total of about 1200 hours a year. During this time they are charged with the responsibility of the development of the whole child – educationally, socially and emotionally. They are responsible for the health and safety of their charges in an atmosphere of constant interaction, conflict and interpersonal contact.
They volunteer untold unpaid hours aside from those six daily hours without compensation. This also includes administrative duties such as planning, reporting and communicating to parents. They receive no vacation pay.
They spend their own money on upgrading qualifications and they purchase class materials out of their own pockets. They must teach 10 years to reach their maximum salary. Because courses are not paid for by the employer the grid is the incentive system that promotes professional development.
Teachers are managers that do far more than just teach children. Their job description is far beyond that of mere educator. As a manager, they are in direct contact with from 20 to 35 of their clients six hours a day in a small space filled with dynamic behavior.
They type their own letters and reports, clean up their student’s messes, move furniture and do manual labour managers in businesses would find insulting and degrading.
Teacher managers do not receive bonuses like the private sector managers save for a gratuity paid out once for sick days saved. The average teacher takes 6 days off due to sickness, this despite working in an environment of hundreds of children coughing, sneezing and touching common surfaces with unwashed hands. A teacher’s immune system is tested to the max every single day of the year. Teaching kids can be hazardous to your health.
These are the messages that can change the public’s perception of what teaching really is and who teachers really are.
The bottom line is that “teachers do have it pretty” good in terms of compensation and benefits and that’s the rub. That’s what brings out the teacher bashers. I’ve read this comment or heard it uttered on radio and TV too many times recently.
“Then again, teachers have benefits and pensions and job security the likes of which most workers can only dream about.”
Teacher unions over the years have got teacher wages, benefits and conditions to the pinnacle. Many good strategies worked to get us to that point. But now, the fight is not about contract gains it is about contract strips. That is why new approaches and new strategic plans are necessary. It is time to rethink and revamp the role of the Teacher Federations.
That is why the focus of union efforts should be to celebrate teaching and education and demonstrate that teachers are “worthy” of these so called “perks”. The public and politicians are too focused on the “WHAT WE GET” not on the “WHAT WE GIVE” as educators.
Your dilemma is that teachers who are in the trenches, fighting the good fight with all the stress and angst that entails are saying, “Hell, I deserve what I get!” and they are angry. Your problem is that some politicians and a significant body of public opinion believe that you don’t. The tough job ahead is to sell those “haters” on the true value of an educator. This might take a massive PR campaign or at the very least a lot of “teach your ass off” teaching. The good will you develop will pay off in spades.
Teachers are middle managers who are more than deserving of a managers compensation package both in terms of their education and experience and the very important work they do. The image of a teacher needs a makeover and a promo job that brings public support to a pinnacle. With full public support teacher bashing will become moot, and the results at the poles will reflect policy which is more favorable to teacher contracts.
Work to rule by cancelling student activity will have the opposite effect. If you lose face you will lose the race. The court of public opinion will be far harsher than that which the politicos can provide. You are on a precipice and are carrying a huge load of good will developed since 1997.
For that very reason, when you do this to your school (deny student activities) it is not unlike that emotionally disturbed child in your classroom. You know the one who feels so miserable that they do everything in their power to make the entire classroom feel miserable and/or angry through their behavior and actions. That’s a no win situation. Pissing off your client group is total nonsense and self-defeating.
It would be better to turn your anger into positive energy and focus on “teaching your ass off” and continuing to make a difference with your charges. You are to teach by precept and example, remember. Turn those clients of yours into the best PR people that your Federation won’t need money to buy.
Please, don’t step in the wrong direction – the slope is extremely treacherous and exceedingly slippery.
So, by all means push the “Pause” button. But let this be a “pause” from politics and political action and not a “pause” from teacher led activities that are positive for our children. The track record in these political fights is abysmal –there are very few battles you can win. It is becoming death by a thousand cuts. Zipper
Why not press the “Rewind” button and get back to building positive student, parent and community support. Entrench yourself locally and at the grassroots level. That is where you’ll find the army you need behind you when you go into battle. Look what you were able to accomplish at the grassroots level in Waterloo. Let’s “FASTFORWARD” by creating a new paradigm from which a new image as Teacher Managers can be created.
No government will question the veracity of a public that honours and respects teachers. No government will meddle with Teacher Managers who are seen as worthy of reasonable compensation and who are invaluable to education. No commentators will slag teachers when their own audience is 100% behind educators. That will give you all the political clout you need when you choose to fight the dragon once again.
Remember what Winston Churchill said, “Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.”
Stop killing yourselves battling the all-powerful political dragon in his lair. In my view it would be fare better to “REWIND” and “FASTFORWARD” to a better future?
Online articles such as these are the kind of campaign focus that is required. This is what you want to see from the press and parents; respect for the great job we do.
WHY TEACHING IS LIKE DIGGING A DITCH
After nearly thirty years of teaching and after talking to those who are still in the trenches, I had a Eureka moment the other day. You see, I’m constantly seeking good metaphors and this particular one gob-smacked me. Teaching is not unlike ditch-digging, and I’m about to tell you why.
Every year a teacher is confronted with a daunting task. There is a huge ditch to be dug that stretches from September to June. The only thing that you know for sure is how long the ditch must be. There is a beginning and there is an end.
But, because you’ve been digging these ditches for years and you’re energetic and enthused in the beginning, you are ready to jump right in and get started. After all, you’ve had the summer off to revitalize and recharge those batteries. Many of your friends and family keep telling you this, so it must be true.
You have your trusty shovel; the one that feels so good in your hands. And, although you are apprehensive, you are an experienced ditch digger; one that has developed good ditch digging practices over many years.
Of course, you have concerns. For example, how wide must this ditch be, or how deep, and what is the constitution of the soil that you must remove? Will the rocks be difficult to move, can you polish them into gems and can you accomplish all of this without running out of steam or burning out?
You are prepared for the heavy lifting. You know the pace and how to handle it. That’s what makes your job interesting and challenging every year. You are constantly told by your supervisors that you are a PROFESSIONAL ditch digger and, I guess, you should feel reassured by that.
So, you dig right in.
The first shovel loads are easily removed because you are working in surface soil and you’re just beginning to understand the consistency of the layers below. You are making progress, your ditch is taking shape and, you feel the initial joy of making a difference, and of moving forward.
There are many pitfalls that you expect to encounter. You fully understand that every ditch you’ve dug has been different and presents new challenges.
Some rocks are difficult to move, even stubborn. They need to pried and cajoled. Clay soil becomes difficult to dig and, every once in a while, the walls of your ditch tumble down to refill what you have already dug. But, you have a strong back and you are ripped with muscles because you have been laboring at this job for years. You’ve also developed a bevy of techniques that, when effectively applied, become efficient methods that tend to move you forward at a slow but steady pace. September seems a long way off, but you are moving forward and you begin to see that you are much closer to the end and a lot further from the beginning.
At about this time, a voice fractures the very essence of your intense focus and your heavy slogging. This voice comes from outside of your ditch, far above you, like a voice from heaven.
“Excuse me, I’ve come to help,” the melodic voice offers. “May I have a word with you?”
Indeed, a little extra help is always welcome when you labor in a ditch. So you call out, “Come on down. Lend a hand. I’d appreciate that!”
“Well,” the voice replies. “I can’t do that. I don’t want to get my hands or my clothes dirty. You see, I don’t dig ditches any more.”
That’s when it strikes you.
Your visitor is a Consultant to the Director of Ditch Digging; someone from the head office, which is miles away both in distance and understanding. At this point, you mumble a curse word and climb out of the ditch.
“Hello, my name is Betty Betterment,” the impeccably dressed lady begins. “See! I’ve brought you a new and improved shovel. This shovel will permit you to dig faster, lift and remove heavier stones and dig the perfect ditch. We have new techniques and protocols that make this shovel a savior for efficient ditch-digging logistics. Are you interested?”
There is no doubt that she’s full of mumbo-jumbo but, you’re always willing to try something new. You see that shovel gleaming like a silver tea service. Compared to your ratty old shovel, this new shovel has the appearance of a technological epiphany.
“Yes,” you say. “Just hand it over, I’ll read the instructions tonight and give it a try next week.”
“Oh, no, dear, that’s not how it works,” Ms. Betterment continues with a grin and giggle. “We’re going to sign you up for a series of Silver Shovel In-service Sessions.”
Oh, God, you’re thinking. I don’t have time for this, I’ve got a ditch to dig, and even the slightest interruption will set me back. You remember what a wise old colleague once said to you. When the train has left the station, don’t ever jump off because you’ll never catch up to it again.
“Don’t worry,” Betty says. Her voice is as smooth as silk underwear. “We’ll give you “out-of-ditch time” to attend the in-services. Won’t that be nice? A little break from ditch digging is good for the soul.”
You are keenly aware; however, that the Occasional Ditch Diggers who replace you will leave a few stones unturned. You’ll likely have several cave-ins to re-dig and, the final result will be more of a one step forward and three steps back scenario. But, you have no choice; the Director of Ditch Digging has mandated your participation.
You might be thinking back to the good old days when your motivation to dig a good ditch was intrinsic, self-directed and driven by the desire to be the best that you could be. Nowadays, it seems, others try to accomplish the same for you with extrinsic motivation; pushing you on, giving you expert opinion and then demanding great chunks of your valuable “ditch-digging” time.
Nevertheless, you are a PROFESSIONAL, and you dutifully attend the in-service.
You are surprised to be greeted with coffee and nice goody table, but you wonder how a ditch digging company that pleads poverty can afford it. After all, they are also paying for that Occasional Ditch Digger who’s turning your perfectly symmetrical ditch into a gravel pit. No matter, you’ll listen to what they have to say and move on. You’ve been there and done that many times before.
Consultant Lady is dressed to the nines and speaks in a kind of cool edu-speak. You know the drill; she uses umpteen words you’ve never heard before, and even more of those handy acronyms. They’re thrown out like snow flakes in the winter. When it comes to shoveling, you’ve never heard of SMO’s , DDT’s or RRM’s. This is an alphabet soup of instructions, you decide.
Consultant Lady raves about how this new-improved shovel has made remarkable inroads in Australia. But, you are also well aware that soil type and structure is far different “Down-Under”. Hell, you know that in Canada there are differences in soil consistency district to district and even ditch to ditch. Somehow, Ms. Betterment believes that this new shovel is universal: tried, tested and true. By golly, she has all the buzz words to prove it.
It strikes you odd that Betty Betterment really never spent much time digging ditches in the first place and now she’s some kind of expert. You put this down to her aversion to getting her hands dirty. At least her fellow consultants, who smugly ring the room, nod their heads in support of everything she says.
After several sessions, you become acutely aware that implementing this shovel properly requires a whole lot of work and many changes to your shoveling regimen. The fact that you’ve been doing all of this extra work, then cleaning up after the replacement ditch digger, as well as reporting your progress to your Principal Ditch-Digger, makes you feel as if the end of your ditch has moved farther and farther away from you. Never mind that you also have polished some of your rocks and taken them to Inter-Ditch competitions on your own time.
You also understand that the younger ditch diggers, the ones without children or other commitments, will be on to this new shovel like butter on bread. They’re looking for a good shovel to get their brand-spanking new careers in gear. But, your life is already a balancing act of major proportions, so there must be sacrifices to the greater good, that is, if “Silver Shovel” implementation is to be successful.
So, after it’s all said and done, you are ready to implement the new-improved DDT (Ditch Digging Technology). However, this new tool doesn’t feel right in your hands, your usual techniques have to be modified, and your back is beginning to ache as it has never ached before. You feel confident that your old trusty shoveling techniques worked well in the past. Indeed, the new shovel is becoming a time-consuming, technique killing, burden. You are getting behind in your ditch digging and those rocks are becoming harder to move. You find yourself running to catch that damn train.
So, what do you do?
Well, you lean that shiny new shovel to the side, and only use it on occasions where its usefulness is purposeful or when someone in authority is looking into your ditch. Betty Betterment is thrilled to see you with the Silver Shovel in hand on her infrequent visits. You fully understand that she is a busy lady and because she never really jumps down into your ditch, she doesn’t notice all the old tools you continue to use. But, they’ve never let you down before and you don’t expect them to now.
The new shovel becomes useful in some situations but, it is neither a panacea nor is it the “be all and end all” of ditch digging implements. You are able to integrate DDT into, but not replace that which has been successful to you. All of this takes time and energy. But you are, after all, an EXPERIENCED PROFESSONAL and cherry-picking is one the strongest assets.
You know, at some point, the Powers That Be will want to come out and measure and test your ditch, for that is what The Powers That Be like to do. But, you are a wise old ditch digger and you’ve made sure that your ditch is straight, the sides are perpendicular, the floor is level and all of your rocks are duly polished and organized so as to not impede your progress. You’ll even hold the Silver Shovel in your hands and smile.
So, I think it is as clear as the nose on your face; teaching IS like being a ditch digger: difficult, laborious and draining.
Not only are you well aware that you can’t get blood from a stone but you also know that you will reap what you sow. There are gems to find and some of the rougher stones can and will be polished, and although others are unmovable, you polish them just the same. Your ditch is long and straight and you’ll get to the end in June, no matter the obstacles. You WILL be successful!
Because you’ve spent most of your life digging ditches, you know how to do it efficiently and with success, and you ARE A PROFESSIONAL.
It’s not unlike what my first Principal said to me, “Your kids will learn in spite of what you do!”It didn’t take me long to realize that teaching isn’t about WHAT you do but more about HOW you do it. Ladies and gentleman, that’s what years of experience ultimately come down to – KNOW HOW!
Indeed, if you have been at the job for more than 10, 20 or 30 years you know how to dig a ditch!
This all brings to mind some of my favorite lyrics from Jimmy Buffet. The following example comes from the song, “It’s My Job”. I’ll leave you with this thought because I’m confident that you are very capable of listing all the reasons why you do what you do and, why you do it well.
It’s my job to be different than the rest and that’s enough reason to go for me It’s my job to be better than the best and that’s a tough break for me
It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess and that’s enough reason to go for me It’s my job to be better than the best and that makes the day for me
ADMINISTRATION IN THE SCHOOL: TAKING THE HIGH ROAD
There are situations where a leadership vacuum may suck the life out of any attempt to promote innovation and, in turn, progressive growth in our schools .
The new age administrator, because of a lack of experience and their desire to impose change through the use of power and deception, often miss the point. The point being that, leading by example, encouraging intrinsic motivation, as well as providing praise and positive feedback, are the fuel that drive a successful classroom teacher. Really, it’s all about creating a place for change, not changing the place.
Most often, direct “hands-on” management by administrators affects this innovation void by making it larger. Indeed, attempts to a “keep a finger” on any and all aspects of school life become counter-productive. Administrators often forget that their view or vision for education may not be shared. Imposing change can’t possibly work. In the so called real world, once a leader loses their constituents they become powerless. Powerless educational leadership is neither what we need or wish to promote.
Too often, “change for the sake of change” become an administrators attempt to put his/her “stamp” on the school environment. Re-modelling the school becomes their personal mantra; their philosophy of education, their NEW paradigm. It is as if the declaration of “this is my school” and “I am in charge here” holds more import than the education of students and the dedication of teachers.
Many Principals and consultants forget that they are the “Principal Teacher” and that their role is to develop an effective and productive team through the application of sound leadership principles . The “We are in this together” approach is often lacking and therefore teachers and admins feel like adversaries. How can the “we vs. them” model work? If you are a leader isn’t your role to lead?
Aren’t the most effective manager’s motivators, and advocates team builders? Do they not provide the environment for innovation and change rather than simply authoritative direction and imposed edicts?
Often, administrators think that they are filling a vessel, when they should really be creating a work of art. .Good administrators do not merely direct change through the behavior management of those they manage. On the contrary, good PRINCIPAL LEADERS provide and nourish an atmosphere for optimum productive behavior where change and innovation is inevitable. See the difference?
As a youngster, I’ll never forget what my first school Principal said to the students in my school.
“Remember that the word PRINCIPAL ends in the word PAL. Don’t ever forget that PAL is just as much a part of me as anything else. That’s why we’ll work together to get you to be the best that you can be.”
You see, synergy is the ultimate goal in education, whether it be among students in a classroom, or between teachers and administrators.
The “One for all, all for one” approach works.
Unfortunately, too many of our new age administrators dwell on the all for one. I’d rather advocate for “Principals with Principles”, wouldn’t you?