A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What does it mean when the captain grabs the first lifeboat?

You may notice I haven't been my usual, garrulous self the last few months. You may have wondered why.

Our principal is leaving. He started the year more distracted than usual, which made one wonder. He had tried to move up in our own district last year, but nothing doing. It wasn't long into the year before he announced that he was taking an assistant superintendent job in another district.

Once the decision was announced, he was basically treading water. To be honest, I understand this. When I had my first job, which was NOT a happy experience (to put it mildly), I remember how relieved I was when I informed them several months before the end of school that I wouldn't be accepting another contract. Each day closer to the end of school was a relief. Nothing annoying seemed to really trouble me nor penetrate very deeply. Of course, that could have been interpreted as not caring. It wasn't that I didn't care about what went on around me; it's just that it wasn't worth getting worked up over. I still cared about the kids and my teaching, but I was able to ignore the bitter or dysfunctional parts of the staff and parents. It almost got to the point that, when these people would speak to me, all I heard was the trombone sound of adults talking in a "Peanuts" TV special. You know what I'm talking about: "Bwah-bwah BWAHbwahbwah!" As my students would say, "I was, like, 'Whatever.'"

And if that wasn't traumatic enough, now we are losing several assistant principals. It's like Eisenhower's domino theory around here, let me tell you. Even Assistant Principal Plea Bargain is leaving, which just goes to show that interviews really can be manipulated, and also shows that there are a few silver linings going on around here, too. But sometimes you prefer the devil you know to the one you don't.

But must it follow that when a principal leaves, the assistants all try to leave, too? Could it be that something has been said or done to panic the other administrators in the building?

Then I looked around, and I noticed that several other principals within the district were leaving, too. Further, one principal in our district tragically passed away from cancer earlier in the year. So there has been, and will be, a lot of turnover around here, and a lot of trauma. Other principals are also looking around, so there may be more.

So here's the question: what's going on here?

Here's the deal: we also have a pretty new superintendent. He is a very nice person, but if I was going to give him a nickname, I would call him "Lt. Commander Data"-- and let's remember that I LOVE Star Trek because I am a geek, so this is a playful little jibe. I understand why he adores data so much, I do: it's a NCLB world. But I LIVE in the NCLB world, I and my colleagues. We know that everything is subjective and nothing is objective when it comes to data. Lt. Commander Data is more like a local chief ruling over his corner of the NCLB world. He's kind of like the King Nebuchanezzar of our world, if you're into Biblical allusions. And apparently, several administrators are declining, politely, but resolutely, to climb into the fire for refusing to worship that golden image of data which is of course an illusion. American public schools are in a Babylonian captivity, and the Promised land always lies right over the next hilltop. The problem is, when you climb what you think is that hilltop, there's always another hilltop that pops up.

Attempts to quantify learning should come with a little warning sticker: "Warning- these results are more artificial than they appear." There is an emphasis on numbers over everything else, and a certain tone-deafness on morale and team-building and other sorts of what are considered trivialities. There are other things besides data to running a school, and a school district. That's my naive little news flash, were I asked my opinion. But the NCLB world does not really encourage the hiring of people persons, after all.

And once again, it may just boil down to experience. A lot of these principals, and indeed our superintendent, spent very few years actually in the classroom before they moved into administration, and they certainly haven't been in classrooms very much since then. Many of them haven't been teachers in the NCLB world, so they have no idea what the impact of various policies have had on the classroom.

So we have many openings in administration right now. This is a situation that makes most of the rest of us pretty damned tense, truthfully, and it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. There is something out-of-joint here. Let's see if someone besides the teachers notice.

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At 4/18/08, 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Objective vs. subjective seems like a false dichotomy. If you're using objective data correctly, you can measure subjective things (yeah, I said it). You can ask if students enjoyed their class this year, if they think last year's class prepared them for this year's, if they feel like they're learning, if they feel like their teachers care.

It sounds like, somewhere in your school system, there is a disconnect: maybe the new super isn't as good with data gathering and use as he thinks he is. Maybe the people gathering and presenting the data aren't doing it right (if I had a nickel...). Maybe the principals believe that there is a objective vs. subjective battle, drew lines, and picked sides.

It's like measuring student achievement. It's a good idea, but you have to work hard to find the right things to measure, the right way to measure those things, the right way to analyze the data, and the right thing to do with that analysis. Usually that doesn't happen (because people don't know that they don't know what they're doing), but it doesn't mean that objectivity as a whole is a flawed tool.

At 4/18/08, 4:25 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

Administrators can make a lot of difference in the quality of life issues--do they really want to improve the school, are they just wasting time with nonsense, or are they just plain ornery.

Kids are kids, pretty much everywhere you go, so I can just wish you luck with your new bosses, whoever they turn out to be.

At 4/20/08, 6:48 AM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I have a baaaad feeling about this. Mass exodus is never a good sign...

At 4/20/08, 11:56 PM, Blogger Maestro said...

NCLB is a reality we have to live with for the moment, but it's alarming to see how many people actually revel in it's data-driven approach. Unfortunately, those are the types that are`drawn to administrative jobs in the first place.

Some people don't know how to look at the world without being able to assign a number to everything. *Sigh*


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