Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | May 22, 2012

Why Blog.


A few years before I retired, I began to notice that I was among a small group of elder teachers in the Connecticut suburban high school where I taught for the last twenty-two years of my career.  I use the term elder in the sense of an older, influential member of a community.  I suppose that happens to anyone who stays in one job long enough.  If you don’t move on of your own accord or weren’t let go, you willy-nilly accrue some degree of wisdom.

Of those teachers younger and thus less experienced than my peers and I, many – but not most – were already or well on the way to becoming good teachers.  I have come to believe that good teachers have in common, among other worthy qualities, the ability to see things precisely for what they are.

Those whose compensation and benefit packages are financed by the taxpaying public soon bump up against the downside of bureaucracy.  Those of them who teach English and perhaps a handful of others, in considering that downside, may

furrowingly recall Emerson’s belief that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.  The thing about bureaucrats is that once their minds are made up and the procedure, memo, policy, plan ,flow-chart, rubric, guideline, instruction, or schema is filed and printed, hands are washed, desks are cleared, copy machines reloaded, and the next issue is ready for fixing;  and woe betide him who does not gladly adhere to the letter of the law consistently.  For instance,  how does this strike you as a solution to feeding three times as many students as a cafeteria can service during a thirty-one minute lunch period:  to ensure the standard forty-five “contact” minutes, any given class scheduled to begin at, say, 11:02 will meet for 23 minutes, then break for lunch, then return at 12:08 to meet for another 22 minutes.

Here’s what the younger set of good or almost good teachers thought about that solution:  “Gee,” they said among themselves, “that doesn’t really make sense, does it?  I mean, what if you’re giving a test?   What if you want to show a video?  What if you haven’t finished explaining something or discussing something?  What if your students get back late?”  (As far as that last question went, they got their answer really soon.  Their students did come back late;  they came to count on it.)

In time, those young teachers brought their questions to us elders.  “Why did they do it this way?” they asked us.

“Because it doesn’t make sense,” we told them.

They smiled, perhaps chuckled a bit.  They were being polite because they thought we were joking.  “No, really,” we said with no trace of whimsy.  “Listen:  we’ve been here a long time.  There are precious few things you can count on around here – budgets, decent dental plans, snow days, release time, you name it – but you can count on this absolutely.  When they decide to do something, they work up a few possibilities, then carefully, deliberately select the one that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The young teachers still wanted to smile, but they saw more than seriousness in our eyes.  They saw resignation, hopelessness, defeat.  They turned away, shoulders slumping.

In the beginning of my public school career, my shoulders didn’t slump, but I did notice how many times each year things such as the absurd lunch schedule cropped up.  At first, as most youngish teachers do, I tried to work with like-minded others to effect change,  I joined committees like crazy.  Pretty soon, though, perhaps because I was not fresh out of teacher college but had instead already taught for fifteen years, I noticed the gashes on my head where I kept butting the walls of the institution.  Instead I took to writing.  I unburdened myself in a journal of sorts with no further intent than to relieve my disgruntlement and forestall a postal response.

Once retired, though, and with the encouragement of some who love me anyway, I found the temerity to think that my observations about Public Education might be interesting to others, perhaps even enlightening.  In any case, I do hope so.

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Responses

  1. I can’t wait to read about more administrative nonsense from school administrations! I can’t believe they’d cut a class in half – did that really truly happen??? Weren’t the students in a bit of an uproar about it? I guess people in many professions ‘burn out,’ but there’s something so sad when the group that is supposed to help prevent the condition (admin) actually contributes to it. This promises to be a really interesting blog.

    • Oh, yes, that did happen, and as far as I know, that is still the order of things. Splitting the class meeting time in two was considered to be the best option available. And yes again, there will be more stories about administrative nonsense, mainly because of so very little administrative sense.


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