Standardization, bureaucracy leave teachers feeling helpless, hopeless

Published 8:42 am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

■ Third in a series about public education in America

Teachers are treated more like technicians than as professionals, and this is an increasing trend.

The standardization of teaching methods, curricula, objectives, recordkeeping, testing and evaluation has become so rigid as to stifle innovation and creative problem-solving in the classroom. Such standardizations come from every direction at teachers with ever-increasing requirements for one-size-fits-all procedures and paperwork, much of which adds a tremendous workload to teachers but little if any value to effective instruction.

Worse, many school systems have a command-and-control, top-down management style, such that teachers are generally left out of any decision process of any importance (other than instances which turn out to have been for appearances only).

Teachers in such systems tend not to be consulted about anything in a meaningful way, and indeed the relationship between teachers and the school system administration accordingly tends to be adversarial and without trust or cooperation.

New and changed procedures and methods take the form of missives sent “down” to the teaching staff from the school system administration. Questions on the part of teachers — along with expressions of concern or reservation — are ignored, if not unwelcome, in many school systems, leaving caring teachers with that helpless, hopeless feeling.

Another result of all this is that school system administrations are not benefiting from the insights, feedback and practical solutions that can come only from the front lines in education. Rather than relying on collaboration to reduce or prevent problems, the workplace in many school systems is more normally characterized as reactionary to problems in a damage-control mode. The ultimate losers of this dysfunctionality are the children. Remember them?

In many school systems, an exacerbating factor detracting from the professionalism of teachers is insufficient professional development (effective mentoring, education, training, supervisory coaching…) coupled with the lack of an effective performance management system. Such school systems will tell you that they of course have such programs, but in too many cases such programs only serve a perfunctory, look-good purpose without much effort to make them meaningful.

In too many school systems, teachers have all the autonomy and respect of a short-order cook in a fast-food restaurant, whereas in yesteryear they had the autonomy and respect of a chef in a fine restaurant. I ask you, what chef wants to cook in a fast-food restaurant?

How does this affect the school system’s ability to recruit — but especially to retain and motivate — the best-possible instructional talent for its classrooms? Please consider the implications of this for our students.