Friday, August 21, 2009

Bettering Public Systems?

As I gear up to enter the New York City public school system, I'm oft taken aback by just how damn big and political it is, and the problems that are engendered from its failures in bureaucracy. It's a mess in many ways, although there are programs and policies in place in a solid attempt to sweep it together more cogently. I'm not a big proponent of standardized testing, for example, but I recognize the need for quantifiable benchmarks and accountability. I also think Bloomberg's "mayoral control" is a positive thing for the educational system, in that it is diminishing the ineffective squabble of disparate political factions and special interests and giving the educational system a system-wide direction and agenda.

The biggest problem I've noticed has been the sizable rifts that can exist between administration and teachers, or between teachers and "the system" et al. There is often this distrust that exists, as if they were not all striving to achieve what is best for the students. I just don't get it. I understand that some administrators, like those in any workplace, are just not good people nor effective managers. But ultimately, professional goals should be shared. Teachers, administration, and politicians are striving to educate children and support their competitiveness in a global economy.

There are lots of problems, but this is a microcosm of the problems that exist in society as a whole. And as I've argued on my blog in the past that no matter what one thinks of "the system", it is much more productive to attempt to work within existing structures to retrofit and enhance them, rather than simply rail against them and seek methods of undermining them. I simply don't find it productive, as a teacher, to complain endlessly about the iniquities of my administrators and about the school system. I want to change it, starting with my classroom, extending to my school, and eventually, to the school system and to the nation as a whole. And the most effective way to change that is by embodying the change that I want to see.

On a different tack, I think that many educators--and administrators--get too caught up in these fluffy ideals of supporting, loving, and nurturing children. That's all very important, of course, in a child's development. But what is more important in an educational system is that we are actually giving children the tools and capabilities to succeed in the real world, not just pats on the back. And running an educational system closer to a business, with strong accountability, high expectations, and no excuses for failure--rather than like a big, messy, muddled bureaucratic public service--will be better for children. Students want to be challenged. They want structure. They want to succeed. We need to give them what they need to excel, not just what they need to get by.

Anyway, I really just wanted to get this off my chest, because it's been frustrating me. I think many people that go into education have this rosy view of the way things should be, and forget the human reality of any workplace. Things are never perfect. You have to earn your stripes. You have to work hard and make networks and establish your integrity and reputation, and then you can start to talk about changing the system. In the meantime, the important thing is being the best teacher you can be, despite the system, despite the school, despite the students, and despite yourself.