In response to the 11/1/2013 post, “A Superintendent Writes… Advice for the First Year Principal – Part 1,” a reader writes:

SC,

I am probably wasting my time, but I am going to respond to this anyway.

Teachers have been given an impossible task and then they are blamed when they get frustrated or angry because of it.

Let’s start with a couple of places where both the administrator and the policy (in this case the mission statement) are being dishonest. You start by saying teachers do not believe in the mission and your first statement of the mission is that “all students can learn.” Not only is this statement true, every educator believes it or they would not be educators in the first place. No, the mission statement itself is false because the standard for measurement is NOT whether all children can learn, but whether all children can learn up to a standard, and that standard seems to be set at the college entrance level.

You said it yourself, not every child can go to college.

Then you come up with a ridiculous example that has no relationship to the morale problem. A better example would be a doctor with limited time and resources, asking them to focus on a patient who is dying (soon, not eventually) while ignoring a large group of patients who can be helped.

This exposes the fundamental lie of a mission statement like “all children can learn.” What it really means is that teachers are required (evaluated) to focus on those students who are at risk of failure while ignoring those who have passed but can achieve a much higher (even excellent) level.

This is like telling the basketball coach you are not going to be evaluated based on how well the team does (wins and losses) but on how many kids make the team. The goal is every kid can be a basketball player and if a kid does not make the team it is the coach’s fault.

This is where you are asking teachers to do the impossible. No wonder you have a morale problem.

SC Response First, I don’t think that you wasted your time with your response and I appreciate the dialogue.

Second, I do agree that teachers undertake a Herculean task everyday. They are expected to:

1. Educate every student to a previously unheard of level

2. Manage every ill that our communities refuse to provide services for    3. Keep everyone safe

4. Do the above with resources that are cut annually

5. Smile when unappreciative politicians and fringe elements kick them in the teeth.

I know that the author of the original post also understands this, because we have discussed it at length.

What I took from the post was the danger to both students and teachers when we allow our beliefs to erode.  And we are at risk for this occurring when the external factors impacting education are the most daunting.  Take the teacher working in the most impoverished neighborhood.  This teacher knows that her students face unimaginable (for her) hardship everyday.  Without aggressive, measurable performance targets, it is easy for this teacher to equate making her students comfortable and happy to classroom success.  But a comfortable, happy, inadequately educated childhood leads to a stressful, comfortless adulthood.  That is why the teacher at the Title One campus has to be a tad more clinical and a tad more focused than the non-Title One campus teacher.  Bottom line, the stakes are higher.  And the Title One campus teacher who cannot deal with this (for any number of legitimate reasons) cannot be considered an asset to the campus.

I would argue that the accountability systems in place across the country put an undue burden on the teachers of academically fragile students while (comparatively speaking) placing a much lighter performance burden on the teachers of non-fragile learners. This very fact runs counter to the argument that accountability is forcing teachers to ignore the needs of higher performing students.  Actually, what accountability has shown us is that the typical campus underserves all of its students.  You don’t have to believe me; just look at any instructional practice observation data.  For 20 years our profession has known the difference between higher-yield and lower-yield instructional practices, we just don’t implement the higher-yield practices, at scale, at adequate frequency.  Which brings me to this.  Yes, the external factors that impact our schools, classrooms and students can seem insurmountable.  But when we (educators) have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to implementation of best practice, we still have hope. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.     

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