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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

How Is Compliance Working Out for You?

By Peter DeWitt — June 15, 2014 5 min read
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Perhaps being a reluctant warrior is not for you. Perhaps you don’t like discourse or confrontation, or you don’t like to get political. Look around, and see where that has gotten you.

A few months ago, Anthony Cody’s wrote a very well-written blog Teachers: A Call to Battle for Reluctant Warriors which can be read by clicking here. It resonated with me, so much so that I read it twice, and then three times. Anthony has a way of doing that.

Truth be told, I was consumed for some time. Lost in my own personal battle of what I should fight for and what I should fight against. My days are tied up in thinking and overthinking about standards, Common Core, testing and accountability. I try to move on and make everything work, and then in those quiet times at night, I toss and turn over how to be positive, and fight without sounding negative.

You have to admit, there has been a lot coming at us over the past few years. Depending on what state you live in, it may feel differently to you. It’s sad that we have been heard so much negative dialogue about our profession. We seem to have Post Traumatic Stress and can no longer distinguish between what would constitute a good change, and what is just more of the same from policymakers and politicians with total control. We all can improve, but that improvement looks differently for each and every one of us.

Why Become a Teacher?

In all honesty, Anthony is correct. I have lost some of the core reason why I became a teacher. Like him, I certainly didn’t take a job teaching in Poughkeepsie and Watervliet so my students would do well on standardized tests. I became a teacher because I wanted to help inspire students to do well in life. And many of the students I taught for a majority of my eleven years in the classroom, came from backgrounds that many others could never imagine.

I became an elementary school teacher, and then a principal, because I wanted to go back to a time that was so much more innocent. It was a time before I lost a parent, and a time when the school day ended at 3:30 and I had the freedom to go home and play in the makeshift baseball field on Pinewood Road where I grew up.

School is different, and it should be. We should be more innovative, and work with students in a variety of ways. Sometimes that may involve engaging hands-on lessons, while other times it means modelling the way learning should look. Making learning visible is exciting to me, which is why I wish some of the other noise would disappear.

Our scores and the tests hang over our heads like a dark cloud. Too often before the test it’s test prep, and after the test is waiting for the results, which really only means a number that lacks any real effective feedback to change instruction. There are many theories on why this happens. As we work hard to make learning visible to students, state education departments don’t have to offer the same transparency.

A few weeks ago a person wrote on Facebook that they didn’t understand what all the fuss was about when it came to standardized testing. After all, we took the California Achievement Tests (CAT) when we were younger. Kids take tests, just like adults do. And yes, adults do take tests. They take them when they are in college or if they want to go for a civil service exam. As much as those situations should change, they are still a part of our daily lives if we want to succeed.

High stakes testing is different. They are longer than the CAT, and come with higher stakes. They are tied to teacher and administrator evaluation. How else would we hold teachers and school leaders accountable? Perhaps by doing our job. No, we can’t be trusted so we have to give a battery of tests that are abusively long for the students who take them.

Some teachers don’t focus on the tests. Perhaps because they have an administrator who can set their minds at ease. Other teachers are not as fortunate, and their test scores matter....to their boss. Truth be told, even in the best schools the tests matter. People look at them. People who want to buy houses or pay school taxes. Unfortunately, tests do not tell the whole story, which is why it’s so important for school leaders to brand their schools. We need to tell our story.

Teachers are Reluctant

As much as we want to move forward, and struggle daily with how to do that, not enough people speak up. Some teachers and leaders take the path of least resistance. They no longer have the energy to fight against the commercials where governors running for re-election take credit for things that they never did. These tired educators just want to do their job, and become ambivalent in the process because they no longer know where to turn.

Anthony is right though. The dirty little secret that many school leaders will never say in public, but talk about behind closed doors, is that they want teachers to be compliant. They do not want teachers who will be outspoken at faculty meetings, because they just want people who will follow the rules.

Fortunately for me, I have been fortunate to work with administrative colleagues who do not feel that way. They want their teachers and students to speak out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen as often as it should. Leaders don’t like discourse. They go into the business of leadership to be the boss. They want their decisions followed, and they want high test scores because they get pressure from their boss who gets pressure from their boss, and so on and so on and so on.

In the End

I did not get into teaching so I can be a rabble rouser. I entered into teaching, not as a last resort, but because I wanted to be in the classroom. I wanted students to have a voice, and have the same opportunities I did, even when I had it rough. My teachers were the ones who tried to keep me on the right path. The ones who I saw at the mall and gasped at the thought that they were allowed to leave their classrooms at night and on weekends. Teachers were celebrities to me. I remember their words, advice, and I wanted to be like them.

Reluctant warriors come in all shapes and sizes, from the young to the veteran, in suburban schools, city and rural areas. Being a warrior doesn’t mean you are negative. Quite the opposite. Reluctant warriors are positive people who want to help fight for their students. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t want to maintain the status quo. They want to fight the status quo that is dropped on education by policymaker after policymaker, politician after politician.

Perhaps being a reluctant warrior is not for you. Perhaps you don’t like discourse or confrontation, or you don’t like to get political. Look around, and see where that has gotten you.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.