Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Educators Need to Get Along

This afternoon, my family was waiting for a parent/teacher conference at my daughters preschool.  While waiting, we overheard some drama from the meeting before us.  One of the parents was yelling at the teachers loudly enough to be heard through the closed door.  I was only able to hear one side of the argument, so I don't know what set the parent off.  We were able to pick up enough of the conversation to know that the parent was also a teacher.  This is the aspect of the argument that bothered me the most.

The reason I am concerned about cohesion in the teaching profession, at all levels, is that we have enough enemies outside of the profession.  In the public schools, teachers are already bearing the blame for failing
schools. School reformers, of whom Michelle Rhee of Washington D.C. is one of the more famous, are looking to clear the "dead wood" from the classrooms.  Rhee resigned yesterday as Chancellor of the Washington D.C. Schools, but it looks like her successor, Kayla Henderson, will continue with her reforms.  I haven't seen the movie Waiting for Superman yet, but by all accounts it should add fuel to the reform fire.

In higher education, especially in community colleges, budget limitations are straining faculty.  We are expected to teach more students with fewer resources.  In my own division, we've been asked to add more math classes even though all the faculty are already teaching overloads.  It is difficult to get adjunct instructors because very few people have advanced degrees in mathematics in rural Kentucky.

For the record, I am not saying that all teachers must be in complete agreement at all times.  We just need to work out our disagreements quietly in private.  It is better for a department to say, "This is our position on this topic" than to squabble about it publicly.  I do not always agree with some of the policies of the other math faculty, but I do follow the department policies.  Being consistent helps when grade disputes occur.  Students will have less room to argue about grades if every class has a uniform policy.

If your department has a teacher that is under-performing, it best to work it out with the teacher before the administration is looking to replace that teacher.  An experienced teacher is rarely replaced with a more experienced teacher.  If your colleagues tell you that you are under-performing, it is a good idea to listen.  I've been there, and it hurts.  I realize that the criticism I received was accurate, and I trusted the other faculty enough to use their help to improve.  Just remember that you chose to go into the profession to facilitate, not prevent, student learning.

Finally, remember that not everybody has the same teaching style.  Some teachers use direct instruction, some like discovery learning, other prefer self-paced instruction.  As professionals, we need to respect the differences of other teachers and trust that they will develop their style to what work best for them.  This is why the angry parent got to me so much.  It's very easy to think that your way of teaching is the only way to teach.  This can turn you into the same type of parent that you dread in the parent/teacher conferences.

Teaching is like parenting, the only way to understand it is to do it.  Educators need to appreciate the people in other classrooms.  If we want respect from people outside of the profession, we need to respect each other first.

P.S.  The preschool in question is the best in town.  My son was very well prepared for public school, and my daughter is doing well in kindergarten at the preschool.