01 July 2008

An Open and Shut Case

I have a friend who was courted to become part of the Dark Side and be paid to work part-time in a supporting role for secondary science. He is a fantastic and passionate teacher who cares greatly about standards and good instruction. You'd be hard pressed to find a better role model for other science teachers. But he is also smart enough to realize that he can do more for kids by being in the classroom. That until district administration is willing to have guts enough to insist that science teachers teach to the standards in a high-quality way, there's no point in him talking to anyone. People will do as they please (which is what happens now) until someone holds them to their obligations.

When I read Teaching on the Titanic over at Elbows, Knees, and Dreams, I was reminded of the situation here. Over the last few years, I've seen plenty of good teachers who opened their doors and minds to greater collaboration and collegiality only to discover that it was not as rewarding professionally as just doing the best they can within their own classrooms. The level that they are willing to give to others was not returned in kind. They thought they were reaching out to support more students by working more closely with peers...only to discover that differing levels of commitment doomed it all. They opened their doors. Now they're closing them. As a teacher, you only have so much energy. You can only "save" so many kids. You make the classroom your lifeboat and hang the rest because it's too frustrating to have uninvolved peers and uncaring administration. If you have to make a choice between kids you can make a difference with and peers that you can't, it's easy to see why they've picked students.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Collegiality with collaboration is a grand idea, but difficult to practice, unless the district is putting out bucks for special time together.

I worked with three top notch core teachers, two of whom have since become excellent administrators (the other is still devoted to the classroom), and we got so little out of our weekly meetings together that we began skipping them altogether.

What worked against us was our mutual hard work ethic -- every moment we devoted to meeting with one another was a minute stolen from lesson planning or other activities that directly benefited students.

Lots of good ideas suffer from premature implementation. At that time, in that school, we weren't prepared for weekly collaboration.

So, if you're asked to collaborate with a dud, what can I tell you? It's hard enough to collaborate with cool people! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, Science Goddess, thanks for the reference. I agree what you have to say, but I would add that I think the leadership of a school makes a big difference. If we had a principal who really believed in the mentoring process, and was willing to face some hard truths (rather than just saying, "don't worry about our low test scores; you guys are doing a great job"), I think it would be a completely different experience.

The Science Goddess said...

Leadership is everything. It's why my friend doesn't want to coach other teachers---he knows that there is absolutely no back-up. The concept is pretty on the outside, but it's just a facade.

So, we're stuck. Good people don't want to step into leadership roles because the ones in jobs above that are not willing to do the hard work that must be done.

Anonymous said...

You really should think about changing districts - ours devotes time and resources to staff working together.

The Science Goddess said...

We have time and resources, just not administration who cares about kids.