Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Building Something New: There’s Always Demolition Required

I can hear them now, the collective groans and complaints of our staff as they walk zombie-like down the hall in the direction of the office with one motive: braaaains!

Teaching is a difficult job; it’s no surprise that we have a lot to complain about in any given day. Administrators have no shortage of rotten opinions spoiling in their inboxes. The staff lunchroom reeks at times of foul language, maybe not unsuitable for television, but certainly unpleasant and cringe-worthy. When teachers lose control of things they feel responsible for, it’s easy to become bent out of shape. We want our kids to learn, we want our principals to listen, and we want our school boards to argue in our favor.

When we feel cut-off from our community, ignored, shut-down, and unimportant, we all revert to communicating through our innate language of complaint. This is an unavoidable part of the adult world because there are always things to complain about. How negativity is dealt with in your school is one of the most important factors to consider when looking at the broader picture. If you want useful data on your school’s stability, don’t snip a few petals off from the prettiest branch— take a core sample.

Whom do your teachers complain to? What stays behind closed doors, and what really gets reported? Do people generally shy away from speaking out, in favor of generating gossip? Is there a system in place that people feel welcome to participate in? What happens if departments disagree on vital educational tenets? To whom do teachers go when they feel the administration is ignoring them? When should you worry about going over someone’s head or about cutting in?

Most of us simply want what’s best for our school and do not want to make our neighbors angry or flood our principals with n
eedless work. The hard part is going about finding what you want while also not damaging your relationship with others around you at the same time. It’s like demolishing a building in a crowded city block. If you’re a city employee who wants the old abandoned warehouse replaced by a shiny new apartment building, you’ll have to do two things: remove the old one and then put in the new. Making changes in schools is fairly similar: people need to be led away from the old ways and convinced the new is better.

No matter how “right” you are about change needing to take place, you’ve got to be careful and deliberate about communicating your ideas. No matter how much dynamite the construction crew has available to destroy the current structure, they have to take very strict precautions before depressing that plunger. Otherwise, the grocery store a block away, the day care center across the street, and the bank next-door are put in considerable danger. Simply letting loose the explosions would certainly make a mess of what’s there and the casualties would be so costly, you’d never be able to afford the new building.

If dissent is not welcome and encouraged in a safe and constructive fashion, then any potential improvements will suffer. Is there something worth changing in your school? If so, then it’s probably worth complaining about to someone. Just consider how and where you place your charges. You may destroy more than you hoped to build.


Special Thanks to Guest Blogger, Steve J. Moore for his contribution to the Prestwick Café Blog.

Steve J. Moore heads his high school's reading department and teaches literacy skills to incoming freshman. His blog www.mooreonthepage.com is an account of his first year as a teacher, and is being pub
lished in a series through the Missouri State Teachers Association's publication Teacher U. Full of energy, optimism, and frankness, Moore's posts mean to uplift and encourage anyone with a stake in education.


Stephanie Polukis said...

Mr. Moore,

To begin, thank you very much for contributing an article and for being our first guest blogger.

I'm sure many of our readers will agree that changes must be made to our schools to improve education.

As a teacher, what are some major changes that you think should be implemented?


Doug said...


Good post. I remember the frustrations well! (I also, thankfully, remember the gratifying moments too.)

Unfortunately, it is so hard for teachers—especially those new to the profession, their district, or their school—to know how and where to (safely and effectively) state their concerns. I have long believed that the lack of a support structure (from colleagues in other departments all the way to school boards and parents), whether actual or merely perceived, is one of the main reasons we lose so many potentially great teachers after only a year or two in the profession.

Maybe that’s an issue worth exploring in future posts.

Rich Kiker said...

Steve, love the zombie analogy. Great read, thanks!

Steve J. Moore said...

Currently, many school districts are dialoging about making technological changes in the classroom. Conversations about technology involve changing policy as well as funding: two of the most inaccessible areas of public education.

I think, as a teacher, that making the small steps to drive those in power to make different choices is what we need. To continue my analogy, help the administration place the charges rather than throwing annoying firecrackers at the building and hoping it will fall down.