Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

Do Teachers Have a Voice In Their Learning? A Gallup Survey Says No.

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Today on gallup.com, results of a survey conducted by Shane Lopez and Preety Sidhu show that new teachers are amongst the most engaged employees when they start their careers, with 35.1% of new teachers reporting they are engaged by their work. I’m not sure that 35.1% engagement is cause for celebration. The data still show that many teachers are not engaged. Additionally, the data reveal that although teachers start out with the highest level of engagement, 35.1%, engagement dramatically drops to 27.9% for teachers with 3 – 5 years experience. After a few years, most teachers report that they are not engaged.

Why is that? What is it that is leading to such low levels of engagement? The data again are informative. Lopez and Sidhu’s survey results also show that teachers are the least likely of all occupations to say, “at work my opinions seem to count.” Think about that. Teachers are less likely to think their opinion counts than service workers, repair workers, bus drivers, construction workers, or in fact, any category of employee.

And do you think teachers are on verge of getting more voice in their professional learning? My worry is they are not. With the roll out of common core, which often involves a small team developing a curriculum and then imposing it on the rest of the staff, there is a danger that teachers will have even less voice (even though your  child’s teacher already thinks her opinion counts less than does the barista who sold you a coffee today).

What would it mean if teachers were more engaged? What if,  instead of 27.9% engagement, teachers were 80% engaged? What would it mean for our children and for this country?

We can give teachers a voice in what they do and we should.  Maybe we should spend less time telling our teachers what to do and more time listening to what they think. After all, our teachers, the people who spend every day with our kids, know a lot about students.  Certainly, it is worth taking a hard look at our schools and asking, can we do a better job of giving teachers an authentic voice in their own learning?

Are There Bad Teachers?

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

We had a conversation about “bad teachers” in my workshop the other day. President Obama used the term in his state of the union address, and fresh from reading Robert Sutton’s book Good Boss, Bad Boss, I had mentioned my plan to write a series of columns exploring how Sutton’s ideas apply to teachers.

Ed Stavnitzky, a principal from a school in Ontario, Canada spoke about his belief that the term “bad teachers” carries such negative connotations that using it might actually make it harder for us to reach our shared goal of empowering schools and improving teaching.

Teachers who are not as effective as they need to be, Ed pointed out, are not “bad”–they simply lack the skills they need to become effective. Furthermore, Ed said, most ineffective teachers are victims of a system that has failed to serve them more than they are people who are personally flawed. If we have teachers who do not reach students, Ed explained, we need to first look at how the system can be improved.

Ed’s comments did what I love comments to do: they made me think.  And I am still thinking.  When people use the term “bad teachers,” or when they celebrate “good teachers” (implying others are bad), they often create the impression that the solution to the so-called crisis in education is to simply weed out the bad apples so that our schools can flourish.  Cut the bad ones, keep the good ones, and every child goes home a winner.

If only life were that simple.  I have met several thousand teachers in my day, and very, very few of them are bad people. At a minimum, what teachers need is respectful, effective professional learning that empowers them to do what they most want to do: make a difference in children’s lives.

But I still plan to write my columns. Let’s look at two examples of teachers who make it impossible for me not to:

Example One: When I was a student in grade seven, one of my teachers, in front of the entire class, accused me of stealing a pencil from another student’s desk.  I had moved to the desk for an activity as I had been asked to do, and the pencil was not on the desk after I moved, so his logical conclusion was that I must have stolen it. The only problem, of course, was that I had not; I knew nothing about the missing pencil.

When I told him I hadn’t stolen the pencil, the teacher grabbed me by the shirt, pushed me up against the wall, and told me, “tell me where the pencil is or you’ll have to answer to me.”  Since I had no idea where the pencil was, I couldn’t tell him. He kept getting angrier, but I told him my only answer. Eventually, another student spoke up and said, “I don’t think the pencil was there when Jim sat down,” and the teacher let me go.  There was, of course, no mention of an apology.

Today, I still feel angry and humiliated thinking about how I was accused, attacked, and embarrassed in front of class.  This man would never treat another adult that way. Why was it OK, for him to treat me that way.  Was my teacher a bad teacher?  I think he was.

Example Two:  In another workshop a few years ago a teacher talked about her daughter’s experience in grade two. One week after school had started, her second grader, who had loved to learn, sat at the kitchen table and asked her Mom a very sad question:  “Mom, when does third grade start?”

When she asked her daughter why she said that, the second grade girl who had loved learning, sighed and told her Mom, “my teacher doesn’t like kids.”

“And you know what,” that teacher told our group in the workshop, “my daughter was right.  The teacher didn’t like kids, and my little girl had a terrible year.”

A few years after her daughter had moved on to grade three, this mother was still visibly upset at the cold and mean-spirited way her daughter had been treated and the change she saw in her daughter’s love of learning.  Was that teacher, who extinguished a little girl’s fire for learning, a bad teacher? I think she was.

Ed was eloquent, and kind-hearted, and deeply committed to doing what would help children. And I agree with him that the term “bad teachers” is divisive and potentially counterproductive.

I would add, however, that when teachers are negligent or abusive, we need to speak up. For that reason, over the next five columns, I’ll be exploring Sutton’s Good Boss, Bad Boss.  And, with a great deal of caution and concern, I’ll be talking about Good Teachers and Bad Teachers.