Monday, February 15, 2010

A Response to Justin's Response

I just read a good perspective from Justin Bathon over at "The Edjurist" that got my attention and maybe even a bit of ire. Some of the point is well taken, but some appears to be more of a "slight of hand type of move to focus on someone else, not me" thing. Please note that Justin is a respected blogger by many, including me. This time, though, I think he just has missed his normally high bar of expectation. Hey, that happens.

In his response was this excerpt:

How flippant, that combo of teachers' unions and ed schools. Are we to be demonized the same way as teachers' unions historically have been? Are we now officially part of the "problem" narrative in the media and amongst politicians? I have been noticing an uptick in the blame associated with ed. schools lately and this seems to be just the latest evidence in our eroding respect.

Justin, are you saying that the unions are "rightfully" demonized then? Politicians too, I would guess. I'm in administration, and frequently there are disagreements in philosophy. That doesn't mean they are clearly “the bad guys” it means they have their priorities and I have mine. At the same time, I have hired teachers that have been poorly prepared by higher education institutions for the current need. This basically means that in these three groups I have found a level of difference between their core beliefs and mine. None of these groups do I consider villains, but neither do I consider the masses of these groups representative of knights in shining armor. Sure there are some that are exceptions on both extremes. That's life. I always laugh, for example, at every movie that depicts the principal of a HS as a tyrannical moron, which is a vast majority of the movies I have ever found. Yep, those personalities are there, and maybe I'm one, but I don't really think to the degree that is depicted. I think on this one, Justin, tougher skin may be the answer for you.

Also, Justin, if you did check this out, I'd invite you to join in on a few of the conversations we're having here. We clearly don't have all of the answers, but I think you'll find honesty and daring in the conversations. We don't always make people happy, but I think we are pretty realistic and listen to other perspectives than our own. Love to have your perspectives on some of our topics as well, and thanks for your post.



Justin B. said...

Thanks for the response Marshall. Yes, tougher skin is always a good idea and I respect your points. Absolutely, please disagree when you think I'm wrong ... makes the conversation more interesting.

RE: unions ... I don't personally think they are necessarily the villans - they just play the villans on TV. They are the bogeyman in education, whether they like it or not. Clearly as you have seen with this President, both the right AND the left are now openly criticizing the union's role in education. And, I think they have some valid points of criticism, even though I still respect the role unions have played in raising the status and pay of teaching in the U.S. But, in the end, the arguments and facts matter less than the public perception, and teacher's unions lost the public perception battle long ago.

That's what I sense coming for Ed. Schools - that we are beginning to lose the public perception battle in an almost irreperable way. That it just becomes hip amongst the chattering classes to lump ed. schools in with unions, even though they most likely know little to nothing about our role. Like I said in the post, I openly admit we have a large number of problems in ed. schools and many of the arguments against us are justified. I am going to a budget meeting just this morning to try to fix some of the bureaucratic flaws in my own operation. But, I do not think it is productive to throw us into the bogeyman pile and I for one would rather fight the perception battle now than wait until we are in the current position of unions, who can't win for losing.

But, yeah, maybe it is just thin skin too.

Marshall said...

I really appreciate your follow up, Justin, and your comments have not fallen on deaf ears. Maybe my favorite concept in your comment here is that differences make the conversation more interesting - and I would add more productive as well. I better see your points and perspective, and I agree that you are going to be much more effective in your efforts to pre-empt the popularity poll than to battle it later. I also think that the unions play the villains on TV is actually quite descriptive. They are the group that “we” love to hate right now in the public. Says the community: “As we struggle to pay taxes, these educational unions are gobbling it up and inefficiently using our precious and hard earned dollars!” So true that often the perception is not the reality.

With that as the background, it’s clear why we don’t want to be put into the same pile with everyone else that people “love to hate” or maybe more “love to blame” in this case. Much like you as an individual trying to make a difference, I think those that are with the unions doing positive things don’t want to be included with those that currently have the stage and do appear to be blocking more than supporting.

Hopefully, you will continue with this conversation, as the concept here is to find something to discuss and "beat the dead horse" for a while. Neither of us (or anyone else out there commenting here) will probably get major change out of our conversation, but it does help to clarify our thoughts against the backdrop of another perspective. Hope to see you again and even frequently.

dkeane said...

The reason unions, administrators, higher ed. etc. get labeled as villains is largely due to educators' complaining and defensive attitude when questioned about their compensation or work year.
Once when my salary was published in the paper. An guy began to comment upon my making 45K working only 9 months out of the year. I responded, "Yes and last year I made another 10K in the summer doing construction." I explained that the rest of the world is proud of the salaries they pull down, why am I expected to justify mine. He could have applied for my job when it was open if would have made different choices in his life. I taught seven different classes seven periods out of eight, used my lunch to get ready for my students as I switched from one course to another. I coached FB, wrestling, track and in the morning I had practice for the competition cheer leading squad girls begged me to coach. I arrived between 5:30 and 6 and didn’t leave until 6:30 p.m. I worked on Saturdays preparing for the upcoming week's classes. I ran a construction company in the summer time with similar hours. I was not going to apologize for my earnings.
It did not always set well with me that I was paid the same as a teacher who often arrived late, left early usually carrying nothing but a lunch bucket, did nothing outside of the regular school day for kids or the district but who had been there longer than I had. I was not always a big fan of collective bargaining in those days. Particularly when union leaders began targeting coaching salaries as cuts. Unions may have served a purpose, but if you were to analyze salary and benefit increases prior to and since collective bargaining in teaching, I question whether or not it has really done all that much to improve salaries or benefits. How much have salaries and benefits increased knowing that some increases have occurred through the natural progression of inflation and a desire to maintain a good teaching staff in a community?
I am not sure raising salaries with the effect of having more students, more periods out of the day with fewer resources is really improving things for teachers. I don't think that collectively bargaining for a salary schedule based on years of experience and education regardless of contribution to the district or impact on student performance has done much for either those in the profession or the public's perception of our profession.
Prior to collective bargaining, good teachers were rewarded by the districts to ensure they stayed around. When you take a skilled profession requiring a great deal of educational investment and convert it into blue collar like job, you get those who are really good at it realizing very quickly that no matter how hard they work the only way they can see an increase in compensation or even the opportunity to teach a higher level class is by putting in one more year of service and hoping the old guy retires. This has created a culture of peer resentment within our own organizations. I have heard that performance based pay would cause teachers to compare themselves with each other and thus create climate issues. I would contend that this occurs now. People see this, which creates negative feelings about teacher unions. Hard working teachers who care about their students are valued by their constituents and when that teacher is paid less than less ambitious teachers due to not being there as long, it creates ill will with parents.
Principals like policemen are the bad guy until they are needed. They are charged with being judge, jury and executioner and although problems appear to be simple, considering the complexity of a school this is seldom the case.
I don't know if it is thick skin or just simply arrogance, but I am fine wearing either the black or white hat depending on what the situation may call for. I am not adamantly against teacher unions, but would much rather be rewarded based on my performance rather than longevity

Marshall said...

This seems closely tied to another post I read recently at Keane Insights ( ) and I'm not surprised. The bottom line on the union/association is whether the members are "looking out for themselves" or trying to "support good education" as the primary goal.

Sometimes these are in conflict with each other and tough decisions need to be made. Knowing what you really believe as a member of a union can minimize that.

Much like Justin's struggles with appearance as reality (we are the bad guy syndrome) educational training institutions have to clearly identify the same thing. I believe we are lucky and fortunate to have forward thinkers like Justin on board in that capacity, and I believe he will look to do good for the whole, not just himself and the school that employs him. Other individuals, I can't say that about as they, too, appear to walk in the way of protecting themselves first and promoting for learners second (or third, fourth, somewhere in there I'm sure).

Anonymous said...

Public education ... administrators... and teachers are getting bad publicity. It seems the desire for our society to blame other for failures and education is one of the top areas of blame. Look to the political climate for guidance in how the blame game works. So what can educational professionals do to help with this downward spiral, continue to be professional but also remember PR at every turn. If we do not promote our accomplishments ourselves no one will. Public Relations are an important part of building relationships with Community, Parents,and Students. Enough said and more to do.
Now to Teacher Unions. I was raised in a Teamster Family and have always respected the goal and idea of unions. Fair wages for a honest days work. Unions had a purpose and still do. The problem is that unions represent their organization and the longevity of their organizations more than the credo. Union budgets indicate union employee after employee making six digit incomes and union membership declining. Collective bargaining was asked for and recieved by unions and now that is not enought and unions are asking for compensation for collective bargaining pay raises from non union employees. It is only fair. Teachers can't bargain for themselves , is that fair? I have been against merit pay for many reasons but now see that might be the lesser of two evils. Let me risk an administrator that has a personal problem with my personality to the thought that I will always recieve the same pay as and inadequate teacher and even have to pay the union for bargaining that equal pay. If a job is always safe and secure know matter what work is accomplished why would anyone try to accomplish more than then expected?

Kastendieck said...

Just a note about using social networks to bash education. The newest form of telling stories of how bad my school or teachers were or are. This can be done friend by friend or by group or even by advertisement. It is so easy to say negative comments when you are not f2f. Even easier when you are not being negative to a person but instead a school district, teacher, or administrator. It is also very interesting to see how so few positive comments are included when the page goes negative. How to turn this trend around?

Marshall said...

We have discussed anonymity in blogging here at BTDH, a short while back - - but this is really a different realm. This concept is not productive conversation, it is dysfunctional mud-slinging with no accountability. At least in politics, they now say, "I approved this message" when they bash each other on their commercials. Here's another analogy. The drive by shooting of a gang that attacks the individual on his front porch along with the family and friends that happen to be there. Compare that to the old Western shootout. Two guys, a conflict of perspective, and broad daylight. The intent may be the same, but at least these two guys are willing to stand toe to toe and be accountable for their actions (you may end up dead is pretty accountable to me) instead of speeding into the dark with a tail tucked between the legs.
Unfortunately, it may appear from some other reading I have done (including court support of a student that developed a website or blog to bash a specific teacher - under free speech) that the judicial system is not all that favorable in intervening with these types of things. Like I suggested to Jason Bathon earlier in this post, maybe we will all have to develop some really thick skin.

Anonymous said...

I agree the courts have not and usually do not want to get into the social network arena of tearing down. I think you could argue that celebraties sueing peparazzi papers is a similar idea. Notice how hard it is to do and has it stopped the continual barage of incredible and untrue stories, no . The publicity even false sells and as they say in Hollywood bad PR is better than no PR at all. Now how does that relate to bad PR in education? Well when someone posts an untrue and statement that includes questionable photos more people visit the site. Like watching a car wreck. What good can come from it... maybe some who stand up and refute it. More bad comes from it because often people cling to the negative and continue to spread it. This is what is happening to education. Social Networks and all other forms of media seem to sell more with the statements that education is failing students and society. People are jumping on the wagon. Reference to historical events, guess what they were saying about teachers and educators in the Russian Revolution and World War II. Kind of scarey?

Marshall said...

Your reference to celebreties is right on. That can really be a benefit to some, however, unlike in education. People accept that actors are real people with real problems and that they make mistakes - repetitively in many cases. That is not what people traditionally have allowed for educators, politicians, and others in the professional fields. Charlie Sheen vs. John Edwards for example. Take it a step closer and think about your area educator that lost a job for an indescretion of some kind (there's almost guaranteed to be one you have heard of lately nearby somewhere).
Like Justin's original concern, public opinion (and sometimes lack of information) causes ed schools to be lumped with unions as not moving forward as well as effective teachers to be compared to (and paid the same as) those that are sliding by.
These are places that negative PR isn't doing anyone any good, especially when it is based on data similar to that of the tabloids.
You are also so accurate on what sells newspapers and air time. Last year, my HS hit the state newspaper for low graduation rates. Although it was mostly due to the way the numbers were crunched and did not allow for some of the things we were doing, we got some relatively nasty ink. The numbers for this year that have not yet been released have been calculated differently for a better reflection of what is happening, but I don't think we'll see any story from that paper about our positive strides (although statistically based, the change of formula makes the most difference) or that we will be noticed for being one of the top of the state.
Maybe I'm up for a big surprise here, but my guess is those that are now near the bottom based on the new formula will be the ones paying for the ink now.

Anonymous said...

tWe shall see how the PR on the graduation rates plays in the papers. If I were to bet i would say that part of a paragraph will be about schools that have better graduation rates, the rest of the article will talk about those still on the list and a small blurb about changing the way data on grads has been changed. News articles usually go 80/20 negative positive that is what sells and why should they make an exception for education.

Marshall said...

Unless someone really brings it to their attention, I don't see this hitting press status. You will be accurate if it does, the more fiery "uh-oh" of those that are now statistically at the bottom will be the focus, and those that have made advancements will not be as strongly noted.

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