Letters and Opinion

Teachers crave rules

November 17, 2012

The Bennett/Ritz election was a contest between forward motion and status quo. Daniels and Bennett are pressing the accelerator. Ritz represents a tactically oriented teacher group and will pump the brakes to slow change initiatives. Gov.-elect Pence will be challenged to balance pressure on both pedals.

Teaching is the repetitive delivery of prescribed, task-oriented coursework in sequential time slots. Teachers are awarded tenure for time in place and strict adherence to rules. Hence, the work of teaching is task/process-oriented, and the people it attracts and retains tend to be tactically oriented because the job satisfies their needs for rules and processes.

Task/process-oriented people are profoundly resistant to change by their very nature; for example, how often have teachers’ groups proactively offered to make substantial changes in how they teach?

Daniels and Bennett pushed strategic initiatives that seek to hold teachers accountable for future outcomes, de-emphasizing doing the right things today (acting tactically) in favor of getting the right results in the future (acting strategically).

Strategic, proactive leadership that wants to hold teachers accountable for future results is pitted against reactive, task-oriented teachers who vehemently reject this downward delegation of risk they believe should remain with leadership.

Challenged to take accountability for future results, tactical employees will try to parse it into specific, daily tasks, such as, “I see where you want to go with this, but what do you want me to do today?” Like the pilot who has feedback instruments to gauge the quality of the work, tactical employees need a granular flight plan and frequent feedback on their performance. Waiting until semester’s end to find out if one succeeded or failed is abhorrent. It’s an untenable and unreasonable expectation.

Many teachers probably agree their institutions fail to achieve larger goals, but respond, “We’ve lived up to the agreements we’ve negotiated. We’ve done what you wanted us to do. If the institution is failing to achieve its strategic goals, it’s not our fault. The responsibility for failure rests elsewhere.”

The questions are not, “Do we need change?” or “Do we have the wrong people teaching?” or “How much more money should we pay for public education?”

Rather, they are, “How do we implement changes in ways that make sense for the tactical work force?” and “How can we leverage the really good stuff teachers already bring to classrooms?” and “How do we spend money to support teaching behaviors that yield results society needs from its schools?”

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John Ranalletta

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