Thursday, March 13, 2008

"But They Work for ME"

I wanted to discuss something that has been taking place at my school, and get some feedback from outside, objective people. It came to a head yesterday during PD.

As a new, small HS, last year was our first. The students who comprised the first high school class were largely students for whom this school was not their first choice; for some, it was the choice between retention and promotion. A great deal of time was spent last year (and this year) changing culture and attitudes about schools, as well as making up for deficiencies which many of our learners have in many subjects.

Teaching the lower grades in a high school are tough anywhere, I'd guess, simply from a maturity perspective. Factor in some of the academic, social, economic issues that these kids brought to the table, and that job becomes tougher.

One teacher in particular has struggled with this group. This teacher has tried numerous methods, groupings, differentiation, etc. to work with the students, and is doing fairly well, given the circumstances. However, when this teacher has vented (as we all do) about classes, or has stated that certain methods, classes (like DEAR) or other interventions have not proven successful, others in our building have replied with "well, I have them, and they my class." Or "they work for me." Moreover, when this teacher has expressed an opinion on a topic, this person is seen as being "too negative."

I've always had a hard time with this comment, and yesterday I spoke up for this teacher. I don't believe it's fair to judge one teacher, in a completely different subject by the same standard as another. For example, if the students value what's given in one class, or enjoy that class more than another, or are not lacking in requisite skills (Math, for example), surely their performance may be better.

I was really upset by this "they work for me" commentary. As a collaborative community, isn't it, or shouldn't it be more about how we can help ALL of our learners, teachers and students, to become successful?

I am interested to hear from people on this side of the expressway. I value this forum greatly for its help.


W Brown said...

Mike, first let me say I admire your courage to step out of your comfort zone of “not my problem” and jump into the uncomfortable zone of “it takes a village.”

Be careful not to look down on the ones still feeling comfortable though. So many times when I worked in past institutions, I myself, was always happy I wasn’t the weak link on the team. I was secretly happy when others struggled because I could always say to myself, “I could be worse I could be…” Looking back now I guess I was evil.

We don’t all get to be reflective practioners at the same point. That said, make sure you are asking the right questions. I’m not sure if these are the right questions but you might consider:

Why are some people struggling with their classes?

Why are some people so sucessful?

What are the academic and skill demands of each content area?

What connections are being made between subject areas?

Who's responsibility is it to have all children succeed?

Anonymous said...


I agree that brushing it off by saying "they work for me" is not helpful. That said, I also think it's better than agreeing that "these" kids can't...whatever. It becomes a toxic attitude that spreads like a virus, and I think it is our responsibility to monitor one another when there's a lot of negative talk around kids.

I guess it's up to you to model productive talk (this is how I get them to work for me, have you tried this) and even sympathy (it must be really hard in math; I'm glad I teach history!) with this colleague in front of other colleagues.

Did you create a blog like this for your school? Surfacing issues this way can be helpful, too.


Anonymous said...

The conversation could continue with "Why does it work for you?" That question might surface some underlying issues, concerns, strengths and challenges. Often when someone says "Well, it works for me" there is the implication that the other is not doing something right. Have the difficult conversations. Some teachers may then have the opportunity to share the details of their success, helping to develop a best practice rather than a personal achievment, while others may be forced to look at the underlying issues that often present themselves as problems of practice. Another question would be, "Why do we need to find a way to make this work?" Reaffirming the vision is important at all stages of school growth.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, its Fox! One of the challenges in a city school or anywhere I am guessing is to get rid of the "every man for himself" attitude. This has been the case for me in past institutions. Remember the team/cohort/community or whatever it is, is there for support.

I think what helps me is the sharing of ideas. Perhaps you could share what works well for you in DEAR so your colleague could use it as well. Also I find that if you are expected to work on a "team" of some sort then you should also have to abide by the same rules/protocols throughout the day. I think that teenagers need to see consistency. Without consistency, you lose the whole tone of a building. If Teacher A's students don't read during DEAR, then it makes it difficult for you to get your students to read during DEAR. If teacher A has "parties" during advisory every week, it makes it difficult for you to do any real work with them unless you take on the role of "EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF" which we know is not as effective as a team, but it is somewhat easier for us as a teacher.

It is hard to convince everyone to get on board but you must keep trying my old 202 friend! By the way, (I know you know this)the teachers who usually make it public to say "oh they work for me" are sometimes lying!

Mr Tesler said...


Foxie, WB, and all. Thank you for assistance. I knew I could count on my old 202 buds for guidance.

Fox, you speak a lot of sense when you say consistency. As I think about some of the stuff that's going on in our school this year (I am truly lucky to have this place to vent), that's the one thing we're missing. The one thing that we had going for us last year was that everyone was on the same page. When we did something, we did it together, and it was a procedure that was practiced, or a rule that was enforced across the board in every class.

We don't seem to have that this year. Everything is very much disconnected. I think that this is where the sniping, and the misconceptions and perceptions have taken root.

It's probably the first step in working through some of these growing pains. Thanks for all of your help!