Goal 6: Pick Your Battles

Another 30 Goals Reflection, this time on Goal 6: Pick your Battles 

This is a goal that resonates with me deeply because I am a passionate teacher and I believe in giving everything to my students and my work. So it makes me quite angry when I feel that injustice is being done. Like if I feel the curriculum is stifling the students or that the administration is pushing rules that make no sense. I believe that there are three kinds of people that go into teaching–or more accurately there are three personality traits that all teachers probably have to some extent:

  1. People who want to make the world better (The idealists)
  2. People who think they know more than anyone else (because teaching does involve transmitting information, after all)
  3. People who like rule and rule-governed institutions such as schools and want to propagate such environments (the school marms)

I fess up. I do like rules and I secretly hate people who flaunt the rules and I do think I know a lot about English. And I also want to make the world a better place. Hence I get so angry at policies and people who break these tenants.

When an admin says, “Well, if you feel overworked, why don’t you just teach on autopilot?”, how is that going to help me make the world a better place?

When a fellow teacher says something like, “I actually don’t know anything about grammar,” I feel sorry for their students and I get angry that someone would become a teacher unless they know something.

When the curriculum has some arbitrary rule that makes no sense, I get furious because rules are important and they should mean something.

So I walk around angry and frustrated a lot of the time :). But seriously, picking your battles is important. If for no other reason than that I am not perfect. I make mistakes. My rules seem arbitrary to someone else. I slack off sometimes. I don’t always inspire my students, so who am I to judge?

My Battle

That being said, some battles are worth fighting. I think the biggest fight I see that does need to be fought in a lot of schools is that old admin/teacher gulf. One of the most amazing things I ever heard fall out of an administrator’s mouth once was, “Why do teachers complain about doing overtime? They always want to get paid to stay longer for a meeting or a training.”

Let me tell you something about me and my early morning routine. I like to get to school early. I like that quiet time before class to think out my lesson plans. I like to shake off the Q bridge commute before my students come in. I used to go to work 45-60 minutes early. Let’s be conservative and say 4 hours a week of early time or 16 hours a month or around 200 hours a year–that’s an extra month of work I did for free, unpaid. Then there’s lunch which was unpaid but often used to grade papers, meet formally or informally with teachers and admin. That’s another hour or so a day. And weekends. And lesson prepping. As we all know, teachers work a lot of overtime. A lot. Unpaid.

I know that administrators also have their battles that teachers do not see. But speaking as a teacher who feels he knows more than most people, who believes in rule-based systems, and who wants to change the world, it is very hard to take situations where the management appears to be hindering instead of supporting the mission of education. And I realize that this is a constant battle everywhere but education feels different, doesn’t it? Somehow it’s more galling when schools are run like businesses than when a business is. So I suppose the challenge for me, were I still teaching, would be to figure out how to bridge that gap.

Resolutions: What Do You Really Want?

I think I would start by sitting administrators down–after work or during their lunch break :)–and asking them about over time. Not to mention how much work time they spend not doing work–remember it is very hard to call the bank or pick up milk when you are teaching. Then I would ask the admin staff if they are really angry that the teachers are not working more. I think they would say that of course they didn’t actually want the teachers to work more and more. No doubt there is some specific incident or issue that this anger at overtime symbolizes. Then we could get to the heart of the matter.

So at the end of this reflection, I have little wisdom to share other than that when you are in a battle with someone, ask them, “What are you really mad about? Why does this really matter to you?” And ask yourself the same question. Only then can you get down to what you really wanted to say.

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