29 January 2006

Signs of Hope

Most edubloggers inevitably post about someone they work with who is a negative influence on their school or program. What are we to do in order to help these co-workers find their enthusiasm again? And do we hang garlic or carry an exorcism kit in the meantime?

Since starting my district role, I have encountered one science teacher who fits this profile. There have been others who weren't especially wild about me, but they have since become some of my supporters and best contributors to district work. Only one is still holding out.

"Jane" teaches at one of our junior highs---in fact, she works at the one where I participated in the accreditation last Monday. I will not deny that teaching middle school science is a challenging job. Jane goes way over the top in her descriptions. No one could possibly know how hard she works or do what she does. She can be quite spiteful in describing just how overwhelmed she is and calls the union reps many times a year. The principal at that school never says anything negative, but I know that she feels like she can't do much to help this teacher.

Two things happened this past week that made me wonder if there might still be hope of bringing something positive from Jane. When I was at the school on Monday, Jane came to see me in the library. She did end up spewing a lot of venom about how ridiculous her job was (leaving the other 3 people in my group stunned), but she also touched me on the shoulder and smiled to get my attention. Perhaps she doesn't hate me, after all. The next day, she cc'ed me on an e-mail response to two elementary teachers. The elementary teachers had asked for help from several secondary science departments in the district in the realm of finding some resources. Jane replied by sending them my name along with a statement that if I couldn't help them, no one could. Gosh, another vote of confidence.

What I learned from Jane on Monday during her rant was that she thinks she has a wealth of experience and no one will listen to her. Therefore, she isn't interested in hearing anything others have to say. There is some truth to this, I think. Is the answer for us (admin and me) to find a some sort of new forum for her ideas and then use that as an entry point to engage her with district initiatives? I don't want to give the impression that Jane has been completely ignored until now or that she has no opportunities to be heard. She may feel that she has been undervalued, but I really think it's because her ideas are in such conflict with where education is headed these days, no one takes up her cause.

The only other option would be to find a way to get her to gracefully exit teaching. If this career choice is really so awful, then perhaps there is another road for her. I think she likes kids. I think she likes science. She just doesn't like education.

I hope to meet with Jane's principal soon and do a bit of colluding. Next year is going to bring a lot of changes to science at the junior highs. Maybe we can bring Jane along with us.

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