Please visit
for new posts


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Root causes

The following is a letter that Diane Ravitch posted on her blog;

“Paul’s Story”
Yesterday I received an emergency phone call from an experienced teacher in a Bronx school who received his first ever “U” on an observation report.
Emotionally overwrought with fear and anger, it took all I could do to calm him down and get him to figure out how he could resolve this issue and continue to teach and at the same time maintain his principles while having to deal with his principal.
She, as authoritarian personality as they come, simply follows NYC DOE/Teachers College orders in FORCING her underlings to follow the lockstep TC workshop model lesson plan. Because he veered and used different materials and interacted differently with his kids than the plan permits he was given a “U”.
It was quite evident after seeing her 20-page write-up that there was something more here. Her discussions of the 2 pre-observation were filled with evidence of her obviously one-track mind. Do it this way. I will not accept any of your alternatives.
Her most consistent and often repeated criticism is that he did not use everything the Model presenter from TC demonstrated in the 3 short demonstrations he attended.
It as if everything that came before NYCDOE/TC’s workshop version of teaching was anathema in this new pious world of top down education. By the way…it is a terrible way to teach if used as the one and only lesson plan every single day.
But that is probably why he received this “U” in the first place. You see, he is not passive. He is not one to just follow orders. He speaks up and out. He argues. He was being punished for that more than his not following the lesson plan.
He expressed to me that he was ready to give up, to get out, to simply go to the rubber room, or be made into an ATR (absent teacher reserve).
That is the new leadership’s plan. Veterans: If you don’t follow the rules you have two choices. Retire or be exiled. This way “The Big Talking Heads” of education can take in their fresh young faces and train them to be, as my friend said, Star Wars “Clones” obeying the orders of the dark side.

This story is being told in countless schools across the country.  In an earlier post I posed the question, “Are schools psychologically safe places?” If these stories are the norm for schools, there is no doubt that the answer to that question is “no”.  If schools are not safe for teachers, I argue that they cannot be safe for students.  Unfortunately, when one group of people are threatened and have little autonomy, they tend to take it out on the people below them.  Many teachers are bully/victims: people who are bullied but then turn around and bully others.

This institutionalized fear built into the structure of schools makes schools breeding grounds for bullying where those who are bullied find others to bully in order to feel some sense of power in their lives.  From policy makers to administrators to teachers to students to vulnerable students to  ? 

That last question mark represents the end of the line of the chain of bullying.  What happens when a victim of bullying cannot find someone else to bully?  What happens when that person can find no way out, no way to feel like they have some ability to do something to change their situation?  Sadly the end of the line is just another way of saying “despair” and despair to desperation-desperate acts. 

The media does not tell the stories of where the root causes of desperation lie.  We only hear the stories of desperate acts and those stories end up being violent ones. 
It takes a lot of courage to look deep enough to the root causes of problems.  It takes even more courage to look at one’s own role in creating and perpetuating those root causes.  Bullying will persist until more leaders have the courage to explore how power is used (or abused) in schools.   We can’t say we haven’t been warned repeatedly for the urgent need to do so.   

No comments: