Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Can We Be Less Nice, Please and Thank You?

I recently stumbled across a blog by mommy/teacher Katie Knight. It's an interesting read in that we appear to come from completely opposite ends of the bloggy spectrum. "Teacher to the Core" is awash in pink and is so precious that it nearly sent me into sugar shock, and Mrs. Knight is the sort of woman who has tiny dogs that she calls her children. Not saying that's a terrible thing, but it's surely not me.

That said, Knight is no dummy, and her blog includes the kind of filter-free blogging that makes for an authentic read. And the blog has 2300 followers (plus 6K plus on facebook), so there can be no doubt that if we're going to get in a validation-by-audience contest, she is going to kick my ass.

Well, if she did that sort of thing.

Knight is nice. Way nice. The post that I linked to above caught my attention because it underlines one of the ways that we as teachers really don't help ourselves.

The blog is a long story, complete with a printer emergency followed by trips to Staples, followed by getting the wrong cartridge, followed-- well, the point of the story is that by the time she arrives at her Common Core math module training session, she's feeling a bit edgy.

The trainer proceeds to present some ideas that Knight doesn't so much agree with, pedagogy-wise, and then proceeds to do that thing where she tries to draw out the teacher-learners into providing answers after which the presenter can either reward the teacher--leader or (more likely) point out how wrong the responder was as a set-up for Revealing Wisdom. Knight had pretty much had it (but in a pink, nice way).

I hate this Common Core engagement/struggle until you want to die kind questioning. Explore, figure it out, give me your big idea, but it better be the right one or you *might* look like an idiot. All of this happening at a training is really annoying.
I think the kids don’t like it either. At least not in the large doses it seems to be heaped on them these days. “Let the kids figure it out” “Let them EXPLORE, let them struggle.” For how long?

Knight observes that some of what she calls Common Core teaching techniques lack compassion for the learner. And she wants us to understand that, and how zen-less she's feeling, before she explains how she "freaked out" on the presenter.

So I tell her empathically . “Please stop. I don’t like this kind of Common Core questioning. I don’t like the “you know the answer and I am exploring to find it”. I don’t like that kind of questioning when I am in the thick of Module Mania. And now you are waving your arms at me. This is tricky and trainers treating the trainees like kids is not my favorite. Instructional styles in the Common Core can’t forget compassion for the learner. I am the learner here. I don’t know what you want me to say”

 And that would be totally okay, you'd think. But a few paragraphs later, we have this...

Of course, I waved her back over 15 minutes later and asked her to forgive me for having been so heated.  She did. I asked her not be afraid of me and that I was really a super nice person.

The unending pink didn't rattle me, nor did the endless cuteness nor even the apparently imperfect understanding of what the Core is and is not. But this-- this bugs me.

Why did you apologize, Katie Knight?

Why would you worry about whether or not this trainer thought were you a super-nice person?

And most especially, why would you worry more about having the trainer thinking you were not super-nice than you would worry about standing up for your students? You are clearly motivated by a gigantic heart full of compassion and caring for your students. So why set that aside for fear that a drive-by trainer who is busy teaching people things that you believe are wrong-- why is that person's opinion about your niceness more important than letting them know that a trained, professional educator believes they are making some serious pedagogical mistakes.

Yes, I know the trainer didn't write the module or the policy. In your shoes, I still want that trainer to go back to the main office and say, "You know, we're getting a lot of pushback on this point" or even "I've heard a lot of good arguments for re-thinking this."

This is one of the worst things we do. We sit and listen to someone shovel fertilizer, and we smile and nod and afterwards, in the lounge, we discuss how foolish it all was, but meanwhile the presenter is in his car driving back to the main office thinking, "This stuff must be great because those teachers are just eating it up."

I'm not saying be a jerk. I'm not saying be unspeakably rude. But if we as teachers don't stand up to say, "What you're pushing is wrong for our students,"-- who else is going to?

We worry too much about playing nice, being good team players, doing as we're told by the People In Charge. We worry too much about being nice.


  1. ...and when we stop worrying about playing nice and being good team players, we are labeled '2' on our evals and stand to lose our jobs at the earliest convenience...

    1. And continuing to play nice has gotten you where exactly? In a system designed around BS common standards attached to high stakes tests tied your evaluation that will be used to fire you.

      Seems to me that being nice guarantees your demise.

  2. Teachers are chickens. Too damned many of us anyway. People who seek a long term stable tenured safe career tend to also eat a lot of crap be it from admins, board members, reformers, parents. Those of us who don't are outliers and we are desperately needed by the kind of people who follow that pollyanna blog with such vapid eagerness. They hate to admit how much they need us in the blogosphere or in the cafe when two 17 yr old boys start throwing haymakers. Reality is very very few teachers are truly badass. But if you are and you know it, your input is invaluable. Otherwise we're repped by super nice apologizers with thousands of super nice followers. Gaggggh.

  3. I think many teachers have trouble explaining why they do what they do. We need to be more confident about our work, and I still think being super experts on cognitive learning theory would help and certainly couldn't have a negative effect. I think it would help newer teachers become better faster. More veteran teachers have usually figured out what works but still have trouble explaining why. At the same time, why should we have to justify our methods to some overseer who doesn't know more than we do and probably less. What most disturbed me about Katie's post was that she and her colleagues had taken the time and effort to figure out an ELD/RTI rotation that they thought was really good and used for two months, evidently with good results, and suddenly their administrator tells them it's crap and tells them to forget about "what you think works for your kids" and to do something else that they have to take the time to figure out without explaining why what he says would be better. It's hard to have confidence in yourself when you're treated in such a demeaning, dismissive way by people who you have to answer to when they probably have much less teaching experience than you do and probably know nothing about your particular grade level or subject.

  4. wow...love this post. and it's true. remarkably it's not just us older teachers who see the folly in the path education is taking. however, it's age that gives you the confidence to speak up and say this is BS in a professional way and walk away without apology. i would predict your subject is on her way to getting there...while wearing pink.