19 April 2011

If I were to write a book about education

Editor's note: Today the BlazeBlog welcomes a guest contributor to the site. He is in his third year of teaching and felt the need to share his ideas for a book.

So really, this is the debut of two types of BlazeBlog posts: Imaginary books we'd like to write and guest posts by people I work with.

I have a riddle for you. What’s tired, overworked, underpaid, marginally bitter and often optimistic, and...oh, I don’t know, red all over? Yep, you got it. A public school teacher. Why red? Well, we’re not. But I needed a catchy, humorous introduction. At least that’s what I’d suggest to my students.

But here’s the thing: they would have done it better. See, I’m really tired. I just worked an 11-hour day, and then I went to my gym. There, I realized that the gym is about the only place on the big, blue Earth that I frequent where people don’t constantly want something from me. No, I can just run, lift, sweat, and rock out to the euphoric sounds of Aerosmith, U2, and the DMB. Well, Steven Tyler is hardly euphoric, but anything sounds better than sophomores cussing each other out.

Unfortunately, my work day isn’t over. I have grading to do, as I almost always do. But I’ll procrastinate to write some personal thoughts of my own.

See, I have been recently captivated by the newest, shiniest educational pillar in America. Her name is Michelle Rhee, and she might hate me. I really don’t know. She also might love me, or she might want to fire me on principle.

Rhee is the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools, and she wielded an axe and made some enemies. She straightened out a failing school district by mass-firing principals and teachers and creating a culture of accountability for success. Actually, it was success based upon standardized tests which led schools to cheat and lie, but she’s still being applauded. Time Magazine highlighted her, documentaries lauded her, public school critics delighted in her harsh treatment of complacency.

So how many years did she have in education before she became the pinnacle of what is right with schools in America? Three.

Hey, wait. I have three years too.

Well then. I’ll write a book. And you, my lucky readers, are going to get an appetizing taste of what’s to come.

Chapter 1: How Michelle Rhee taught me I could write a book.

Really, I’ll just expand on what I said above. This book writing gig is easier than I thought. Thanks, Michelle.

Chapter 2: Why we teach.

I’ll probably go back in time a bit here. Think about why I do this. Think about how I was selling shoes and thought that it was a rather terrible job. Kids would be more fun, right? Well, of course -- they aren’t shoes. No, really, teaching is great. As my father says, “You get to civilize the heathens.” I really like doing that, because the heathens are awfully funny until they get civilized.

Chapter 3: The Rubber Band Man.

This would be a chapter about bitterness and the maelstrom of confusion, miscommunication, and unfulfilled promises in the world of education. I will certainly refer to a colleague who once wore a rubber band around the wrist to start the school year, because he wanted so badly to be a positive professional. Every time he had something negative to say, snap! Red wrist. (See, teachers can turn red.) Unfortunately, the rubber band broke, and he was right in the reasons he wore it -- a lot of negative things happen, and you can’t do anything about them, because the system isn't set up to be fixed. It's set up to be subverted by good people.

Chapter 4: Politics and the art of busing.

As money gets tight, brains get absent. It becomes “about the children.” Well, we know that phrase, but we still believe it. Don’t let someone tell you it’s about the children. It’s not. See, that phrase has been used to justify the following things: 1. Cut busing; 2. Lay off teachers; 3. Hire secretaries who make more than me; 4. Cut programs; 5. Fire principals; 6. “Reimagine education bureaucracy.” Yes, you read that last one right, and yes, it’s a direct quotation.

Chapter 5: On barbeques and board meetings.

I would have to tell the story of how the school board wanted to fire my principal after five months on the job, and then we held an illegal barbeque outside of the central office to protest it. It’s just too good of a story.

Chapter 6: On meetings in libraries.

A mostly humorous chapter about poor communication. Among the topics: a meeting where my principal told us all to sell our houses because the district was going down the toilet; a meeting where a choir teacher introduced himself as “straight”; a meeting where a board member referred to our mascot as the wolverine (we are the wolves); a meeting where our new principal, addressing the staff for the first time, never actually stated his name or occupation. I could also branch out into other stories about other meetings that are far less funny, so I’ll save them for the long-form book.

Chapter 7: Email and the velociraptor on a bicycle.

This would be a chapter on email, and why it may be the worst thing in the world for professionals.

Chapter 8: Professional development.

Oh, the possibilities. I would talk about wonderful systems like “The PowerWalkthrough (TM)” and “PLCs” and STEM and other magic bullets to fix education. I would talk about the Gerpoltz, a meaningless task I used to renew my teaching license. Honestly, folks, I’m highly educated. Send me to a professional conference where people actually talk about content. Really, the point of this chapter is to explain that there are no magic bullets. Slow, painfully effective ones, but no magic ones.

Chapter 9: What do coffee shops, my car, soccer games, my deck, and bars have in common?

Simple. I’ve graded in these places. This chapter will be devoted to a discussion of the work that goes into being a teacher. Really, I want this chapter to be the one that professors of education say, “Look here, read this one chapter, and then decide you want to be a teacher.”

Chapter 10: Twins, the Dewey Decimal System, and why all of the nonsense might be worth it.

In this chapter, I’ll discuss happy things, like the twins who have followed me around since they were freshmen. Or the kid who celebrates Pi Day and literally fist-pumped as he referenced the Dewey Decimal System. I can talk about all the things we complain about but actually like. It would be a nice finish to the book, I think, because however much we complain, it’s really not a job we could stand to do if we hated it.

See, for teachers, there’s no other way. We have to have a love/hate relationship with the job. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t care, and that would be something that would turn Michelle Rhee an angry shade of red.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the OOP could fix everything that's wrong with today's education? I know I'd pay a good bit to go to Professional Development featuring the highly regarded Dr. Dick. Please advise.