I just got back from speaking at a few of our state’s big conferences as put on by the CDE (California Department of Education). Invited due to my TOY status (California Teacher of the Year, 2007) and my reputation for caffeination when I hit the stage.
I think one of my biggest take-aways from speaking to these crowds is that administrators are genuinely hungry to hear the “teacher’s voice”. They really are interested to know what real teacher’s think.
But most of them also don’t believe they have a trustworthy teacher voice on their own school sites. Of course they are wrong but they believe what they believe. I mean before I was a TOY, I was a rebel, a kind of “he goes his own way, make waves, pain in the butt to some” type of teacher.
Ever since I was named a TOY, they call me innovative.
But since TOY winners have been “officially validated” listening to us and considering what we say feels “permitted” by the district types and admins who attend these conferences to hear folks like me speak.
Yet, do I think they go back and actaully try to engage in meaningful dialogue with their own teachers on campus? Let’s put it this way… I’m skeptical.
Part of the reason is that they seem to project this feeling that doing the job of a district admin or school site principal is like a game of herding teacher cats. And if they allow the teacher cats too much space, they have no means of implementing the mandates that rain down on them from up on high.
But if they try to herd the teacher cats in a responsive-to-feedback manner, the teacher cats often say, “Well, you should herd us all this way. Or you should herd us that way. Or you should herd us with more vigor. Or you should back off when you herd us.”
Since the teacher cats are not of one mind, the herder soon realizes that they’ll go loony if they listen to the teacher cats if they want insight as to how best to herd teacher cats.
So they stop listening.
But the thing is, it’s a catch-22 because unless you do listen to the teacher cats, you will not learn their secrets – and thus, you are doomed at your job of herding them. Yet if you do listen to the teacher cats they will collectively add up to a system that makes absolutely no sense.
So what’s the answer? Knowing which teacher cats to listen to, of course.
Thus, us TOYs.
(Not really in our own school districts, though, of course. What’s that saying, “No man is a king in his own house.”)
I guess at the end of the day, a teacher cat is still a teacher cat and all thy really want help with is herding the teacher cats in the manner in which they want them herded so by the end of the conference it’s back to the game of herding teacher cats while trying to tackle mandates from up on high.
But my caffeination keeps ’em interested even if they are texting during class. (But give the students cell phones? Never! They wouldn’t know the first thing about audience/cell phone protocol!)
This whole theory is, of course, why 1) I could never run for political office – I’d put my foot my mouth time after time after time (even if I am making sense) and 2) why I need more sleep before I blog.
Herding teacher cats. You either get it or you don’t.