Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alien Children

One of my pet complaints has always been about the number of teachers I run into who choose to leave NYC because they do not want their children attending public school. I am not talking about those who leave because they can't afford to live in the city. I understand those people. I am talking about the teachers who feel that there is something inherently wrong with the NYC school system. Something that precludes them from sending their kids to a public school in NYC. I would include the people who send their kids to parochial schools or Hebrew schools or private schools to avoid city schools and not for deeply held beliefs. The only one of these three that is probably better educationally is the high end private schools. The rest are usually understaffed and the teachers are usually under paid.

The reason these people bother me so much, is that they often reject the hope that New York could ever create a good school or provide a good education for their kids. If they reject this than whatever they do in a school doesn't really matter. It becomes a job that only matters in how it affects their personal happiness, not in how it affects the students they are supposed to serve. They tend to see anyone who cares about public education as slightly crazy.

I've run into cops that feel that anyone living in the city must be crazy and probably criminal. The views of the alien teachers is that any child who goes to school in NYC is either crazy, a criminal or someone to be pitied for not having the economic clout to get out. What NYC students never are is similar to their children.

Of course the opposite is not necessarily true. Teachers who live in the city and have their kids in public schools are not necessarily good teachers. This is not the sole criteria for being a good teacher. I do think however that anyone doing hiring in the city should ask the person they are interviewing about how they view city schools in general. We have lots of problems in the DoE but we need people who believe in public education to work on solving these problems.

The picture above is of Death Valley in February. Death Valley gets almost no rain and is often above 110 degrees in the summer. In winter it may rain once and all these yellow flowers bloom. Amazing.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Top Down

Education is not alone in dealing with the phenomena of top down vs. bottom up managers. I think that this is endemic in American Business. I do think that it may be more prevalent in government jobs. The reason is that people are often rewarded more for not screwing up than they are for doing something positive. The key to succeeding in government or education is to gather job titles and move on as quickly as possible. The way you do this is to come in push people around and then get out before your staff morale drops to zero.

In order to make it in education most of us start as teachers. Many teachers like to control their class by intimidation. When these people move up they continue to feel that they can control their environment through intimidation. And they are often right in this assumption. My observation of teachers is that many of them make a lot of noise and then are unwilling to stand up and be counted. Tenure was invented to keep teachers from being subjected to the political whims of administrators and politicians. It should have made teachers feel free to express their opinions. It has not done this.

In my tenure at my old school there was two top down administrators. The first one was very bright and had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish. He stayed too long. He accomplished a lot the first few years, but he never created the school wide buy in that a more bottom up manager would have. The second administrator seemed to only care about power. She had no vision of what things should be and she lacked the intellect to actually accomplish anything. She constantly used the word insubordinate to express her dislike of anyone disagreeing with her. The union loved her when she started because they felt they could manipulate her in ways that they could not with the previous principal.

Like many not bright people the principal reacted negatively to any conversation started by the union or most of her AP's She did not react negatively because she disagreed with others. She reacted negatively because she often did not understand what people were saying to her and so she assumed that they were hustling her. The union thought they could manipulate her, instead they discovered an administrator that made random decisions, lurching from one direction to another. This is a hard person to work with. This is why the relationship between the union and the principal is so poor.

The comments about the APO and the Principal being at war are certainly true. In most schools the relationship is strained but not nearly as negative as the one in my old school. I think things started to fall apart when the two of them chose to live in a world of wishful thinking instead of just dealing with the good and the bad. As an example, every APO I have met looked at the average number of sick days their staff had each year and set aside money to cover this. If they could lower the number, great, if not they were covered. The power structure at my old school decided they would lower the number by intimidation and threats. Of course it did not work, and so they blamed each other for the failure of an absurd policy and the resulting budget cris. Neither one of them is capable of looking at the policy and altering it to fit reality. Both of them in their own way want reality to alter to fit them.

I was at my old school to listen to a guy named Will Richardson talk. He writes a blog at http://weblogg-ed.com/. Take a look at the March 13th entry in which he talks about what being in the school was like.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Another Principal

I received an article from a friend about a Principal who was suspended by his superintendent because he supposedly did not do enough observations. My friends comment was, "They must have an underground newspaper that tells them how to get people". Actually I think the most interesting part about the article was that the suspended Principal was very bottom up in his management style and the Superintendent was very top down.

So the superintendent gives the Principal a letter on Friday suspending him, the guy even changes the locks on the Principal's office doors to "protect the Principals stuff". The students walk out on Monday and the sup says he can't comment because it is a personnel issue. I've been there and done that.

I figure these guys are around my age. Probably went to college in the late 60's early 70's. My guess is that the Principal was a demonstrator and the superintendent was one of the guys on the other side, either condemning the loud demonstrators or actively throwing rocks at them. This is the way it has always been. These top down management jerks willing to do what ever it takes to suppress the participatory democracy people.

I think that education (particularly high school education) has always attracted two types of men. One guy is in it because they get a thrill out of helping kids achieve something. They love teaching and they love pushing kids to move beyond the world that they seemed to have been born into.

The second guy likes pushing people around and being dominant. Because they don't have enough guts to push adults around so they choose to work with kids. Kids are much easier to push around.


I started reading a book on SDS by Harvey Pekar. The first part of the book is a history of SDS. This was fun and nostalgic because I knew a bunch of the players because many of them went to Michigan. But after this trip down memory lane there were individual stories of what it was like to be in the movement in those days. One of the first stories talked about looking at the people on the other side of the line and seeing hate in their eyes. Wow! Not such a fun image. I remember that.

There was a lot of hate. Beside the obvious cases of police shooting at me or the national guard lobbing tear gas at us, there was the day to day hatred. I remember asking for directions in San Diego and no one being willing to answer me because my hair was too long. I certainly made a decision to drive from San Francisco to NYC through Canada because I had doubts about what would happen to me, my wife and my 4 year old daughter if I tried to drive through the middle of America.

This all made me realize that all of the red state blue state split and the upstate downstate split here in New York are not new and maybe not as bad as we make them out to be. They are certainly there, but are they as mean spirited as they were in the 60's and 70's. It may be that I don't see the hate as much because I am old enough that people don't perceive me as a threat.