Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Did You Hire Me?

Why did you hire me if you don't trust me to do my job?  If you thought I was a professional with the required skills to make me worthy of hiring, then why do you not give me the required, trust-based freedom to do my job?  If I am as poor at my job as your top-down, micromanaging of my professional life indicates, what does that say about your hiring practices?

I recently read an article about technology in the classroom, which is a common topic these days.  Even more run-of-the-mill was the use of Finland as the starting point in the discussion.  Yet what made this article truly important was not its provocative title or anything on the first page, which pretty much told us what we already know.  Page two contains the gem.  The article cites a post on Finnish education author Pasi Sahlberg's blog that identifies the two basic things the United States must get right if it hopes to learn anything from Finland:  teacher trust and teacher training.

Let's acknowledge a few things up front.  I teach with an extraordinary department chair, Traci Rodgers, who works hard to help her teachers do the jobs for which they have been hired.  My school and my district have been incredibly supportive of me and mine.  We all know this is not universally the case.  Let us also admit that it is entirely possible to make a bad hire.  The person looks good on paper, has a great interview, but just does not work out.  It happens.  It is also possible for a person to get worse over time for any number of reasons.  Even those who do not get worse can and should improve.  Yet does a system built on distrust of teachers, one that proves it assumes teachers are doing a bad job with its requirement of endless reporting, observing, evaluating, and testing, really help anyone?  

Consider for a moment a famous scene from the classic film Cool Hand Luke.  In this scene the boss of a prison gang informs the men that they may have some privacy as they answer the call of nature while

working along a road, provided that they keep shaking the bush that hides them.  One of the prisoners takes advantage of this, but even as he shakes the bush, one of the prison bosses fires a rifle in his direction.  At last the bush stops shaking and the guards rush over to discover that the man has tied a string to the bush so that he could shake it at a distance as he made his escape.

Education is a most human enterprise, yet it can feel inhumane in the extreme when professional, caring, and creative adults live under the cloud of such distrust.  As the Cool Hand Luke scene illustrates, a sufficiently motivated person can get around such measures, and in what should be a humane environment like education, these measures serve mostly to discourage and drive away the best and brightest.

Sahlberg does point out that the trust and respect given to Finnish teachers derives from the high level of their preparation.  Perhaps that is what administrators and legislators do not trust.  They do not trust the institutions that have prepared their employees.  If that is the case, then let's have that conversation.  What must stop is a demeaning, punitive system of so-called accountability that seems to have but one actual effect, a hemorrhaging of educational leaders from the profession.

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