Monday, October 12, 2015

The question you already know the answer to

We teacher types tend to get offended when we hear about how we aren’t “effective” in the classroom, or when articles in national publications claim we need “more training” in order to “be effective.”  Teacher effectiveness is a huge concern nowadays. 

So I would ask you, you teacher type, do you feel effective? 

The obvious answer is, “Yes, of course, I am!  I lesson plan and collaborate constantly!  I work and slave to try and push my students beyond the bounds of excellence!  I get my nutrients from dry erase board fumes!”

Great!  But all teachers say that, or think that.  So how do you know if you’re getting the job done, effectively?  Because even though you may feel like you’re working hard and doing your best, you know that every school has ineffective teachers, just like every workplace has some incompetent workers.   

I’ve developed what I call the “Brian test” so that you can see how effective you are as a worker, teacher, and human being.  It’s similar to the WWJD movement, except you have to ask “what would Brian do?” The test is based on my experiences with a former TCS teacher who we'll call, for lack of a better word, "Brian."

For instance, you wake up and decide you don’t want to go to work that day.  You decide to do one of the following:

a.       Get up anyway, because your students will be too far behind if you don’t come in.  The test is next week, and you need to review.
b.      Call in sick, making your voice sound weak and scratchy.  Tell the sub to show them a movie.
c.       Go back to sleep.  You have a hangover, and there are plenty of other teachers who could handle your class during their conference period.  They’ll figure out you’re sick when you don’t show up.

Brian would have picked C.  But he would have had a great excuse, great here meaning “entertaining.”  One of his no-show excuses was that the neighbor’s cat was stuck in a tree.  He, the hero that he was, had to get it down.  When someone said, “Aren’t you allergic to cats?” he smiled modestly and said “Well, I couldn’t just STAND there.  What kind of person would I be?”

I quickly threw out an answer, but I realized later he wasn’t really looking for a response.

Just in case you’re wondering if YOU might be a Brian, I’m happy to provide a list that answers the question “What would Brian do?” 

Brian would do all of the following:
1.       Lose student papers
2.       Miss grading deadlines
3.       Assign a lot of “participation grades” for a class that requires writing. 
4.       Put post-it notes all over his walls to simulate a “corporate” atmosphere
5.       Admit that he’d never worked in a corporate atmosphere, but had watched the movie “Office Space” over and over
6.       Not follow specific directions because they seemed too “demanding.”
7.       Be the first to show up at staff potlucks, even though he never contributed.
8.       Call out other teachers for their unwillingness to help others in a “tight spot,” even though he’s too busy to help out.
9.       Give your principal or department head lots of ideas for ways to “improve” processes at the school that just create more work for everyone.
10.   Not return parent calls and emails, and call in sick on parent conference day.
11.   Complain about other teachers who “just don’t care as much.”
12.   Walk into another class during instruction to ask if you can borrow $10 so you can get lunch because you forgot to bring yours.
13.   Complain about how rude the teacher was when he or she asked you to leave and talk to him/her later.  

So how can we avoid more Brians teaching classes?  We can’t.  Every workplace has deadwood, and schools are no exception.  There’s always going to be a Brian, strolling into work half an hour late and leaving early each day for some vague “appointment.”  You’ve worked with a Brian, or you work with one now.  The Brians have nothing to do with “ineffective teaching.”  They’re ineffective WORKERS, and they always will be. 

So let’s raise a glass to all the Brians out there, unless they’ve already come in and taken all the glasses and coffee mugs out of the staff kitchen, to use for a class object lesson.  The object lesson is “Brian is planning on having some friends over.”