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Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a small rural area which had some barren land and some lush pastures. The local people had a lot of cows to raise. They hired some experienced business managers to oversee the cow production. The managers developed a business plan and set about implementing it. First they hired some motivated ranchers who loved cows and tasked them with the care and growth of the cows. The cows were fenced in so they could not leave the dusty patch they inhabited. With little to eat, the cows did not gain weight. In fact the cows were becoming agitated for on the other side of the fence the grass was green. The well-meaning business managers did everything they could think of to improve the situation. They went across the country to learn new ways of making the cows gain weight. They came back and told the ranchers to weigh the cows every week, every day if necessary, to look for weight gain. Surely that would help! Unfortunately no weight gain followed, but the ranchers had less time to bring in hay for the cows who, in fact, lost more weight! The business managers declared that there would be twice weekly meetings (Producing Cow Lessons) in which supervisors would berate the overworked ranchers and make them say hurtful things about themselves and the other ranchers. Soon the exhausted ranchers were also depressed. The business managers next brought in experts to teach the ranchers new tricks for making cows gain weight—steroids and lots of water. The cows temporarily gained a little weight but it dropped off when they returned to their regular meager rations.
Then, one day a very frustrated, very overworked, and formerly very successful rancher went berserk. He knew the answer. He had been telling the business managers the answer, but they wouldn’t listen because he was just a rancher. So, the rancher cut the fence allowing the cows to enter the grassy area they longed for so much. The cows became fat and happy. The ranchers were elated to be productive ranchers again. And the business managers? They all received promotions and bonuses for the great work they had (not) done.
January can be an exciting time for teachers. We all know the rush that comes at the first of the school year as you and your students start with a clean slate. There are so many possibilities for great things. Jumping into the new calendar year can be almost the same—except you don’t have to set up your classroom! Some of you are finishing up the first semester and others are already in the second semester. Everyone has a chance to rethink what you want to accomplish this semester and how you want to get there.
In the spirit of optimism, here are my wishes for all teachers in the new year:
1. I wish you opportunities for creativity each and every day.
Our job is to teach students how to think logically and to unleash their creativity. You, as a teacher, will have to think “outside the box” to make that happen. Creativity on the part of teachers and students is a huge factor in satisfaction with the educational process.
2. I wish for you the respect that you as a professional educator deserve.
Respect can be shown in so many ways. It is the administrator freeing teachers to do what they think is best for their students in their classroom. Respect is supporting teacher decisions regarding discipline, curriculum, and use of time. Respect is encouragement through positive interactions: the principal who pops in and leaves a thumbs up, specific note of praise rather than a “gotcha.”
3. I wish an abundance of patience in your encounters with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and wisdom to know when to hold your tongue and when to stand up for what is right.
Unfortunately, speaking out about professional issues depends so much on the character of the administrator and the tone set by the district. There can be repercussions so choose your battles wisely and try to find ways to do what is best for kids when directives are oppositional to good educational practices.
May God bless you with a year that fulfills the hopes and promises of new beginnings for you and your students!
Matilda, a book by Roald Dahl, then a movie. Somehow I missed both in my earlier, busy life as a teacher. Now as a retired educator, I can indulge in so many things I missed. By day, when the Mexican light is good, I pursue my pleasant goal of reading all of Agatha Christie’s eighty-eight plus works. By night, I explore Mexican Netflix which is limited compared to availability in the U.S. Last night I watched Matilda, and I was caught up at once in the fictional tale of the precocious preschooler who taught herself to read and then went daily by herself to the public library to devour its contents.
Innocent Matilda has her dream come true as she is finally enrolled in school. The principal is terrifying, but her teacher is the sweetest you can imagine, seeing potential in children and valuing their dreams. At this point the movie becomes a horror story for me. I gasp as I see the motto in large letters at the top of the chalkboard: “If you are having fun, you are not learning.” Then as the principal arrives for a visit, the teacher and children spring into action as a team. Shades are quickly pulled down and charts flipped over to cover the meaningful and colorful projects that are the result of engaged learning. I could feel the stress of my last years as a teacher return. I could hear the sucking sound of laughter being withdrawn from the classroom.
The evening over and the lights out, I lay awake with memories of real charts that had to be in place on the walls in my classroom. Curriculum and Instruction let them drift down at intervals all year from the ivory tower with specifications as to their importance. The principal directed that they needed to be displayed; to do otherwise would mean a label of “ineffective” on the teacher’s evaluation. Every new workshop that administrators attended resulted in new mandates with accompanying visuals. We were to implement post haste this hodgepodge of procedures received third hand from experts who didn’t have a clue who our students were or what they needed.
For me, the nightmare is over, but I can not and will not forget those brave teachers still fighting the good fight and struggling to do what is right and best for their students. As a teacher I took unpopular stances and now I continue the battle against the forces of educational destruction which are directed by politicians, funded by big business, and implemented by misguided administrators.