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Thursday, December 20, 2012

David Hedges: Tough on Teachers, Soft on Disruptive Students



The current climate that prevails in the Brooklyn High Schools where I have been assigned on weekly rotations is that principals have an systemic incentive to be tough on teachers, but when it comes to handling students who prevent other students from learning, they are very lenient. 

Why would this be?  Well, the age of the weak principal has been ushered in by the data driven leadership.  It's about getting students to graduate.  Hear now: in olden times the students who couldn't cut it became factory workers, mechanics, or gave their lives to their country.  Then came social promotion.  Now, the students who can't behave themselves get every chance in the book (written, probably, by a well-meaning bleeding heart).  The least well behaved students know that they have the principal by the proverbial balls.  Such students now know that the principals are under pressure to kowtow to them.  "If you fail me you'll get fired," is the standard line I hear.  Another popular refrain is to spread rumors.  Teacher X is a racist.  Sorry to say it, but principals are especially likely to water down requirements, and become very worried about their six-digit salaries being a subject of student approval and review. 

With more teachers leaving than ever, even before their salaries make it worth their while to stick it out the real reason intelligent humans become teachers: summers off, of course.  You need a real purpose to get through 180 days of disrespectful treatment.  (Teachers are bookended daily by being belittled and micromanaged by their supervisors, who are, at least in my case, chronological subordinates).  The cult of disrespect must be very catching, for the students join in and presume to be in league with the administration.  Students who may not know enough to pass a Regents exam, but who sure know their way around litigious language and the finer nuances of blackmail. 

Principals are in a tough place: if they are tough on the disruptive ones, they risk losing their numbers (oh, I mean students), and that fancy salary they get.  They also risk being found out as Tweed-brown-nosers.  The nice-guy syndrome is about the only talent it seems to take to keep a job in management.  At every faculty meeting I attend, the unifying motif is how to increase, not improve, student learning.  A well paid administrator preaches to rookie teachers about how their job is on the line unless more kids pass.  Pavlov's dog has everyone by the collar.  Only on one occasion did I hear a very tough principal say that what he wanted to see in the classroom was more creativity in the lessons.  Data-schmaytta, he said, in so many words.  Data doesn't make you a better teacher: creative lessons are what we need, not more data-crap.  He even shunned Cathy Black when she made one of her ridiculous visits. 

Sadly, most of the teachers who aren't ATRs are so nervous about losing their jobs that they forget that teaching is supposed to be the marriage of duty and inclination.  We aren't circus seals trainers, flinching under the ring master's whip.  We are supposed to be the ones who model thinking beyond the Euclidian world and the carpentered horizon of the box.  Even logic is more beautiful than the kind of obedience and intimidation that passes for leadership in most schools nowadays.  With the loss of the older teacher, whether he or she was good or not, the system loses its conscience.  There is nobody left to contextualize the progress anymore.  Are students any brighter or more compassionate now, or are their test scores modified so they feel better about themselves?  I think the leadership academy may just have gone aground, rather than to a better land of learning.

Is it really worth the money?  (Actually, it's not such a fancy salary: if you work out the arithmetic, hourly wage, that is, their salary is just about what a teacher's is, who is getting top pay.  So why is the DOE paying top dollar for principals who don't have as much experience as their veteran teachers?  Why not ask the guy who runs the show, a member of the one-percent.  Gee, maybe there is a reason why principals are coddling the  disruptive ones- as long as they graduate kids whose maximum wage will be the prevailing minimum wage, there's more profit for the one-percenters, isn't there?

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