If your social media feed looked anything like mine last week, it was flooded with memes about Teacher Appreciation Week. I saw content placing teachers on pedestals as heroes. I also scrolled by posts with a more “hellfire and brimstone” tone, warning that our education system is falling apart. The post below, as an example, claims that the “this is my calling teachers” have all been warned not to teach by their moms or grandmas.
Well, I took that warning as a challenge and did it anyway! Teaching isn’t just my calling, it’s in my blood. Still, there are nuggets of truth in the fire and brimstone posts. Before the end of the 2021-2022 school year, my school lost at least 7 teachers and 2 principals. While each had their reason for exiting education, most left to preserve their health and sanity.
I have encountered many obstacles in my three years as a high school science teacher. I want to emphasize that the obstacles are systemic. The individuals I work with, my bosses, mentors, and fellow teachers are all suffering from bureaucracy just as much, if not more, than myself.
Last week I was listening to an interview between Mark Vernon and Iain McGilchrist titled The Attack on Life and Understanding Our Times. I was struck by their discussion of how abstract ideologies, backed by huge bureaucracy and the latest technologies, historically, have had devastating, unintended consequences for humanity.
McGilchrist has written prominently about neuroscience and psychology. In this discussion with Vernon, he highlights that thought is curved. You know, like how Einstein proposed space-time is curved by gravity. Because thought is curved, when we push too hard in one direction, we achieve exactly what we are trying to run away from. I’ve witnessed both these patterns in my own experience in the public school system: the devastating consequences of abstract ideology backed by bureaucracy and the unintended fallout from pushing in the wrong direction.
The decision-makers in my field care deeply about improving teacher efficacy. Large sums of money have been set aside for this very purpose. However, year after year, I’ve seen these monies being spent on technology that, in my opinion, we don’t need. Software to track students’ content mastery, databases of poorly crafted test questions, more 3D printers than we know what to do with, and the list goes on. There are measurable benefits to investing in technology, but those benefits are greatly outpaced by the value derived from investing in our people directly.
For example, two years in a row I’ve asked my leadership for financial assistance to reach my professional development goals with no luck. Last summer, I volunteered to teach an introduction to STEM Fundamentals course. Mark Rober’s Creative Engineering course appeared to be a worthwhile investment to prepare for the curriculum. The course was priced close $200. When I asked administration to sponsor the professional development, I learned they didn’t have funds available, so I paid out of pocket. Did you know according to IRS Tax Topic 513, work-related education is tax-deductible? That’s a tidbit I wish I had picked up a month ago.
Recently, I’ve set out on the adventurous journey of agile transformation. As a foundation, I pursued two project management credentials and I’m now a certified Scrum Master and Product Owner with Scrum Inc. After only four days of intensive training, I had skills to empower a complete restructure of my curriculum that integrates Scrum into my high school classroom. The very best thing to come out of investing in my professional development is that my students and I have been having so much FUN!
I’m currently crowd-funding my professional development with Donor’s Choose. When this project is fully funded, I’ll have the skills I need to become an expert facilitator. Wielding collaborative visual thinking and problem-solving as my secret weapons!
There have been many instances when I’ve asked my leadership for help funding this goal, priced just under $700. Sadly, I’ve received polite explanations that “We only have funds for state-approved professional development.” Oh, and of course, I have been directed to third-party grants. The majority of which can only be used towards, you guessed it, more technology!
What about me? I want to cry out in my frustration. Am I not infinitely more valuable than computers, fancy software, and 3D printers? Wouldn’t the return on investment be exponential if those monies were invested in my professional growth and expertise? Why am I only offered breadcrumbs? My principal has offered to donate to my goal if he has money left over at the end of the fiscal year. Should I be grateful for crumbs, when it’s my back, my legs, my body, supporting the table where our community feasts?
I feel the need to reiterate, that I don’t blame the individuals involved in making these decisions. I blame the inflexibility of bureaucracy. Budgets get reviewed on an annual basis, and if the money is not spent in the allotted period, there’s a high probability we won’t be allocated the same funds in the future. So, we spend the money the easiest, quickest way we know. We invest in more technology.
This past month I read General Stan McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, as research and professional development for my classroom and beyond. In true neuro-divergent fashion, I proceed to watch a plethora of his video and audio interviews. In this specific video, Stan mentions that the higher up in leadership you rise, people will question you less and less. So, it’s your job as a leader to hold yourself accountable. He uses a pretty silly metaphor that has stuck with me since.
Stan says that when you rise the ranks in leadership, you become like a dinosaur. It’s not that you’re old like a fossil, it’s that your brain stays the same size while your impact increases exponentially. Leaders should be careful not to forget that they have a large tail. A tail that follows in the wake of their decisions, because the unintended consequences of their actions can cause great waves of harm if they aren’t conscientious of the potential fallout.
Imagine a giant creature, like Godzilla, making a small pivot to change his perspective and knocking over a whole neighborhood in the process. That’s the scale of unintended consequences I’m talking about in the education sphere. Leadership is making decisions about funding based on their limited perspective and these decisions have unforeseen consequences for teachers with our boots on the ground.
These are some of the many reasons I’ve decided to crowd-fund my professional development training! I’ve already raised $100, a significant portion of my goals to earn my Wicked Problem Solving certification. The Wicked Problem Solver practitioner badge will empower me to teach collaborative problem-solving techniques and engage even the most reluctant learners. When I invest in professional growth, my students reap exponential benefits.
Invest in teachers, not tech, by hopping over to my Donors Choose page and donating to my project. If you use the code, LIFTOFF, Donors Choose will double your gift up to $50. Please help me fund my next professional goal. Together, we can empower my students to change the world!