Challenge #2 – Follow Your Nose

If it looks like poop,

If it smells like poop,

If it tastes like… well you get the idea!

Here’s Challenge #2: Follow the trail of “accountability” on an issue or initiative that you disagree with, and see what you learn.

I took the challenge  (and I mean I really did it!).  I had a conversation with my principal yesterday about the new STAR3 grant that my school is participating in.  I expressed my concerns and asked questions.  I was very direct and honest in my discussion.  Here are my key reasons for not be willing to participate in the program, followed by the responses my principal gave.

  1. I do not think that the STAR3 program (which included sign-on bonuses for “hard-to-fill” positions in math, science, ESL, and EC) is designed in any way to benefit students.  To read a little more about the failing incentive pay programs, click here.
  2. I think that STAR3 will lead, otherwise noble, teachers to lie, cheat, and compete ruthlessly.  After not having pay increases over the last 4 years, how do you think any human would react when money is being dangled over their head?  It scary to think of how tempted teachers will be to “help” students on those all important EOG’s.  Heck!  Wouldn’t you?  Also, think about the pressure to earn those bonuses…  If you are a 6th grade math teacher who does not get the bonus that another 6th grade math teacher gets, are you not going to feel some embarrassment?
  3. I think that teachers will become prejudiced.  Not to say that some aren’t already, but I think that when teachers are looking out at their classes and evaluating who will be able to get the scores and who won’t… they will start to make quick judgements.
  4. Not to mention that you’re paying teachers, who would otherwise not teach in these “hard-to-fill” positions (in hard to handle schools), $10,000 to work here.  These folks have four years to capitalize on the money makers in their classes.  Do you honestly think that someone who had to be bribed into teaching free/reduced lunch kids isn’t going to stereotype and judge these students?
  5. Why can’t “proven effective” teachers from a STAR3 school transfer and receive the $10,000?  Seems kind of crazy that there still is not a plan for how you’re going to deal with the fact that a teacher who has been dedicated and passionate about working in a “hard-to-fill” position is not worthy of the bribe, I mean bonus, that you are paying teachers with similar experience.
  6. Finally, I explained, I can’t lie anymore.  I cannot look parents in the eye and pretend that our school is doing something that we just aren’t.  I cannot have my name listed on the website that says that teachers are treating students as individuals, learning about their intelligences, and integrating the arts across the curriculum…  It’s all a big fat lie, and I won’t be party to lying, for the sake of recruiting students with desirable test scores.

In my principal’s defense, she had NO idea that I was coming in to discuss these heavy issues and she responded in a very pleasant manner, even though she had been fighting a terrible flu for several weeks.  She said,

  • She appreciated my perspective and felt that I offered a unique take on the grant program.
  • I was probably overestimating the impact that the program would really have on the day-to-day work.
  • That hated to see me go, but understood that I was following my principles.
  • That I should probably wait to hear more about the actual implementation before putting myself on the transfer list.

I feel that I learned a lot through this experience.  First, you’re not going to be fired based on asking questions about policies that you are concerned about.  Second, practice what you preach, or better yet, preach what you practice.  I was drawn to doing this because I was feeling guilty about having talked to just about everyone else in the building about my concerns, except the principal and I felt guilty because I have always prided myself on not talking behind people’s backs.  Finally, when you do and say what you believe, you can live with a certain freedom.  I don’t mean for everyone to go tell off their boss, or write a mean e-mail, but there’s something to be said about being more honest and transparent.  My students have picked up on the change without any prompting from me about what I’ve actually been doing.  Students have been complimenting me on looking better, smiling more, and respecting them!  Wow!  Authenticity is better than hair dye and Botox (not that I know about either, but I don’t need to now that I, apparently, look better than ever!)

I hope you all take the challenge (whether you work in education or not) and see what you learn!  Post a comment if you actually do it!

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