About a week ago, I wrote about a problem I have encountered in my professional life. I couched it within the revolutionary concept of the teacherpreneur. A few days ago, Sandy Merz, a real-life teacherpreneur whom I deeply respect, responded to my rant about teacherprefakeurism. He clarified the concept of the teacherpreneur and made at least a couple of very good points which I must concede:
A. He’s right. Teacherpreneurism must not be “the buzzword of the decade,” since he has to fight so hard to help administrators and others understand and embrace the concept. It is part of the revolution that is beginning to gain ground due to the hard work of folks like Sandy. I love the term because I think it expresses the highest hopes of how the teaching profession can change, but then again, I am in the echo chamber.
B. In retrospect, possibly I shouldn’t have brought the term teacherpreneurism into the point I had intended to make. Because the current reality is so far from it, it’s possibly not even worth the comparison. I guess the best way I can express the fakeurism I see is that most districts solicit input from teachers, but in a very controlled, limited and under-resourced way. Teachers often can only be involved in decision-making by layering additional pressures onto full-time teaching.
In retrospect, it occurs to me that maybe instead of my approach, I should have had the courage to tell my story, even though I am on a non-renewable contract in a brand new school. After all, our stories are the purpose of this blog.
About eight or nine years ago (and two districts ago), I applied to be on the district level curriculum committee. A team of, I believe, four or five of us from my department were given two full weeks of structured training and work time in the summer to begin developing curriculum. We were then given at least a week of time later in the summer to arrange meetings and work in our own spaces to flesh out what we had started. Then, throughout the school year, there were several paid evening meetings and opportunities during our PD time to get feedback on our work. And then, during the following summer we had another week to get together and refine, examine texts, etc. It was a rich, ongoing conversation that was well-compensated. There was even chocolate on the tables.
In my last district, the process was more muddled. One summer the ninth grade teachers at my school had 2-3 half days to get together and write curriculum. Then, during our PLC time for the next year we were told to write curriculum based on an Understanding by Design model. We were given training on the UBD model during release days from our classroom. When Common Core came down the pipeline a couple of teachers were sent to the district to develop pacing calendars. Simultaneously in our department we began redeveloping pacing calendars according to the CCSS; we had never finished our UBD work. To be honest, my memory of the exact process and outcomes has become fuzzy because it was so unclear. It seemed like the hard work we did kept being replaced with a new process each year. Our work was never allowed to blossom or bear fruit. Of course, those teacher conversations are always useful to me, but within the system our work was not valued, validated, or really shared out at all.
In my current position, our school has to send representatives from each grade level to do work on a district curriculum cadre. The work is to be done over six release days from our classrooms throughout the school year. However, at the tenth grade level, we all have professional goals and commitments which caused us to say no to the cadre opportunity. I am working on my reading certification. I also do not want to take time out of the classroom, because our school strategic plan targets the lowest quartile of sophomores, my reading students. I need to attend to them. Another colleague is working on a PhD in leadership. The third is managing the entire tutoring intervention program for our school, and is on numerous other committees. The fourth is a coach and leads the AVID program for our school. These responsibilities, in addition to teaching, make it very difficult to take release time in order to do demanding, innovative work. And I believe that all of us would want to contribute to that work with quality input, but we need the “time, space and incentives” to do it. The only reason one of us ended up being on the cadre is, frankly, because she was told she had to.
Time is money, and money sends a message of what we value in a system. I have personally witnessed less and less money and fewer resources being set aside to ensure that the leadership work teachers do is valued. Schools that are losing their librarians and front office staff do not generally create teacherpreneur positions. I do see districts and other organizations wanting to hear teachers’ voices and to acknowledge the impact that decisions have on classrooms and students, but teacher innovation and input will always be limited by the limits of our personal resources to do that work.
I actually wanted to be on the 10th grade cadre. I enjoy those kinds of conversations. But I’m also not a spring chicken anymore, and my own family needs me as well. I can’t do everything. And this year, professionally,I have chosen to learn how to be a good reading teacher. Perhaps it is the guilt I feel about not volunteering for the cadre that leads me to my frustration. But because it is a frustration that I know others feel, I choose to tell my story.
I hope to learn from teacherpreneurs like Sandy how to create the changes within our institutions to increase experienced teachers’ abilities to take on new challenges in their careers and to speak to broader audiences. It is a needed skill set.