Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Forfeiting or Fighting

Warning: The following is soap box. A very large, daunting, need-a-ladder-to-mount soap box. 

When I worked for my last job, I got tired of the fight. Exhausted. I sat in meeting after meeting watching yes-men nod their heads and be brainwashed into investing in ideas that really had no point. We would pick apart a process, listening to every single suggestion, attach onto whoever was the most vocal, be thrust down a road that was not necessarily the right one, and proceed full speed ahead into an abyss.  In the end of a project, after spending thousands of dollars and hours, we ended up with the same result using different tools that were supposed to make it better. Circular progress. I guess that made us a bunch of vultures. (You want proof? Every project I worked on my eleven years at the job is now replaced with something else, completely discarded for the latest greatest.)

I couldn’t take it any more. I hated the waste of time, talent, energy. I hated seeing co-workers lose their passion, lose the sparkle in their eyes, lose the fight. I hated good ideas stifled while “big” ideas with no real purpose flourished because somewhere up the line of administrators, someone got convinced that this new idea was the cure-all for all that ailed the university system. I hated that the only happy co-workers were those who were totally immersed in full-time activities outside of the workplace. Work had become a prison, a place to "put in your time" and hopefully escape unscathed.

More lemon in the cut came from the constant use of zing words like:

  • “impact” … it is “effect” people, NOT IMPACT, unless you plan on hitting them on the head with a hammer.
  • “team effort”…because Jim-bo upstairs won’t do his job, so we’ll put him on your team, have you do his work, and give him credit for being part of the successful team.
  • “value-added”…because what you were doing had no value. To anyone. Anywhere.

I hated it so much that eventually I hated my job. I quit before I quit. I didn’t care anymore, because caring hurt. And, I could not make a difference, so why waste my time and why waste taxpayers money. I didn’t want to be blamed for all that was going wrong, and I had no ability to change it.

So I left. I not only left that job, I was so disillusioned, I left that career. I went into a profession that requires you to work every time you show up. In nursing, “impact” means your patient hit something. “Team effort” means you are doing your part on a code blue, and without it, your patient could die. And "value-added" is reserved for meal deals at the local fast food restaurant.

(I make it sound so easy. It took me six years and my husband's push to finally take the leap of faith and go to nursing school.)

Now, my husband is going through similar career pains. Common Core. No Child Left Behind. Gamification. Buzz words that don't actually mean much.

But in addition to the stresses of being part of a large, federally-driven bureaucracy, he also has to deal with the latest trend in parenting. It’s called, “Blame everyone but your kid.”

I wish I could answer the phone just once when a parent is calling our house at mealtime and not hear a parent geared up to chew my husband’s arse. It is never “we appreciate you” and never, EVER “I’m sorry my child disrespected you” and always “Why didn’t you call me when she didn't turn in homework? Why didn’t you motivate her to learn? Why are you picking on my child?” 

FYI the answers to those questions are:

  1. I didn’t call because I emailed you weekly updates as well as emailed you when your child still didn’t turn the papers in. Also, you have access to Powerschool that lets you monitor your child’s grade and I ensure that I put assignments in there at least one night each week. We covered this in the back to school meeting, ensured you have access to your child's grades and showed you how to do it. Also, your child is old enough to be responsible for their own assignments.
  2. I have tried to motivate her in every way possible, but it is daunting to try to make fractions more interesting than the social media she plays on her iPhone or iPad during class, the technology devices I am not allowed to take away from her because you claim she uses it as her “calculator only”
  3. I am not picking on your child. I want your child to succeed. I need your child to succeed. I have given her every opportunity to turn this around and she laughs in my face.

Maybe it is our age. Maybe it is/was our career choices. Maybe it is our standards for our own children – the same ones with which we were raised -- that we are using as a baseline for your children.

But right now, our country seems dysfunctional. Self-destructive. Lazy. Beaten. At best, imploding with complacency. Too many are giving up the fight. How in the world will we turn this mess around, so that we aren’t leaving it for our kids to clean up? 

And what am I supposed to say or do to help support my spouse in his career, when I don't "get it"? I don't see the point in completely overhauling the education system. I can even picture the meeting where it was decided to create this Common Core stuff. I've been in many meetings with similar outcomes.

Picture twenty people in a board room. The conversation probably went something like this:

No Child Left Behind is awful. We need a new system. We need to get back to the basics, back to core curriculum. Let's call it Common Core. Okay, now what's going to be in it? Just a few things: these six bullet points. Great. Oh, but those aren't descriptive enough. We better add a bunch of words to make everyone happy, until they are written in a way that make no sense to anyone. And we don't want to pigeon-hole anyone. Let them be creative! So we won't provide the actual curriculum. Yes, that's it! That way we don't have to fund it! But we better still have a gauge of success, so let's add back that whole standardized testing system somewhere down the line. Oh, there are gaps in the curriculum? You say that this year's fourth graders need to know what last year's sixth graders covered? Oh, well, let the teachers figure out those details. We have a promotional packet to put together to convince the higher-ups that this is the way to go!

Now, I'll be the first to admit I haven't dug my researching fingers into discovering the details of Common Core. I have never written any curriculum for elementary, middle school, or high school students, and I promise I never will. But it is just too similar to the circling vultures for me to find much good out of it.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope my husband can remember the joy of his career, despite the vultures. And I hope my kids don't suffer the repercussions of this transition.

Before all this started, was the education system really that broke?


Jada said...

Great post Linda. I think being a teacher is one of the toughest jobs there is.....not many can stick it out. Which is why we are here - Lance had had enough of being blamed for kids not passing his math classes when they just didn't do the homework!

Derek said...

I'm not sure if "Common Core" is the solution to the problems with the current educational system. I guess I look at it like politics...and in a large way it is. The Democrats might come up with solutions to certain problems and they are solutions that have a reasonable chance of working...but the Republicans don't like it, interfere, and the plan fails because it wasn't fully implemented. Since the plan failed so badly the Republicans push their new plan, get elected, and it has a reasonable chance of working. But...the Democrats don't like it, interfere, and in the end we are left with another failed plan. I doubt we'll ever see if the original pure Common Core plan would have worked because it has been changed, compromised, evolved, etc.

As far as our current educational shortcomings, I think there are some serious problems. Growing up in Chapman I remember several transfer students coming in and the teacher would take them off to the side and start going through the year's lesson plans trying to figure out what concepts they had covered in their previous school. For some unfathomable reason what children learn in a certain grade level is not standard through the country. I remember one girl that thought we were a bunch of backward hicks because her education was a full 1-2 years ahead of us...she spent a year bored out of her mind and not really learning anything while we caught up. Then the next year she moved back to where she came from only to be a year behind of her classmates. Another guy transferred in and his previous school was behind us. He was a guy that wasn't the brightest but he tried hard and got decent grades...but since he started out so far behind it took a year of tutoring to catch him up. I guess even in elementary school I couldn't fathom why what we learned was so different than what others learned in the same grade. My understanding is that the name "Common Core" comes from trying to get every grade to the same common level.

And yes Common Core is going to mean a lot of concepts are taught earlier which will obviously be a rough transition. From the reading I've done the decision on what concepts is taught when is largely aligned with other countries. We've fallen so far behind in education it won't catch us up but it appears to me to be a step in the right direction.