Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Just say no to yes

Once again, you’re going to accuse me of using a nonacademic buzzword for this post.  Big deal, I’m the one writing it, plus what I’m going to say relates to education, right?

So letter Y in the rapidly winding down A-Z blog post challenge is “yes-men.”

Too many yes-men fill the ranks of administration today.  Those of you with corporate jobs know what I mean and probably the rest of you do, too.  Yes-men are all over the working world, or on volunteer committees and in nonprofit organizations.  But why are they in positions of power?

The first school where I worked had an assistant principal named Ron.  Ron was a very nice man, but that was it.  Ron did whatever our sociopathic principal asked him to, whether it made sense or not.  The principal told Ron to go discipline the school nurse for “gossiping” and Ron did it, despite the fact she was being scolded for spurious reasons, and it wasn’t his place to do it.  If Ron was told to hand out flyers about our school activities, he did it, even if he had other, more pressing matters at hand.  In fact, the principal once told Ron to “make a Starbucks run” for a teacher she favored who needed coffee.  (The teacher was hung over that morning.)  Ron did it.

Why would any sane person do these things?  I thought it was just Ron’s problem, but then I moved to another school, TCS.  This time, Ms. Lear, another assistant principal, was the yes-man.  In fact, we joked about her being the principal’s lackey, since she never spoke up for the teachers or ever contradicted him, even though he frequently issued contradictory directives and made decisions that were in direct violation of the school’s grading and discipline policies. 

My principal, Mr. Ozcan, came in midyear when the previous principal quit, which is another story I won’t get into.  Mr. Ozcan decided we needed to increase school spirit and shake things up.  He wanted to start with the library. 

“Not enough students use the library,” he told me.  I was in charge of it that year, and I agreed.  I mentioned that we should have more computers for school use and more comfortable seating.  He said we needed a coffee bar.

Flabbergasted, I asked him who would make the coffee.  “You would,” he said pleasantly.

“I don’t know how, and I don’t want to,” I replied.  “I have classes to teach and a library to run, and I don’t want students drinking coffee in here.”

He wasn’t deterred.  He sent Ms. Lear down later to map out where the coffee bar would be.  I told her this was an incredibly stupid idea.  We needed more books, computers, and seating, not a cappuccino machine.  She smiled nervously and mumbled something about how changes were needed and “this is what [the principal] wants.”  Only after several teachers protested and pointed out that food and drink were forbidden in the classroom did he drop it.  But Ms. Lear certainly never argued with him.

Have I seen the same thing at CISD?  Does a bear – well, I think that goes without saying.

Here’s what I think: These administrators are unqualified or under-qualified for their jobs.  They’re finally in a position of (limited) power, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to stay there.  None of them care about education or kids or teaching.  They see these jobs as a stepping stone to a bigger job, probably because they wouldn’t get hired to be a manager or even a worker anywhere else.

As a result of this spinelessness, these administrators expect teachers to be yes-men as well.  These expectations become evident when teachers are asked to do things that seem to disrupt the classroom, cut into instructional time, or take away our already limited authority.  I see teachers bowing to these orders reluctantly at times and being outright defiant at other times. 

The good news is that more and more teachers are saying no instead of yes.  But that’s also the bad news.