Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Somewhere over the Rainbow

I am in crisis. I am questioning my ability as a teacher. I am questioning my desire to teach.

At first, I thought it was a funk. However, four weeks in to the year, and I am seriously considering what else an English teacher is qualified to do. So, I took the advice of someone important to me and tried to rediscover why I teach. Therefore, I sent the following message to nearly a dozen former students:

So, this feels weird sending, but here's the background. I'm having a hard time deciding if teaching is still for me. A colleague told me to think back to the many students I have enjoyed teaching. Your name came up on my list. I thought you might like to know that.

--Mr. McNamar

Sending the message felt good. Certainly I did not send it to all of my memorable students, but in the end, I was reminded of why I teach.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Theo Epstein Must Be an Education Reformer

Yesterday, the Boston Red Sox and two time World Series winning manger, Terry Francona, parted ways--in other words, Theo Epstein fired him.
But how does this make Epstein like many in today's education reform movement? The manager of a baseball team, like the teacher in a classroom, can only work with what he is given by others. Francona had flawed players from the beginning, despite the high payroll. So when the Boston Red Sox faltered, leadership decided to fire the manager, despite his history of success. It couldn't have been their fault, and they can't get rid of their players (guaranteed contracts).
The players, like our students, have the guarantee to be on the team. For them, their willingness to put forth the appropriate effort to succeed rests squarely on themselves. If a pitcher under contract chooses to allow himself to get out of pitching shape, he can't lose his money. If a student chooses to not do his homework, he can't lose his opportunity to be educated. In the case of Francona, he became the scapegoat for the mistakes of the players and the mistakes of team management. In the case of the teachers, we become the scapegoat for the mistakes of our students and the mistakes of central office.
Epstein did what so many education reformers do, he blamed the wrong person. The team was flawed, yet he expected his manager to fix it. But in the case of a baseball team and a classroom, the product is not inanimate, it is living and breathing, and most of all, it is willful.
So, despite Francona's long history of success with motivating players and managing the game well, Epstein looked at the failure of this cohort as evidence that Francona must be the problem. His research, much like the research in education, focused only on numbers and data points. It ignored the human element.