Sunday, December 2, 2012

National Board, Still Under Attack in OK?

I recently attended a workshop hosted by Education Leadership Oklahoma, the steward in our state for all things National Board. The authors of Teaching 2030 attended, shared their courageous vision of what the profession could look like in the future, and helped us brainstorm our own barriers to that vision, and some steps we could take here.

In attendance were National Board Certified Teachers -- not many of us, since attendance at meetings is such a problem around the state. Schools don't have money to pay for subs, and those that do, don't have subs. Also attending were representatives from Oklahoma State Department of Education, officials from our State Regents office and professors from several university education departments around the state.

Barnett Berry, Jennifer Barnett, and Cindi Rigsbee were enthusiastic and inspiring as they shares the four emergent realities of teaching in 2030: teaching and learning will move beyond the four walls of existing classrooms, there will be seamless connections in and out of cyberspace where teachers and learners meet, pathways into the profession will be differentiated, as well as career pathways, and teachers will invent new ways to lead from the inside of the profession. I'm paraphrasing, because as dynamic as their presentations were, they aren't the story that emerged from my day.

I came with a friend, another NBCT, and all of us NBCTs had ribbons on our name tags -- it's important to my story to know we were easily identifiable.. My friend and I  sat at a table with three other women; one knew my name from a mutual friend in Oklahoma Writing Project. We visited for a moment and then settled in to the presentations. I realized half-way through the morning that all three were from the OSDE. Given the history of this administration's dealings with NBCTs, with ELO, and with our entire program, I was wary...but determined to play nice.

The woman closest to us leaned over during the morning to tell us that her son had had two NBCTs as teachers and they both were "horrible" teachers. After a  moment of stunned silence, my friend and I both asked for evidence (we are, after all, NBCTs, and know how to provide evidence in our profession). She told us one teacher didn't let her son go to the bathroom when he asked, and the same teacher (the other?) was angry that he knew his multiplication facts before he got to her classroom.

Neither my friend nor I pointed out that this evidence does not necessarily lead to the pronouncement of  a 'horrible'  teacher. We probed for more information -- another trait of teachers. What had she done to solve this concern? Had she gone to the principal? Oh, yes. Her righteous indignation by now was clear. She was deeply into the anger she felt.

I asked if the principal had taken any steps...I pointed out to her that if the teachers were truly horrible, the principal has tools at his disposal to get rid of this teacher. In fact, our Superintendent of Public Education is very proud of her new law that strips even tenured teachers of some of our due-process protections. Didn't point that out. I did say that if a principal does not take steps to protect young people from horrible teachers, he is not doing his job.

At that point she bizarrely changed the subject. She proclaimed that soon the 'great equalizer' would be in place in our schools and problems like this wouldn't happen. Her great equalizer? Common Core! By now my friend sat, prudently silent. I could have kept my mouth shut too, but, "We'll see." popped out before I could help it.

I turned my attention to the speakers, but the woman did lean over and tell my friend one of the strengths of Common Core will be the fact that there will be no special education modified tests available for teachers to hide behind.

There is more, but what I learned was in the confidential small group setting later in the day. Suffice it to say, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is no friend or supporter of teachers -- National Board or not. and the representatives feel free to say that -- to teachers.

This whole experience had me reflecting -- another skill in the toolbox of NBCTs. I see two lessons. One, is the deep suspicion, deep distrust, our OSDE has for teachers, and for our NBCT program. I knew that, given the two years of playing with our program, but this is different. This official felt the license to tell two NBCTs that she doesn't believe in our program, that she thinks it hides 'horrible' teachers. She felt completely comfortable talking to us that way. Her message was loud and clear: "teachers are horrible; NBCT teachers are horrible." And this woman works with teachers! How can you truly advocate and support a group of professionals when this is your attitude?

And that led me to my other epiphany. Every teacher understands that perception, to parents and to students, is reality. We've all been trapped in a situation where what a student thought we said or did isn't exactly what we did or said. We've also been victim to the fibs kids will tell parents (or altered perception with them as hero or victim) to avoid an uncomfortable situation at home. We've all seen parents believe every word from their child, and attack us without all the facts. That's part of the job. I get that.

But as educators, as public employees, we must teach every day, aware of how our words and actions could be interpreted. We need to hold ourselves to the highest standard of behavior. If we tell a child he can't go to the bathroom, we need to explain why, and tell when would be a better time. We have to take that time to explain, to respect (yes, even that kid who asks every five minutes, and that kid we know is just bored and wants to wander, and that kid who wants to go create a scene in the bathroom...and that kid...and that kid).

We must be better communicators with parents. We' must anticipate their concerns, their frustrations. We must present ourselves as partners, allies. We must think about how our words can be used against us by angry people. If we accidentally step into a problem, we must use our people skills, those soft skills that benefit us in the classroom, to find common ground with students and parents.

I only have control over the words I say (and write) and the things I do. I cannot control this woman's animosity toward my profession. But I can make sure what I say and what I do in my classroom, and with my parents, and in my community communicates my commitment to my students and their education. I can own my words and actions -- and make sure they make me proud.

I'm closing with the words of my very smart FB friend, Michale. Another skill teachers have is to cut through the noise and focus on what's important: "...then I get to go back to what matters every day and sit on the floor with little people who trust me to teach them...and that is awesome."  


  1. Ugh. So disappointing when the disrespect for teachers comes from "within." Or, the OKSDE should be within at least.

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