Friday, August 12, 2005

the big picture

i've just endured four days of professional development. my mind is muddled and confused, for i have no rational thoughts left in my head, only emotions to wade through. i feel bombarded by theory, frustrated by repetitive preaching, excited by prospects of the new year, anxious about the bitterness that seeps from some teachers.

i'm going to share an analogy. this is off the top of my head, but it sums up how i feel about teaching and professional development and all the crap i've had to listen to this week.

there is a factory that is very important to the health of Town A. the factory churns out different types of shoes, giving jobs and shoes and socio-economic status to the villagers. over the years the shoes have decreased in quality and this upsets the villagers as a whole. so the town leader and his cronies fire lots of people and try to change aspects of the factory, from switching machines and changing the belts to longer work hours and no bathroom breaks. these strategies do not work and the BigWigs from Metropolis A swoop in to solve the problem. the BigWigs come up with theories of why the factory isn't producing quality shoes and more theories on how to change things. but they upset the workers of the factory. for the factory employees work in this disputed factory, and have done so for decades, and they not only feel ownership over the factory but are very competent as to the inner workings of the place. they begin to resent the BigWigs for telling them how to run the factory. they counter: why don't you give us better rubber for the soles? why haven't you updated the machines? you've overworked us and we can't produce quality because we're so tired! instead, the BigWigs hold meetings and pep talks and try to force their new ideas on the villagers. maybe it will work. maybe it won't. but the workers are now very bitter about the new factory feel--the new paint job, color coded worker teams, the fact that the shoes are delivered in new pretty boxes. the workers argue that these changes look good on paper but do not make a difference. the BigWigs point to statistics and their degrees at IvoryTower University.

anyway, that's my simple analogy. you can guess which role the teachers play. i'm writing about this because i'm so struck by the lack of empowerment among teachers. i think (and i hope) teachers hold more latent power, more potential power than we realize or utilize. i sat in district meetings and listened to people vent for hours and i thought to myself, "this is totally hopeless but these people are so desperate for a voice, for a moment of empowerment they'll bitch to anyone." i haven't been teaching long enough to feel that way. but i do feel the stress and frustration with the unending expectations on teachers, principals, school districts and the high stakes that follow behind. i think the problems of our educational system are bigger than No Child Left Behind, but i don't see NCLB as a benefit either. a woman at one of our sessions remarked, "yeah, no child left behind and no teacher left standing." is this the future i have to look forward to?


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