“The teacher will arrive when the student is ready”
~ attributed to Buddha, but falsely so.
I began my career in education dreaming of a leader I could really admire.
29 years and 12 principals later, I still wait for my Scooltopia.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with dedicated, brilliant and lovable teachers and administrators; world-class, international, talented and gifted. Always, something was missing. I sought a real Change Maker, a Pied Piper in progressive education, someone brave enough to stay the course when faced with well-meaning but misinformed parents, corporate supported lawmakers, automatons defending the status quo.
Each and every time I started off a new relationship with a leader, I was hopeful; like after those beginning of the school year Sis-Boom-Bah Ra Ra Back-to-School speeches, I felt supported, inspired, and energized! Promises of “learner-centered,” “innovative” and “inquiry” confused me later, though, when I was handed the new prescriptive protocols for testing, the Science Kits that needed to be taught within a very brief and inflexible time period, or the revised curriculum standards detailing the disciplinary mastery that must be achieved for each child’s specific age group.
I’ve seen the raging creative fires in my leaders’ eyes just smoke over right after reading an e-mail from central office, the heavy sigh just before making that announcement regarding the new initiative from the powers that be that doesn’t replace anything you already do, but will add yet another set of checklists to your accountability checklist.
I’ve seen super-exciting incentives to “Play” with kids more lose steam and disappear. Buttons made to help us “Embrace Humility” with our colleagues in order to encourage collaboration were worn by a few, and then one, and then none. Efforts to have children write their own curriculum aligned with their unique needs are “put away for later,” “when we have the time.” Field trips cancelled due to liability worries. School gardens never broke ground due to district rules designed to “keep kids safe,” or worse, because “that’s what people see when they first drive up,” and the groomed lawn looked so much more presentable.
I don’t know what I expected would happen. When I began my career, I believed we would only get freer as history unfolded in my lifetime, that the idea of a “standardized” human being would grow less popular, that we would strive for an UNcommon core. I did not foresee the laws suits that would tie our hands, or the fear of mediocrity that would force us into rash thinking, panic mode, always worried about not being the best in the world.
I think now perhaps I was placing unrealistic expectations on our leaders, that my lofty idealism was actually the cause of my disillusionment in public schooling. My naiveté had me forgetting that public schools are a place mostly for Rule-Followers, not rule benders and certainly not breakers!
Still, I held out for “The Special,” that one in a million voice that would champion the children: what’s best for children, not just what’s safe or what’s measurable, but what’s BEST.
And, WHO was going to make this happen?
Certainly not the leader who is in it for the Ego.
Not the leader who bent over backwards for every interest group.
Surely not the leader who uses their position as a way to use people.
What about the leader that threatens others, but only in privacy?
The ones that sadden me the most, though, are the visionary that buckle when most everyone else is saying: “It won’t work,” and the one that bans truth because it is unpopular.
But I’m not one to criticize. You don’t see me trying to get my administrator’s license. You haven’t seen me down on Capitol Hill trying to bend a politician’s ear. I don’t have any books or manifestos published with easy to implement directions for a more learner-centered, innovative and inquiry rich classroom. You don’t see me holding Town Meetings to share my vision!
No, I’ve been too lazy or selfish or just plain crippled by low self-esteem.
I wanted someone else to be the Voice, the Light, the Hope.
I was hoping they would have arrived by now.
Yet a new way to interpret my Father’s admonition: “If you really want something to get done, you’ve got to do it yourself!”
“Don’t look further for answers: be the solution. You were born with everything you need to know. Make a promise to stop getting in the way of the blessing that you are. Take a deep breath, remember to have fun, and begin”. -Jonathan H. Ellerby