At lunch the other day, Ms. D and Ms. M were as furious as I’ve ever seen them. Why? Because of a not-so-new policy (scroll down to section 8: Credit by Demonstrated Mastery) that allows students who already have an understanding of course material to request to demonstrate that understanding and receive credit for the course. It’s a two-phase process, involving both a standardized test and some kind of product, and a quick look at the Implementation Guide shows that it’s taken a great deal of work and thought. But none of that mattered to Ms. D and Ms. M.
“They need to make a standardized test for Every Single Subject!” fretted Ms. M. “Otherwise, you know what will happen.” Ms. M was just sure: Some of Those Easy Teachers would recommend exemptions left and right, creating “easy tests,” while others would “stick to their guns” and insist on higher standards. “Besides,” both agreed, the new policy “completely devalues the classroom teacher.”
I’m not sure how Ms. M reconciled her stated commitment to valuing the classroom teacher with her obvious contempt for Those Easy Teachers. But the whole conversation left me wondering about valuing and devaluing, both in factory-model schools and in other kinds of learning communities.
Factory-schools are organized as hierarchies, and hierarchies do tend to devalue the work and contributions of The Many at The Bottom. That’s far from universal, of course, but it’s natural enough, as you rise toward The Top, to think your work is more important to The Organization than the work of those lower on The Pyramid. Ms. D and Ms. M escaped The Classroom to do other important things in the life of the school. They’d both say they value what teachers and students do, but it can be hard to remember that, harder still to show it in a way Ms. X or Mr. Y will understand, when your work takes place in a relatively quiet office and involves time-sensitive reports to Various Powers That Be. “Ms. X is going to make everybody late and make me look bad!” That’s a natural response when busy, frantic Ms. X doesn’t complete a Particular Step on time. But if Ms. X perceives yelling and labeling, Ms. X will feel devalued no matter what anyone intended.
With some distance from the conversation, I wondered why Ms. D and Ms. M had nothing to say about the students who might benefit from the not-so-new policy. Both of them have known young people who did have advanced knowledge of a Particular Subject; both, in their days in The Classroom, dealt with the frustration that brings to the teacher, the advanced student, and The Rest of The Class. As I looked at the proposed composition of the “School CDM Team” in the Implementation Guide (it’s on page 12 if you want to scroll down to it), I wondered for a moment if the potential extra work was a factor. Ms. D and Ms. M are busy all the time; perhaps the thought of One More Thing was more than they could bear.
But I keep coming back to valuing and devaluing. Factory-model schools, by their very nature, value standardization; that’s what they were designed for, after all, from the beginning. A non-standard student, whether “advanced” or “delayed,” is a potential problem because he or she requires a non-standard solution. Maybe that’s why Ms. D and Ms. M were so annoyed!
“Why do We give Them so many choices at registration time?” One Ms. X asked, peevishly, a few years ago. “It would be a lot easier to make the schedule if They all had to take the same courses!” That Ms. X envisioned a perfect world where every ninth-grader would arrive with exactly the same background, ready to be slotted neatly into The Schedule that would continue, unchanged, from year to shining year just like Ms. X’s ideal lesson plans. Many A Participant in the online professional development course that I teach arrives with the notion that differentiation means giving more work to those advanced kids, and Many A Participant is overwhelmed by the thought that you might have to “write thirty different lesson plans for thirty different kids.” The idea of looking at individuals and valuing individual differences? It’s a game-changer , but it’s also new and scary. Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y is “too busy,” with “not enough time and too much to cover” even to consider such a thing.
Teacher Workdays begin today in These Parts, a time when, as One Mr. Y complained years ago, “They just make Us hurry up and wait!” That Mr. Y felt devalued by the standardized process of closing down a school. He wanted individual attention; he wanted Particular Powers to “be in their office” when he was ready to turn in Particular Things. But That Same Mr. Y was enraged when “those kids” or “those parents” requested special attention or an individual approach. “I don’t have time for that!” he’d complain. “Their kid isn’t the only one in the world!” I’m not sure how That Mr. Y reconciled the contradiction … or whether he even noticed it. He was probably “too busy” feeling devalued as a unique individual to recognize his failure to value others.
I have a hunch that a joyful learning community can focus on valuing instead of devaluing. And when it errs, as it inevitably will, it can address the problem and restore the relationship because learning communities, by their very nature, are webs of relationships among unique, non-standardized people. As I prepare for a bit of hurrying up and waiting today, I hope I’ll remember to take the time to be patient when Ms. X or Mr. Y needs something special. I wonder what other discoveries and insights await!