23 August 2014

Relax. It's Normal.

There is a point in your life when you realize that your family is not Leave It to Beaver (or other unreasonable facsimile) perfect. However, the disillusionment lasts only as long as it takes to understand that everyone's family has its own oddballs or version of dysfunctionality. It's a new normal...a more honest one. And, frankly, it's kind of a relief to just go on about your business.

Schools and districts have some similarities to families. We promote the appearance that everything is on the up and up, but the reality is that we are human institutions that are subject to human frailties. And that's okay. Really.

After working for the state for six years, I've seen all sorts of districts and I know where the bodies are buried in all of them. School boards that rarely meet because a quorum never shows up. Entire human resource departments that turn over at least twice a year because district leadership is so poor. Superintendents who've been brought up on ethics violations in previous positions. Clandestine union actions. Incompetent administrators. Poor fiscal decisions (You really thought taking all of your teachers to the casino for a retreat using federal dollars was okay?). Teachers who drink on the job. The list goes on and on. Every district has its own story.

Schools and districts are not so eager to admit that their public face is different from what happens behind the doors. There are reasons for this---I think the public likes to think its schools are utopic places. But the work of education is hard freakin' work done by people for people. It takes a lot of energy to keep up appearances. Energy that might be better used to admit when we need help or give it when we're able. I don't know that we'll ever get there, but I'd like to think that instead of having to pretend we've risen above the vagaries of humanity, that we embrace our strengths and faults instead. I think it would be a better model for our students to see how we grow...that we make mistakes, and that they don't define us...that we accept one another as we are.

I am very happy in my new role, but I can tell that some people are worried that I'm going to find out that the district has a few dirty little secrets and then I won't like it anymore. There are some skeletons in the closet---but so what? So there's some history that influences the present. Great---as a district we learn from that and move forward. I really don't care about the mistakes. Focusing on them takes away from all of the good work that is happening. Guess what? You're like every other school district out there. Sure, you have your own brand of what is or isn't working...but that doesn't bother me. It shouldn't bother you, either.

11 August 2014

Old Dog, New Tricks

I'm starting a new job today. After a few years of beating my head against the state policy wall, I'm heading back into a school district.

Oddly enough, I hadn't really thought about looking for a job for this year. For the last few years, I had started perusing job boards in the spring, applying for a few things here or there, and even considering an offer or two. But none of them seemed quite right, and being a woman of a certain age, I'm not interested in having to settle anymore.

Over the past year, I was involved in building a new job for me---something involving effective data use and coaching educators. It was a long haul to get all the pieces in place---support, funding, etc.---to get things ready to roll on July 1. And at the last moment, it mostly fell apart, not because of anything I had or hadn't done; but because of the way decisions get made at the upper levels of the agency.

So, I started looking around again. And lo and behold, there's something just right this time around. I love where I live, and this job requires no move. I get a 30% pay increase, free parking, a corner office (with support staff), and best of all---I get to be in buildings with teachers and kids again. It's an assessment and data heavy job, which is right up my alley. There will be plenty of new things to learn, too, as I take on the realm of CTE, but I am very much looking forward to that.

I'm sad about the other job, which was (and still is) my "dream job" in many ways. When I told people I was leaving, the two comments I got were (1) They didn't treat you right. and (2) You know you aren't the right gender. And, unfortunately, both of those things are true within the context of my former workplace. I have never worked in such an oppressively sexist environment---including the school where the assistant principal told me "You're all right for a girl." It's 2014, is it not? How terrible is it that everyone knows and openly admits this is a significant problem in the workplace and yet nothing changes?

But I can change. I can leave the boys club and make something better for myself and others. It's time for this old dog to learn some new tricks. And I can guarantee you I'll be doing it with a smile on my face.

Happy 2014 - 15 school year, everyone. Be safe out there.