Skip to main content

when I decided not to return for another year in my current teaching position, a decision about which I previously wrote here.

The senior students in our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program were supposed to participate in a poster session where they shared the results of their Capstone final projects.  Certain projects were to be given breakout sessions where they had a chance to do presentations beyond mere brief explanations while standing with their posters.

We were not given much lead time as to format of posters, but 16 of the 18 seniors in my two capstone classes submitted posters and abstracts and I passed them on to the school system's STEM office for the event this past Wednesday.  I also selected the best presentations from each class - one each from Environmental Media and Research/Data Analysis - for the breakout sessions.

Then all hell began breaking loose, culminating in my arriving on site early (fortunately) to find that 4 of the 7 posters (most of my students worked in groups) had not been posted and one breakout session had been canceled.   While eventually all posters were up, and both of my breakout sessions were held, by then I had no doubt about my decision.

So let me give you some background context below the fold.  Then I will return to what happened.

Last October I was one of about a dozen teachers from around the country who participated in an important conference organized in part by the National Academy of Engineering on Innovation in Education.   One key concept I heard over and over again at this conference - which included university faculty and administrators, entrepreneurs in STEM related fields, etc. - was the wrong direction of much of our education.  What I heard especially was that we needed to teach our students how to fail.  That is, how to take appropriate levels of risk to push the envelope, then to be able to step back and evaluate where they had gone wrong and why, and to learn from that process.

I also heard repeatedly the importance of having students own their own learning, which in project-based learning meant they had to have a personal interest in the projects on which they worked.

I shared what I had learned both within the building and with people in the central office.

I determined that I would follow that approach with my seniors.

I had seven students in Environmental Media, continuing work on two projects they had begun as juniors and for which they had received funding as a result of a national competition.  Their capstone projects were to be media campaigns related to the environmental projects they had developed.

I had 11 students in research, three working as individuals, 8 in pairs, all of whom struggled with various ideas early in the year that they could not formulate into appropriate projects.  I did not mind, merely requiring that they carefully document their endeavors, including analyzing why things had not progressed and what they had learned from the experience.  Periodically we took time in class for them to share and to receive feedback and answer questions, often more from their peers than from me.

I put them on notice that if by the time they had returned from Thanksgiving break they had not come up with projects that engaged them, I would assign them projects I knew they could finish by the end of the year.  That became unnecessary.

Here I need to step back and offer several observations.

First, I saw the students grow as they learned to accept their struggles and for the most part find ways to work around them.

Second, there were major issues in access to information.  Far too often when students tried to research using computers in the small lab next to my room, they were blocked from sites by the school system's filter, which screened to an absurd level.  Let me give two examples of that absurdity

1.  Students could not do little research related to pharmaceuticals or medicine because the word "drug" or its plural "drugs" was a banned word

2.  Once I was trying to share with my AP Government classes an article about the former Vice President of the United States who uses the short form of his name and I was blocked because the word "dick" is a banned word, even when offered in the form of "Dick" as in a proper name.

I spoke about this issue with the Assistant Superintendent who oversees advanced and special programs, and suggested that teachers not be blocked so we could use our judgment about what was appropriate for our students and the central office could selectively check what sites were visited under our sign-ons to ensure we did not abuse our access.  She informed me the Board of Education had approved such a policy and it was supposed to be implemented.  It is now more than 7 months since that conversation, and the policy has still not been implemented.  I remember one of my Research Students getting increasingly frustrated while he made attempt after attempt to look up things and each time got the dread yellow triangle announcing the filter was blocking him.  On one occasion that happened more than 30 times in less than two minutes as he worked down a list of links he had developed as the result of a search.

That was one obstacle students encountered.

Of my two projects in Environmental Media, one ran into legal problems that could not be overcome, and had to totally rethink how they were going to stay within the framework of their grant.  The other first got blocked from part of their endeavor by bureaucratic issues within the County department that controls parks and recreation, then delayed on the other part because school system personnel erred badly in installing some bike racks, the concrete bases had to be fixed, and that was not done in time to have the media roll-out of their project before testing took over the school year.   In both cases, the teams of students had well-designed media campaigns that could not be implemented.

The group from Research whom I had selected for the breakout session had an idea for a new kind of yoga mat, in part because of their personal experience - one of them took up yoga because of a back injury.  Their design was intended to be both environmentally friendly (many yoga mats are made of materials that are not) as well as providing a base that cushioned impact while keeping one connected with the floor.   Their design intent was well-thought out and well-researched.  But the first company they approached for one key material hung up the phone on them, and the second took longer than expected to get them their materials.  They were able to make a small prototype mat, but not in time to do what they had originally intended, which was to have me share their design in a full-size implementation with several dozen yoga teachers and students where I practice to see what the interest was and to evaluate based on that.

Other projects were well researched and thought out, but too expensive for students to actually build.

Thus there was little "data" that could be statistically analyzed, but there was a great deal of learning that took place.

One group, the yoga mat, had technical issues on short notice getting a high quality poster to the central office to be printed.  Here I note that how the poster and accompanying abstract were to be submitted changed several times.  I was able to get all submitted materials except the yoga mat poster to the central office on Monday, and the yoga mat poster in time for the presentation - although the print shop already had a version that was adequate but not of high quality  (there were technical issues including an email program being used by a student that was surprisingly not allowing her to email a large file).

We started hearing objections on Tuesday that there was not sufficient "data" on some of the posters.  I explained to one person from the office why.  Apparently along the way one person from the Central office informed out principal that what was being offered was of insufficient quality to allow it to be presented.  On Wednesday morning I had a phone conversation with the system wide STEM coordinator who raised that specific issue about the yoga mat project.  I pointed out the various problems they had had.  She wondered why they had not asked to see if the school system could have intervened to help them get their materials more quickly.  I responded that the students had wanted to own the process themselves and I had decided to let them.  I thought that issue had been resolved.

Then I arrived on site early Wednesday evening.   I will not go through everything that happened.

I will say that with some negotiation from our school's STEM coordinator and to a lesser degree myself we got approval for most of the posters to go up, but apparently not the yoga mat poster, nor was that breakout session listed.  When I finally saw the Assistant Superintendent she said they had not completed the project.  I told her they were coming with the yoga mat.  She said it the mat was not on their poster (that was because they were still working on manufacturing it when they did the poster the previous week, and did not know whether it would be successfully made -  remember, this was in the midst of the AP testing).  She decided to let it go ahead.

Then things began to get seriously ridiculous.

The breakout group from Environmental Media was asked where their data was.  Their project was to reduce carbon emissions by making it easier for students to bike to school.  But their project was supposed to be their media campaign promoting the use of bikes, not an analysis of how much they reduced carbon emissions.

All of the students were told to not focus that much on the difficulties they had encountered and overcome.  At least, that is what they were told in my presence.

But then someone from the central office went down to the breakout room where my students were and told them they were not even to mention their difficulties, that this was supposed to be a celebration of success.

Not all of the students were there on some projects, including one breakout group.  That is because by the time the central office got around to scheduling this event, our school's annual athletic banquet was already scheduled, and many of my students were athletes, some of whom were attending because that was an important part both of their own high school experience, and because they were receiving awards.  For that one group, originally only one student was going to present, but another gave up the banquet so that her partner would not present alone.  The day before a person from the Central office asked if the student who would be at the banquet would be okay at receiving the grade from the Central office for their poster and presentation and she said she would.  But then no one from the central office even attended either of the presentations.  

There were at least three people from the central office there.

There were three breakout rooms.

Only one person stayed beyond the first of three time slots.

Still, one might have expected one person to have come into each room.  

We had told the central office that one of our breakout groups needed technological resources.  That was true of two groups from another school.  In one case people were assigned to a room with no technology, in the other the technology would not work and we had to change rooms.

I am proud of my students.

I am can be a momma grizzly on their behalf if I think they are being treated unfairly.

Not allowing them to present or put up their posters would have been unfair to them.  if there were something unacceptable, take it out on me because they did it under my supervision.

Except I note the following:
1.  People from the Central office have informed me how pleased they were at what they had seen from what I had done in my other, non-senior course, STEM Policy.
2.  The Assistant superintendent had talked with my Environmental Media students when they were in the early stages of working on their projects.
3.  She had had several additional conversations with me during the year where she knew the approach I was taking, particularly after I had attended the conference on innovation in education.
4.  The expectations for and scheduling of this poster session were not communicated in either a clear fashion nor on a timely basis.

What I had not told anyone, including my wife, is that when I arrived at the site and found out what was happening I was prepared to resign on the spot in protest, even though that would have cost me my teaching certificate and thus my employment for next year.  

Both at the system level and in the impact in our school, I had at the time I made the decision not to return next year, already seen enough to believe I could not do my task of teaching with the degree of integrity I thought necessary.  It had been a painful decision, because I love my students, and I am sorry I will not be able to continue as I had hoped with those I would have had again (and again - my advisory is freshmen, Government is sophomores, STEM Policy is juniors, and the two CAPSTONE projects are seniors, thus I had the rare opportunity for ongoing teaching of the same students), but after this past week I have no doubt that my decision was the correct one.

Some might say I should not be so candid about this.

To which I respond that when I was hired people knew I wrote about what I do.

I try hard not to be critical of people with whom I work while I work with them.

I do my best to try to fix things internally.

But I still teach in my late 60s because I am trying to be of benefit to my students.

I follow the principle discussed at the forum on innovation in education - I take risks to attempt to achieve results.  Not everything I try works, but I adjust based on the experience.

In other words, I model for my students what I expect of them.

It would be patently unfair to punish my students for what my superiors MIGHT consider my failings.  

They chose to give me great latitude in how I approached my responsibilities.

if they had concerns, they had every opportunity to check on me from time to time and if not happy seek to make adjustments.  They did not.

I saw where my students were struggling, and offered support insofar as they wanted it.

From my discussions with them the vast majority of them appreciated the approach I took.  One of those who failed to produce a poster (but nevertheless successfully completed all the other elements of the project quite well) told me he had enjoyed this class most of all because he was treated like an adult, and thus got to learn a bit of what it means to operate with adult responsibility.

I have managed in the private and public sectors, served as a department chair in a school, coached athletics, headed committees and task forces in school, served as an officer of non-profit organizations and on national committees for a religious organization and a non-profit.

In all my approach tends to be to empower others, to give them credit for their successes and where possible to shield them from consequences of honest failure from which they learn  (when they refuse to learn or listen, that is a somewhat different situation).

When I was hired for the position from which I am leaving in about 4 weeks I made all that clear.  

That is who I am, and how I operate, as a person, a teacher, a mentor.

If after hiring me you are not happy with the results, feel free to let me know, even to discipline or discharge me.

But do NOT take it out on my subordinates or my students.  

Or you will discover that this intense but usually mild-mannered Quaker turns into as fierce a Momma Grizzly as you can imagine.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 05:25 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Make of this what you will (102+ / 0-)

    I will not make a serious attempt to promote it.

    It is what it is.

    "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

    by teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 05:25:50 AM PDT

  •  The culture of obedience resents any sign of (30+ / 0-)

    autonomy or self-direction. It responds with irrational demands, because compliance with the irrational is a sign that the obedience is coerced.
    In the culture of obedience, obedience has to be coerced, much as power, to be felt, has to hurt.

    I am not sure, but I now strongly suspect that we can take irrationality, especially from those we can/could expect to be reasonable, as a clear sign that coercion and the use of force are the prime objective. That is, power or the use of destructive force is an end in itself.

    by hannah on Sat May 24, 2014 at 05:53:14 AM PDT

  •  It sounds as though the administration (38+ / 0-)

    Is far more interested in their own goals than in seeing students learn.  That was my experience in trying to navigate an "excellent" public school system with my son (which resulted in us eventually pulling him out).   They want what makes them looks good and what is easiest for them--meaning 100% inside the box programs.  It is sad that in the case of your projects that the students paid the price--first in lack of support from the school, then in lack of interest from the administrators, and last in losing you as a teacher.

    I'm sure that these students will be better for the experience they had, even if it didn't win them shiny tokens,  but the school and future students will be worse for losing a teacher with integrity and respect for students.

    It's sad.

    "It ain't right, Atticus," said Jem. "No, son, it ain't right." --Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

    by SottoVoce on Sat May 24, 2014 at 06:16:30 AM PDT

  •  I am working in a medical field at retirement age (22+ / 0-)

    because I also believe that I can model integrity and where my experience can make a difference. Our institution, along with most other hospitals, is on an intentional journey to maximal safety. That involves all the positive personal and system attributes you describe and discuss. Like you, if I were in an environment where I thought success was not likely, I would be moving on. In our case, the basic mission of the institution creates a bone-deep interest in making the safety initiatives work, and we are small enough where the hard, but necessary, conversations can and do occur in a timely manner.  

  •  These kids aren't fulfilling ... (12+ / 0-)

    their "responsibility" to the school - to, as the "bright kids",  prop up the test scores so that the administration looks competent.

    Instead, they're actually learning something.

    Can't have that.

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Sat May 24, 2014 at 06:31:55 AM PDT

  •  Comply, Comply and Spin Compliance.. (10+ / 0-)

    The public school view today contains only three priorities; compliance, compliance and compliance.

    In the event that there are no clear rules, then you must deduce and assume an attitude of obsequious compliance. You are obligated to figure out for yourself what compliance means, and then, if you are wrong, you will be fired anyway. Always guess correctly what compliance means to the rule makers. This is rule one.

    As an added fun, twist, anyone in the hierarchy can change the rules to whim. Therefore, compliance becomes an exercise in spin control depending on whom you talk to. You must ACT compliant even in the face of egotists and careerists whose vision of compliance is wildly different. Do NOT point out contradictory visions of compliance. That is the path to immediate dismissal. This is rule two.

    And in this context, students are to learn how to be productive citizens in a democratic society. Wow. I guess I know how it feels to live in Red China, Fascist Germany and Hewlett Packard. Shudder.

    Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

    by OregonOak on Sat May 24, 2014 at 06:39:43 AM PDT

  •  At my company there are some (2+ / 2-)
    Recommended by:
    waterstreet2013, OrganicChemist
    Hidden by:
    Occulus, cville townie

    rules that we all think are absurd. That is the way it is in all jobs, public and private. If you are going to quit over a few stupid rules, just be aware that the experience is universal, and that you'll never find a gig that does not come with at least a few absurd or stupid rules that must be followed. As long as you want to be part of a larger society, you are going to have to accept making a few compromises to your own sense of logic. You are right about the censorship being idiotic, but OTOH that's life.

    •  but what if rules are not announced ahead of time (25+ / 0-)

      how is that fair to hold people to account?

      People in the central office knew my approach to teaching.  I met with key people including the Assistant Superintendent last summer before I began teaching and I kept them informed about my approach.

      Nothing given to the students about the poster session explicitly said that they had to include data - one person from central office told me if they had looked at ALL the examples at the web site to which they were instructed to go (3. 5 weeks before they were to turn in their projects which was 1.5 week before AP testing began, and on days when students had an AP test they were not required to attend school other than for their AP test, so in fact I was not seeing them regularly, and I the classes meet every other day) they would have seen examples with data on them.  They were simply told to use the examples, and nothing about looking at ALL the examples or that they MUST include data on the poster.

      A research project can come to an unsuccessful end for a variety of reasons.  One can reach a point and realize that proceeding further is pointless, yet still have learned a great deal.  That is learning from failure, as was emphasized during the conference in October.

      I am reminded of the perhaps apocryphal exchange Thomas Edison is reputed to have with a journalist.

      Mr. Edison, you have tried hundreds of substances for the filament of your light bulb, and none has worked. Have you really learned anything?

      Yes, I have learned hundreds of substances that will not work.

      My objection is not to rules.

      It is to imposing consequences for rules that were not stated ahead of time.

      It is for attempting to punish my students when they were operating within the rules I gave them, rules I think by which I could legitimately operate given my previous communications with people in the central office.

      It is because of that I was prepared to stand on principle.

      "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

      by teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 07:12:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  HR: intentional condescension, falls to DBAD (6+ / 0-)

      Shame on you.

      Seriously. That shit was completely uncalled for and you owe an apology.

  •  Time To Let It Go, Teacherken..... (0+ / 0-)

    Life is not fair.  Your students will find that out.  And when they do, their own individual resilience will save them.  

    Retirement can be graceful, if we let it unfold.  It's been the best part of my entire life.  Embrace it.  

    •  sorry, but that's bullshit (19+ / 0-)

      first, I was hired to make a difference, and I was doing precisely what I was hired to do

      second, I have no intention of retiring as long as I can make a positive difference, as I have for these students and the others I taught this year

      third,  silence is always complicity.  King told us that it was the silence of friends that was more damaging than the words/actions of opponents.

      If something is unfair, push back and try to change it.

      Believe in something, be willing to stand up  even knowing there is a risk, but understanding that the first person can inspire others.

      We are already seeing some of that with respect to educational policy.

      I saw it when I was younger in Civil Rights, in opposition to Vietnam, in getting the voting age lowered, in the environmental movement.

      Perhaps because I have lived through that I refuse to simply acquiesce.

      In my conversations Wednesday with the Assistant Superintendent she acknowledged that she understood why I had to decided to leave even before this latest episode, even though our relationship has been that she viewed me as a key piece in making the STEM program effective at the school at which I have been.

      Maybe retirement is appropriate for you.

      It is not for me.

      Not so long as I can make a difference.

      And I have been hired by someone who knows me, knows my approach, knows I take risks but also take ownership of the results, and is willing to live with that.

      "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

      by teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 07:41:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  learn from your "failure" (0+ / 0-)

        Your "project requirements" relative to the (future school) administration seem restricted toward providing consistent support for the students: verbal instructions, Internet access, presentation delivery guidelines, etc. The BS-factor was mostly wobbly, feels political, and is toxic to sharp teens who know that behavior all too well. Your personal need not to be worthless scum is a feature AND a bug. There should be some nice way to itemize what the "teacherken Warning Labels" should state, for example: a strong advocate for his students' education. Good luck finding a good fit. Sounds like you made THE BEST from a very challenging situation. I don't see that any of the "failure" rubs off on you.

      •  A question. (0+ / 0-)

        While there's no doubt that you're an excellent teacher and retirement's not your thing, wouldn't you be better serving education at this point in a student advocacy role or working directly with education leadership at a local/state/federal level?

        You've got a powerful voice and a wealth of experience to draw from.  I'd think that it would at least be something worth considering after your next teaching assignment.  Even when I disagree with you, I learn something, or I'm forced to examine why I disagree more deeply.  That's not a gift a lot of people have.

        Everyday Magic
        Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
        -- Clarke's Third Law

        by The Technomancer on Sat May 24, 2014 at 03:14:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  anything I say that is of value (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Technomancer

          is precisely because I remain rooted in the classroom

          and it is dealing with adolescents and seeing them develop that gives me the greatest pleasure.

          And to quote Dirty Harry, a man's gotta know his limitations.

          "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

          by teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 06:49:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  A Real Tragedy Will Be If One Of Your Students.... (0+ / 0-)

            loses a child, or has a sibling or parent murdered, or dies an early death from brain cancer that has metastasized thru out their body, & there is literally no hope to save their life.

            Not having a school assignment completely fulfilled is not a tragedy.  And......there are many ways to continue to serve & be a role model for students even when you are retired officially.  

            My husband taught behavior disorder children for over 30 years thru all kinds of administrations, most were incompetent, insensitive & idiotic.  He loved it & was top
            notch @ his job.  He kept being called back "for just one more year.....we really, really need you".  He finally
            officially retired in his mid sixties.  He's always got a smile on his face now as he fills his days w/ new activities & challenges.  Just a thought.

  •  And I wonder why they show up in my classes (17+ / 0-)

    at a community college as woefully prepared as they are. Very timely, Ken, because a week from today I'll be at my table in a HUGE conference room at the Louisville Convention Center learning the rubric for the first set of essays we're grading from the AP US History exam. I'll keep all this in mind as an example.

    Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall

    by Dave in Northridge on Sat May 24, 2014 at 07:24:04 AM PDT

  •  Your students are lucky to have you. (13+ / 0-)

    I cannot think of any words to use at the dinner table that describe what I saw in your story, other than intense frustration and disappointment. Oh we have words in the service for that, but I am sure you know what those are without me typing them out.

    My advice is this. Connect your students with outside organizations that will help them and work with them on these projects.

    The kids that want to work on the bike project--get them involved with the local cyclists clubs and other environmental clubs in town. They might be able to get more help that way.

    With or without the help or recognition of the school.

    "It were a thousand times better for the land if all Witches, but especially the blessing Witch, might suffer death." qtd by Ehrenreich & English. For Her Own Good, Two Centuries of Expert's Advice to Women pp 40

    by GreenMother on Sat May 24, 2014 at 07:29:43 AM PDT

    •  I know the kids want to own their projects (6+ / 0-)

      I will say that most serious volunteer orgs are short of people who have the time to do special projects, so getting the kids involved, that is likely still a possibility (the sole ownership) thing.

      But that gives the kids more adult resources to pull on without having to deal with that Mother-May-I crap from the Admn.

      Teach you kids not only to be self starters, but to overcome obstacles.

      Subversive even.


      It's better to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission.

      You get more done that way.

      "It were a thousand times better for the land if all Witches, but especially the blessing Witch, might suffer death." qtd by Ehrenreich & English. For Her Own Good, Two Centuries of Expert's Advice to Women pp 40

      by GreenMother on Sat May 24, 2014 at 07:48:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  seniors' last day is May 29 (12+ / 0-)

      right now they are taking senior exams where relevant, and do not have to be in school otherwise.

      The bike racks will eventually be installed, perhaps even before the end of the school year.

      But their work is done.

      They graduate the first week of June.

      Some already have summer commitments.

      Within the school what they have done is recognized - they have received recognition and awards.

      The issue is less the school - the STEM Coordinator in the building, the administrator in building responsible for STEM knew how I was handling this and backed me completely.  I do not deal directly with the principal on this but she had gotten me professional leave to attend the conference, has come to talk with the various guest speakers I have brought into the building, and has complimented me on the work the juniors in my STEM Policy class has done, having come to the presentations of a couple of the 1st semester projects.  We have had cooperation of other teachers and staff within the building and even of students on these and other projects done by my students this year.

      There are a lot of issues with the STEM program  The people running it for the school system have acknowledged that we are somewhat in the situation of flying an airplane that we are building in the air.  In that setting how realistic is it to be harsh on students?  

      Here as in all else I do, my measure is what is in the best interest of the students.

      These are seniors.  I listen to what they tell me.  I think they are entitled to that.

      "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

      by teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 07:48:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ken, as you know i am a school social worker (7+ / 0-)

    this year NJ started a new eval system using highly effective, partially effective BS based Charlote Daniles I think. In any case, almost none of the rubric applies to me or psychologists. So the state said we don't know what to do with evaluating these folks, we'll fix the plan in the air. That's a quote from the recent corporate hack who was NJ state super. My principal does not know what to do. I was not observed or evaluated last year or this year. I have asked ( but not too much ) both my dept head and principal ( at least the one who is supposed to do the work, as I am in 8 schools ) and no one has done a thing. Last year's principal is leaving to be a superintendent of a district with 2 schools. This year's is being promoted to a HS. I don't care that they don't observe me, because they don't know shit about my job any way. BUt I got a feeling this is all going to be blamed on me, when it isn't my job. They don't do their jobs, they still get promoted. And yet the new system in NJ heavily favors management. Sorry for misspellings, my eyes are going and so are my arthritic hands.

  •  Got an earworm now (0+ / 0-)

    Hearing strains of Celito Lindo in my head

  •  a valuable lesson in "risk-free risk taking" (9+ / 0-)

    Seems to me that you and your students have been dealt a valuable lesson in the bureaucracy-think notion of "risk-free risk taking". Namely, that when they tell you it's good to take risks, they really mean you are expected to take risks that always succeed and never fail.

    If you do succeed, that is the expected outcome and you may be rewarded with praise, but the most important thing is that the notion of "risk-free risk taking" is reinforced.

    If you fail, well then obviously it is due to some inherent personality flaw of yours, and certainly not a natural outcome of people and teams stretching beyond their safety zones. Of course, the failure will not be forgiven.

    Obviously, the purpose of this system of thinking is to encourage "outside the box" innovation, but insulate an organization from the inevitable failures. It also serves as a cruel form of weeding out in competitive scenarios.

    The trick to winning at this game is to learn the paradoxical art of innovating without taking risks that result in failure: pilot projects, backup plans, avoid all-or-nothing projects, etc.

    In my experience, most of research academia runs on this principle.

    "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

    by quill on Sat May 24, 2014 at 08:04:37 AM PDT

    •  Corporations, too. (10+ / 0-)

      Senior execs blather at company-wide pep talks about encouraging risk, but every line manager knows that it is career suicide to allow their reports to take risks if the effort ends in failure.

      •  figured as much (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ER Doc, linkage

        "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

        by quill on Sat May 24, 2014 at 08:41:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly (6+ / 0-)

        I have been at the same place for 15 years, moving up the ladder, under many supervisors.

        I've had my share of asshole bosses, but lately I have a supervisor who came from the political side of the aisle who is extremely risk averse.

        This coincides with a relatively large jump in the level of responsibility of my position.

        So while I'm working to build my own confidence and earn the confidence and credibility of others, I've spent the last 18 months or so being dogged for everything I do.

        How do you earn others' confidence when they see your boss hovering around you, full of fear about the idea you might have an idea?

        The level of fear and mistrust is crushing.  

        •  Look at it this way. (0+ / 0-)

          What you're dealing with doesn't change as you move up the ladder -- only the title of the people dogging you does.  I've found that it's much easier to take when you realize that the more people you have dogging you about your project and progress, the more important the work you're doing is to them, for one reason or another.

          Own that responsibility and run with it.  It's a part of the gig, for better or for worse.  Having been an underling and in a positions where I have very little supervision or I'm doing the supervising, I know that the best managers I've had are the ones taking heat for the team and not letting the shit roll downhill, and that I know I'm working on an important project when there's more people second-guessing it every step of the way -- this only happens when it's important to the future of the company, or it's so novel that it's threatening someone's corporate fiefdom -- and that means it's work worth doing.

          Everyday Magic
          Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
          -- Clarke's Third Law

          by The Technomancer on Sat May 24, 2014 at 03:23:36 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree in theory (0+ / 0-)

            but this goes too far.

            I'm in a staff meeting, talking about an upcoming project.  Supervisor's boss asks when I can have it done.  I say 30 days.

            He says he was thinking of something more like 5 months.  I'm thinking "cool, I have more time!".

            We leave the meeting.  My supervisor pulls me aside to say I should have "read the landscape" and some how intuited that the boss wanted to give me 5 months.

            Now how in hell is it an "error" to not mind-read and to offer to get something done sooner than (as you subsequently find out) he wants?  

            Is this the sort of 'error' that warrants a correction?  Who fucking trips on this stuff?

            This is the level of 'dogging'.  Every. word. I. say.  

            Every. call. I. make.  

            Every. e-mail. I. send.

            I go to a meeting last minute because he can't be there.  Before I have a chance to debrief (within an hour of the end of an offsite meeting!) he has personally called everyone involved, so I look like a kid wearing mommy's clothes for an hour and now daddy is home.  Like I'm not capable of properly representing the team and bringing back information.

            He proceeded to "wrap up" the whole thing with an e-mail to everyone in house attaching some sort of document I'd never seen.  He had no idea what I'd actually gotten at the meeting, which required extensive followup.  

            And strangely, every time I mention having spoken to anyone, within a day or two he has bumped into them in the elevator or the hallway and - coinkydink - discussed that very thing!  

            So if it's about making sure stuff is done right, he's failing in that he is only making it seem he doesn't trust me and that the team is disorganized.

            There is a lot of other bullshit going on, but the micromanagement is really wearing.  

            Seriously the only cure I've seen for this is to put enough things in motion that impress his bosses that he can't then smack you for doing them.  Unfortunately I do not have the perky personality of the folks that have been successful at this.  You can get away with a lot of end runs if you have a winning smile.  I'm not interested in baffling with bullshit or playing games.

            I just want to do my job.

            •  Talk to him about it. (0+ / 0-)

              And if the outcome of said conversation isn't to your liking, polish the resume and start sending it out.  If you feel it's getting to the level of actual harassment, talk to his boss or HR.

              Everyday Magic
              Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
              -- Clarke's Third Law

              by The Technomancer on Sun May 25, 2014 at 09:52:50 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  This is why I'm glad... (0+ / 0-)

        ...that I have the option of choosing where to work, and why I choose to work at smaller/younger companies.  They tend to encourage risk, even if it fails, because the only way they can play with the big boys or establish a new market is to take those risks.

        More specifically, the smaller ones tend to be places where anyone has the option of taking a risk if they can justify it, rather than the majority of larger places, which like to talk about risk, but only want the senior employees who have a track record of those risks succeeding to take said risks.

        Everyday Magic
        Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
        -- Clarke's Third Law

        by The Technomancer on Sat May 24, 2014 at 03:18:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  add: this is maybe too highlevel for highschoolers (7+ / 0-)

      I taught science lab classes to mostly senior BS students for several years. The scenarios were similar: student group projects that were the biggest part of their grades, and many of these students were pre-med so they needed an A grade. If a group failed to collect viable data, then in theory their grade was in jeopardy. Lots of pressure.

      What I learned was that even college seniors struggle with the problem of risk in innovation. After dealing with several disasters I quickly developed my lessons to include a lot of advice on the nuts and bolts of the process of how to do interesting research but minimize risk of failure. I also took a much more hands-on approach to the early stages of project conception and design. This is not easy stuff to learn and students need to be guided through it.

      If I were managing high school science projects I would probably be VERY involved in guiding their projects. You always learn from failure, but you learn a lot more from a process of small failure and correction that ultimately leads to some kind of success (even if the original goal isn't reached).

      "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

      by quill on Sat May 24, 2014 at 08:36:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  was very involved at early stages (8+ / 0-)

        which is why of the 18 students involved, only 2 were at the end on the specific project on which they had started.

        We had sessions where they presented their ideas and preliminary work to one another and I allowed the other students to question/challenge -  if I saw gaps in what was being asked I stepped in.

        But at some point they had to take ownership.  I would check in with them from time to time.  They had to show me their project books and I used that as a basis for questioning, raising issues, providing guidance.

        They were not entirely on their own, ever.

        "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

        by teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 09:02:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  sounds like "break in period" pains (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pdxteacher, guyeda

          I'm sorry that you couldn't stay to try this again, because it seems to me that the snafus you and your students experienced could mostly be resolved by recalibrating your approach a bit, and keeping a clear eyed understanding of the admin's expectations (as unreasonable as they are). Having worked with college students, who are years more mature than high schoolers, I have been both impressed by how brilliant and self-motivated young adults can be and yet how much guidance and hand holding they still need to relaibly succeed. The alternative is to allow them to learn on their own by failing, but that isn't very fun and isn't a good option in the scenario you were in that obviously doesn't allow for failure.

          "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

          by quill on Sat May 24, 2014 at 09:49:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  my approach did not need recalibration (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            because there is always a risk students will fail.  That should be welcomed, and learned from.

            "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

            by teacherken on Sat May 24, 2014 at 06:51:44 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  This is why (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        quill, linkage, kurt, Cassandra Waites

        how we teach in K-9 is so important.

        You can't teach kids to color within the lines and recite by rote for 8 years and then suddenly expect them to be risk-taking innovators in high school.

        A couple of years ago we proposed a poster contest to promote sustainability.

        A couple of issues:

        A rigid set of rules about materials, paper size, technical requirements would have precluded things like a crayon drawing on construction paper.

        Our director (not an educator) quaked in fear that this poster activity might interfere with the students' class time.

        I.e., the act of designing and considering content for posters was considered a "frivolous" waste of time in light of the rigid testing requirements.  Better to sit and be drilled in whatever will be tested later than to think about why it's important to protect the planet and be creative and tactile.

        Now again, this was not an educator, and I have met many teachers who bring creativity and thoughtfulness into the classroom despite the stubborn bureaucracy.

        But at the top there is often no recognition of the value of creativity and thoughtfulness that can't be quantified by data, only by the richness of the experience and the parts of the brain awakened and the way their perception of the world - and of their own capabilities - changes and expands.

        I might have stepped in as you express, but I think that's exactly what happened.  They did not utterly fail.  They largely succeeded.  But without intervention, the PTB were going to prevent them from even discussing their projects.

    •  It's just this that potholed my STEM career. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill, PinHole, Cassandra Waites

      My last couple of gigs ended in failure (lack of ability to publish) because funding was pulled mid-stream, or was so insanely short-term no project could have succeeded.  First busted experiment, and you're out.

      It used to be, grants had enough slack to build at least some failure into their systems.  Now the slack's taken up to an extent that it's all becoming a mook's game in which you can't win unless you're one of the scientific 1%, especially in academia.  (They have many different grants - and don't tolerate no-win scenarios).

      It's just as bad in the research lab as it is in the classroom these days.

  •  I feel the same level of frustration (7+ / 0-)

    That I experience when I see kids being expelled due to zero tolerance because they brought a gi joe pistol to share with a friend in school. (They are an inch long)

    That I experience where officious morons deliberately make things tough for you because it empowers them.

    Tha I experience when I see the system fail due to a blind allegiance to rules and hierarchy.

    And we wonder why tea buggers were popular for a short time?

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Sat May 24, 2014 at 08:46:03 AM PDT

  •  For some reason (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, PinHole, Cassandra Waites

    we seem to become averse to even noticing we have problems in this country, let alone finding and addressing them.  Appearance has become all.

    I'm sorry your students had to struggle through a series of totally avoidable, unfair, outwardly-imposed problems as part of their learning experience.  Hopefully, your presence with them throughout the process will provide a helpful role model as they move forward into the next phases of their lives.

  •  What a sad situation (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, PinHole, Cassandra Waites

    I'm just glad that I graduated from high school in 1965. Things were very, very different back then. Science teachers had great latitude in managing student projects back then and I benefited from that. I believe the administration pretty much stayed out of the way and doctors and other members of the STEM community frequently helped students with their projects.

    Sounds like things are very different today and I expect that what I accomplished would be impossible in today's environment.

    Anyway, thanks for putting up the good fight Ken.

    My invisible imaginary friend is the "true" creator

    by Mr Robert on Sat May 24, 2014 at 11:28:09 AM PDT

  •  Key word - "Ridiculous" (0+ / 0-)

    I am so pleased I made the decision to take early retirement and Disability in the late '90's.  The changes I saw in my own field (child welfare, juvenile justice, children and family services and child abuse investigations) were nothing but red flags indicating that no one really knew what were the "best practices" and that the field was becoming like the Wild, Wild West in that privatization and anti-government rules and regulations were equipoised to make a fucking insane equivalency in looking at the dynamics involved.  It was becoming ridiculous and insane.

    I am glad I stopped.

    Teacherken.  You must face the truth.  It is now all insane.

  •  Liberals and their damned political correctness (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I say this as one who considers herself a liberal -- but I'm a liberal with an attitude and a big mouth and I shoot it off, just to inject some life into people.

    Dick isn't a nice word. Fuck that! Seems to me we might want a bit of the Sixties Free Speech Movement injected here.

    And, let's get real about the stupid war on drugs, which liberals dropped the ball on. Now we are unable to deal sensibly with the problem of pain management and a great number of other issues because certain words are fucking verboten! Ironically, our nicey nice attitudes have enabled a flourishing Latin American drug cartel, as well as a burgeoning flow of guns and money. Whoopee!

    A rigid fear of robust debate. We must be nicey nice, we don't want to offend anybody.

    And why won't the damned DOJ prosecute Bush and Cheney for war crimes? Damned Dems walk on eggs when the war crimes issue is brought up.

  •  Well done, Ken. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    What this country needs is

    More of teacherken's kind.

    Fewer jobsworth assistant bureaucrats who parachute in after all the work has been done, make a show of ordering everyone around, stand in the spotlight and take the credit.

  •  Very few student projects... (0+ / 0-)

    ...come to the kind of fruition that the students or teacher expect.  The students can surely feel the full impact of an unforgiving evaluative process when they take their first university weeder classes and their first research methods classes in college.  Surely the point for students before that point is to get to go through the process, up to and including presentation of what they have learned (learning all the while).   The fact materials suppliers will hang up on you, the fact inferior library systems don't give you the access you need(whether from HS filters or inadequate subscriptions), the fact that plans laid over the course of a year often turn to mush -- from my view, that's what first classroom experiences like this are for -- to find out the big world is unforgiving and that we can find some interesting things to discover (and to seminar) regardless.

    I don't think you should have to make any excuses for your students.  Of course they were stymied at every turn.  And of course the results aren't likely to be the stuff of NSF grants.  But that is hardly the point.  It is really amazing to me as a reader that some finger-shaker was doing their best to derail their opportunity to present.  From this remove it feels like there was some intrinsic bias or other weirdness present -- an action like that goes against the entire idea of helping students learn how to conduct an independent inquiry or project.

    On person's opinion of course.

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Sat May 24, 2014 at 06:21:13 PM PDT

  •  If I were a school, I'd hire you on the spot! (0+ / 0-)

    May there be many more like you in future who do the right thing, and then hopefully get the administrative support they deserve.

    Students at your new school will be lucky to get the benefit of your teaching!

    Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings. —Nelson Mandela

    by kaliope on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:44:33 PM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site