Bureaucracy, Committees, Education, Frustration, Paperwork, Rant, Reform, Reform Movements, teaching
Context? We don’t need no freaking context! Let’s just get this started…
1) Reform happens. What needs reforming; who will take charge of the reform and what direction the reforms will take remains to be determined. In any case these are not important questions. Reform will happen! It is a singularity.
2) Resistance is futile. The most effective opposition to any given reform consists of failure to act on it. Many great plans have withered and died as people went about their business, just as they did before, but nothing nourishes a reform quite like vocal and open opposition. Write a few memos against a reform agenda, and you just may get added to whatever committee has been formed to enact it. Write a few more and you just may find yourself chair of that committee. (…true story!) You may ignore a reform, unless of course you can’t, but active resistance will shine a rainbow of regret all over your already miserable work-day.
3) Change is a Many-Splintered Thing. Support for any given reform means that people have found a way to read their own agendas into that reform. Every ‘yea’, ‘amen’, or ‘right on’ is invariably a sign that someone sees in a given proposal the chance to do something they’ve really been meaning to do for a long time. Listen carefully to the planning of a new policy and you will hear as many different reforms as there are active and energetic participants. When a reform policy is finally put in place, it may look nothing like it did in its initial conception. In fact, its originator is doing very well if the final policy isn’t completely inimical to her own goals.
4) Fresh and Refresh. Listen carefully to a given proposal and you just may hear the echoes of an old policy. Listen very carefully, and you may just realize how much reform is really about repackaging, but don’t try telling that to those peddling old drugs in new prescription bottles. Just learn to present your standard way of doing things as a new and original approach to business. Say it with enthusiasm and hope that you then get to play tug-of-war with a host of enthusiastic supporters, each of whom really wants to turn your new/old thing into their new/old thing and then make sure everyone else does it.
5) ‘Studies say’ and ‘research suggests’. You would be surprised at just how often a room full of highly educated people needs no more than to hear one of these phrases to be convinced that whatever claim follows them must be true.
6) Correlation is not causation. …unless of course you are one of the millions of people making policy on the basis of nothing more than a correlation loosely established using shady procedures most of which never make it into the summary that you only skimmed anyway.
…just like everyone else at the committee table!
7) You can count on objectivity, or at least visa versa. The most important thing about objectivity is that it takes the norm of numbers. It isn’t that the numbers provide more accurate information than qualitative data, personal reflection, or even interpretive dance, but committees know what to do with numbers. They can act on numbers, and that makes all the difference in the world. Once a committee gets wind of a compelling set of digits, they aren’t going to be too fussy about where those numbers came from. …or too patient with anyone who does want to get fussy about that.
8) Yes, in fact you are a number. For all the talk of ‘learning objectives’, ‘learning outcomes’, and other nice fluffy ‘learning’ talk about intellectual development, never forget that a student is also a statistic, and a very significant one at that. Her presence on forms describing participation in your institution and/or your own classroom can be used to facilitate transfer of funding back and forth between various agencies, both private and public. She may or may not learn a damned thing from any part of the curriculum, but her significance as a statistic is vital to all concerned.
And yes, her too!
At least some of the money triggered by the presence of students on forms typically makes its way to faculty. Whether it be now or later, the presence of any given student on forms may also provide her with sufficient forms to open up new possibilities of money transfers into her own future bank accounts. No sane person would say that it was more important than all that ‘learning’ mumbo jumbo, but few sane people would allow the learning mumbo jumbo to interfere with the digital life of a catalyst for funding transfers.
This might seem a particularly cynical view of education, but don’t despair. With any luck your student will learn whatever she really needs to know from social media. …probably when she’s supposed to be listening to you.
9) Autonomy is a double-clawed hammer. Staff and administration will either want to change something in your classroom or they will want you and your students to spend more time outside of it. Every new policy will exacerbate one or both of these tendencies.
Time and again, you will encounter policies which make claims on your contact time. In the worse case scenario, you may face command and control over what you teach and how you teach it. In the best case scenario, you will be dealing with opportunity costs that can leave you kissing your own plans for this or that lesson goodbye. It will only take 15 minutes to complete this survey, explain that policy, or just step back and let someone from student services talk to your students for a bit.
…and cross something you meant to teach off your to-do list.
Don’t worry though, because you can always save the essential lessons by eliminating the most interesting themes from your lesson plans (you know the ones that made you want to become a teacher in the first place). There is always time for reform!
If the faculty at your institution have successfully minimized these incursions into your contact hours, then congratulations, but now you have a new problem. Your classroom has become dark matter to staff and administration, which means everything that takes place inside it is irrelevant to their view of the educational process. It has to be irrelevant to them, because they can’t affect it. So, when everyone else sits down to plan out how they want to improve the learning process at your school, they will envision these improvements taking place anywhere else but your classroom. This means the institutional world outside your classroom is going to get a lot busier. You will be attending more meetings and writing more reports, but don’t be too depressed about the time lost to course preparations, because your students will also be too busy taking advantage of support activities to attend to their studies.
And cosmic balance is thus preserved!
10) New people bring new policies. This often has the fringe benefit of meaning that old policies die with each new administrator, but rest assured these new administrators will replace them with something new. The near certainty that new policies will be allowed to die on the vine with the next administration does not seem to dampen enthusiasm for creating new ones. It’s the cycle of life.
11) Don’t Kid yourself. You are not quitting this job to go and join the circus.
Kumbaya! The committee chair sleeps tonight!
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