Whole-Grain Pancakes and Courageous Teachers

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The headline jumped at me from my Facebook feed.

Middle School teacher says he was suspended for making pancakes during PSSAs

My first reaction was, “Clickbait. There must be more to the story.” So I read it. And there was more to the story. By the time I got to the end of it, I said, “You have to be (expletive) kidding me.” I had to repress a very strong impulse to fire off a fusillade of emails to the many moronic adults involved in this, um… incident(?).

Here’s what happened: It was testing day. An eighth-grade social studies teacher in Pennsylvania named Kyle Byler decided to make whole-grain pancakes for his students so they could eat during the test. The assistant principal, a woman with the perfectly villainous surname of Grill, walked in, and, according to an article on Lancaster Online, “questioned why he was making breakfast for his students.”

(Because, how dare he…?)

Within 24 hours, Byler was pulled into a meeting with administrators. He left that meeting convinced he was going to be fired.

Byler is, of course, exactly the kind of teacher who always seems to pop up in stories like these. He’s effective, dedicated, selfless, and popular. Parents call him “the eighth-grade dad.” Students call him, “an awesome teacher.” He helps out with student council and coaches basketball. So it’s probably not surprising that 30 students spent two hours protesting outside the middle school when Byler wasn’t at work the following day and 100 people showed up at the next school board meeting.

Byler wasn’t sure what he did wrong. Neither is any other thinking person. But Nicole Reigelman, who has the thankless job of being the spokesperson for the Pennsylvania DOE, had an idea. While serving food is not actually a violation of any testing rule, tending to a griddle, according to Reigelman, “would have likely interfered with ‘actively monitoring’ the assessment.”

Let’s think about that. The state tells teachers that they have to “actively monitor” students during a test that teachers don’t want to give in the first place, that will be used to label their schools as failures, that will feed the bullshit narrative that American schools are failing, and that can result in a low evaluation and possibly even their own dismissal.

And the reason teachers have to “actively monitor” students is to ensure that the results are valid. Except that, regardless of how well students are actively monitored, the test results aren’t valid. They’re taken over the course of just a few days out of the whole year and there are no stakes for the students, which means there’s really no reason for students to even try on them.

So, really, teachers are supposed to actively monitor their students to ensure the appearance of validity, so that when the state — results now clutched firmly in its punitive fist — comes back and says, “You guys suck,” everyone can nod their heads and say, “Well, those teachers were really watching those kids. We know they didn’t cheat, so I guess they really do suck.” (And since 95% of students at Byler’s school come from low-income households, you can be pretty sure that’s exactly what the state will say.)

The reason the teacher is asked to ensure this veneer of validity for a test that is likely to be used to harm both teachers and students is because, even though the state claims these tests are so important that they have to pass rules to ensure students are actively monitored, they’re not quite important enough for the state to hire its own proctors to administer the exams. That would cost money, so they dump the job on teachers.

The ones who better not serve any damn whole-grain pancakes during their precious tests.

But if the surreal stupidity ended with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, that wouldn’t be so egregious. We expect Kafkaesque bureaucracies. Let’s talk about the assistant principal, Marian Grill.

One of Byler’s students is quoted in the article as saying, “The moment she walked in, everybody turned. She was the distraction. Not pancakes. Not Byler.”

Grill is an educator. Or at least, that’s what she’s supposed to be. And the ball was totally in her court in this situation. Not only did she drop that ball, she jammed a screwdriver through it. Here is what Grill should have done upon entering Byler’s room:

–Noticed students quietly working on their tests while eating whole-grain pancakes.
–Thought to herself, “What a dedicated teacher these students have. Not only is he trying to ensure they do their best on this important test by doing exactly what the research says schools should do (feed kids), he’s doing it out of his own pocket.”
–Smiled at Mr. Byler. Gave him a thumbs-up. Maybe asked for a pancake. Left the room.

I don’t know Marian Grill, but I think I know her type. She seems like the kind of administrator who watches you teach a flawless lesson, then criticizes you because the floor was messy or Joey was leaning in his chair. She’s the member of the Homeowner’s Association who has a problem with you flying an Easter flag. She’s the kind of person who, intoxicated by even the smallest amount of power, abuses the hell out of it. And I guarantee you that Marian Grill has no problem with pancakes. She has a problem with teachers doing things without clearing it with her first.

This should have ended with her, if only her ego had allowed it to.

Fortunately, petty tyrants like Marian Grill can be quickly exposed in today’s world. Just ten years ago, assistant principals like Grill could act with impunity. With an obvious imbalance of power and an awful economy, teachers wouldn’t take the risk of antagonizing their bosses. Times have changed, and social media is mistreated teachers’ strongest weapon. It can do what your feckless union can’t or won’t.

You don’t need strength in numbers.

You don’t need t-shirts.

You don’t need a vote.

All you need is a compelling story and to be in the right.

You see the influence of social media across the country, from the West Virginia and Oklahoma walk-outs, organized without union leadership by teachers who put out the call on Facebook and Twitter, to individual teachers like Kyle Byler, who, instead of keeping his mouth shut out of a fear of sabotaging his chances at finding another job after losing this one, had the courage to fight back by simply telling his story and letting the indignant masses do what indignant masses do in the digital age.

Byler kept his job, and the school district, as districts often do when caught with their pants around their ankles, claimed that no, no, no his job was never in any jeopardy at all.

You can believe the embarrassed school district officials who didn’t want this thing getting any bigger than it had, or you can believe the teacher.

Regardless, his district owes him more than his job. He should have never feared for that to start with. They owe him an apology because they’re the ones that lost sight of the purpose of education.  They owe him the money they withheld during his suspension. They might owe him a new assistant principal.

The lessons here are many.

First, state tests make people act like fools. It’s the unintended consequences of these tests that are always the problem. Well-meaning people lose focus on what really matters in their quest to tack a couple of percentage points onto last year’s scores.

Second, we need administrators to rise above misguided state priorities. Just because the state tells them to care about the test, doesn’t mean they have to. Just because the state wants third-graders “college and career-ready,” doesn’t mean educators have to buy into that standard. Policies aren’t made by people in schools. That’s why so many of them stink. But administrators and teachers are in schools. They are the experts. They know better. And sometimes, they need whole-grain pancakes more than they need to be actively monitored.

Third, we need more courageous teachers like Kyle Byler. As he and the teachers who walked-out across this country have proven, courageous teachers — those who stand up and speak out, who call attention to exploitation, unfairness, and plain old human stupidity — improve their own circumstances, but they also make things better for teachers everywhere.

So serve the whole-grain pancakes. Do what’s right for kids. And if someone tries to stop you, plaster their name all over the Internet. They deserve what they get.

Want Better Scores on the State Test? Bribe Your Students!

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Way back when “Return of the Mack” was on regular rotation in my off-campus apartment and Randy Quaid saved the planet from aliens, I first learned about Alfie Kohn. I was in an undergraduate teacher prep class and we read an article of Kohn’s (it might have been this one) where he argued that rewarding kids at school for things they did well wasn’t any better than punishing them for things they did poorly. Kohn expands on this idea in his book, Punished By Rewards, which made a big splash in the 90s because, while society had moved away from the draconian punishments of yesteryear and state laws now forbade corporal punishment, rewards were passed out like, well, candy. Or colorful pencils. Or those awesome scratch-and-sniff stickers. Or gold stars. Or promises of ice cream parties. Or erasers. Or, well, you get the point. And now here came Kohn scolding teachers all over again.

And so I started my teaching career as most naive, just-released-from-college kids do. With the proper amount of self-righteousness and arrogance, I marched into my classroom determined to offer no rewards. Students would learn for knowledge’s sake. We would build a community and have respect for each other. We would talk about our problems and address underlying causes of misbehavior.

Then the real world hit and doing all of those things was really, really hard.

Some kids were just plain jerks who needed to be taught a few hard lessons, if only so the rest of the class would see that you can’t go through life treating people like dirt and get nothing harsher than a counseling session, a behavior plan, and rewards for doing the very things every other kid in the class was doing as a matter of course. And so I started rewarding some kids, punishing others, and playing that whole game.

And not long after that, I learned first-hand what I had read in a boring old classroom. Alfie was right. Rewards don’t really work. They’re manipulative, frequently arbitrary, and basically no different than punishments (they just feel nicer).

Fast-forward to 2011 and Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, made many of the same arguments. Citing some of the same research as Kohn, Pink concluded that extrinsic rewards are usually a bad idea. Motivation is largely intrinsic and the way to tap into that motivation is through autonomy, a slow and steady march toward mastery, and by doing meaningful things in service to something larger than the self.

All of that is well and good. I accept that it’s generally a bad idea to reward students for their performance and to bribe them to behave better. Make the work interesting. Offer choice. Don’t be such a dictator. Provide feedback so students understand their progress toward mastery. Assign meaningful work. Do all that.

HOWEVER.

The testing window opened in my state this week. Over the next two months, students from third graders to high school juniors will take The Big Test. And big it is. Schools will be judged on the results. They’ll be labeled on some silly statewide reporting system. Some will face consequences. Teachers will be evaluated based on the results. Some may lose their jobs. The scores will influence public opinion of American education as a whole and either burnish or tarnish the reputations of districts, schools, and even entire state’s education systems and policies.

There are plenty of problems with The Big Test, (one of which might be the questionable timing of asking students to take it after they’ve just had 10 days off for spring break, as my wife’s students did this week) but perhaps none are bigger than this:

There is no reason students should try hard on it.

In my state, students get nothing for doing well (it’s kind of like being a teacher in that regard).

No scholarship money.
No name in the local paper.
Not even a pat on the back.

Students suffer no negative consequences for doing poorly.* Nothing will happen to a student who decides to treat the entire enterprise exactly how it deserves to be treated, as a joke. Their scores won’t be reflected on their report cards. Grade point averages will be unaffected. Graduation is not at risk. Students’ parents won’t even learn the results for a number of months after the test is over (and by then, most won’t care). Students won’t be retained or asked to leave school. The only thing they lose is time, and they lose more of it the harder they try.

Subjecting the exams to Pink’s criteria, the tests offer its takers no autonomy. Because it’s a one-time event for which they receive no useful feedback, students cannot progress toward mastery. As for meaning, there is no purpose that students give a hoot about. It is, for almost every student, the very definition of drudgery. It’s busy work. By the state’s own declared aims, it’s got nothing to do with them.  For students, it’s as low-stakes as you can get.

All of which is why you should unabashedly bribe your students to take their time and do their best.

In the adult world, we offer money. In the classroom, we offer pizza, ice cream,  a dance party, video game time, or anything that will make students think twice before just clicking on answers so they can be done with the thing. When there is no expectation of intrinsic motivation, we have to find other ways to get people to try.

And here’s the thing: Bribery works! I have proof!

Every three years, 15-year-olds from around the world take the PISA exam. The results of this test are reported breathlessly in education circles and often lead to huge policy changes in the countries of the students who struggle. A group of researchers wondered an obvious thing. Did kids actually try on these tests? They had reason to be skeptical. There are no stakes for students who take the PISA; they never even get to see their results. And student effort matters. As I tell a handful of parents every year, it’s hard to report on a student’s abilities when they don’t try on their work.

American students traditionally fall in the middle of the pack on the PISA, but perhaps they underperform because they just don’t see the point in doing their best. The researchers decided to test motivation by paying students for their performance. So they pulled 25 math questions off previous PISA exams and they split students into two groups. One group’s participants received $25 and then handed over a buck for every question they missed. Students in the other group got nothing. Here’s what researchers found:

  • Students from Shanghai, who ranked first on the 2012 PISA, did just as well whether they were paid or not.
  • With the exception of low-ability students, U.S. students did better if they were paid.
  • When paid, U.S. students attempted more questions in the second half of the test and were more likely to answer those which they did attempt correctly.
  • Researchers predicted that if the U.S. had used financial incentives during the 2012 PISA test, the country’s math ranking would have risen to 19th, from 36th. (And to 32nd if all other countries also paid their students.)

Here’s a graph:

And here’s more about the study if you want the dirty deets.

Steven Levitt, the economist famous for co-writing the Freakonomics books, performed similar experiments in three Chicago schools. Bribery worked there, too. While there was some variation, Levitt and colleagues concluded:

“The magnitude of the impact of the incentives on that day’s test are quite large: approximately 0.12−0.22 standard deviations, which is similar to effect sizes achieved through a one-standard deviation increase in teacher quality or 20% reductions in class size.”

“Overall, we conclude that both financial and non-financial incentives can serve as useful tools to increase student effort and motivation on otherwise low-stakes assessment tests.”

To bribe effectively, Levitt’s research suggests you do the following:

Offer immediate rewards

If students have to wait, bribery doesn’t work. So you won’t be able to bribe students for improved performance on the state test because the results take too long. But you can bribe them on their effort, and the research suggests that you should.

Have established credibility

Levitt had the most success bribing students at the school where he had done previous experiments. Students there believed him when he said they would get money for doing well. He had less success at less familiar schools. Levitt surmised that those students, having never been paid to perform in a school setting, probably didn’t believe he would deliver and so the proffered bribe had little impact on motivation.

Leverage the power of loss aversion

Bribery worked better when students were given the reward at the start and knew they would have to give it back if they failed. So if you really want to be effective (and yes, maybe a little cruel), buy your class donuts before the test, place one on the corner of each desk, and threaten to take it away if you think they aren’t trying their hardest. (Hey, quit looking at me like that. I’m just reporting the science.)

Consider the age of your students

Smaller awards work with smaller kids, but you’ll need better stuff for high schoolers. Cheap little trophies worked just as well with elementary students as did the promise of ten bucks. However, it took a larger dollar amount ($20) to get older kids to give a damn.

 

You can read the whole study here. But if you would rather not, I understand. And I’m not going to bribe you to do so.

I will, however, attempt to entice you to join my subscriber list. By signing on to the Teacher Habits blog, you will be the first to know about newly released books. You’ll get discounts on those books. You’ll also get new articles emailed directly to your inbox. And you’ll be the first people I ask for advice on book covers and titles. Now aren’t those things better than a trophy?

SUBSCRIBE ME UP

* I am aware that there are stakes for certain students. Those with third-grade reading laws that require retention (my state of Michigan joined that merry bandwagon last year) and students who have to pay to retake the SAT may have all the motivation they need to try hard.

Does Your District Really Care About Student Achievement?

If you asked any employee of nearly any school district whether their focus was on student achievement, I’m confident most would say that it was. That is, after all, kind of the point. Why else would we spend countless hours planning lessons and checking papers? Why form committees to investigate curricular options and then spend thousands on new programs if we didn’t think they would improve student performance? Why would district leaders spend limited funds on professional development and other teacher training? Why stress over standardized tests scores to the point that we all but bribe students to try their best, and why spend hours analyzing the results of those tests if we didn’t care about what those tests said about how we were serving the educational needs of kids?

It certainly seems like everyone involved in a school system is trying his or her best to improve student achievement. And yet I remain unconvinced. Consider this:

Does your district do anything to identify and attract the best teachers from your area to come work for it?

I ask because we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the largest in-school influence on student performance is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. I’ve been told this so many times during my teaching career that I’ve lost count. It’s not the principal, or class sizes, or the condition of the building, or the curriculum, or student access to technology.

It’s the teacher.

Which means that schools that are serious about improving student achievement ought to do everything within their ability to find, hire, and retain the best teachers they can afford.

Most don’t.

Here’s how most districts go about hiring a new teacher:

First, they wait until they have an opening. In poor districts, this often happens because fed up teachers head for greener pastures. In more affluent districts, openings usually occur after a retirement.

Once there’s an opening, the school district posts the job. They then sit back and wait to see who sends them résumés. They go through the résumés and try to guess who might be a good teacher. They interview some applicants, pick the one they want, and usually offer to start them somewhere near the bottom of the district salary schedule. Then they sit back and hope they chose wisely.

But if school districts really cared about student achievement, their hiring process would look nothing like what is described above. Districts that really cared about student achievement would:

Be constantly scouting teachers in surrounding school districts in an attempt to identify the best ones at each level. They would know, just like NFL or Major League Baseball general managers know, who the top five kindergarten teachers were. They would know the best chemistry teachers. They’d read student reviews on Ratemyteacher.com. They’d make phone calls to people in their professional networks. They’d interview students who transferred into their districts about the educational experiences those students had with different teachers in their previous districts. They might even get their hands on teachers’ year-end ratings, which are a matter of public record. They’d keep files on teachers they would love to put in front of their students, and they’d check in with them periodically, perhaps inquiring about how happy they are at their current place of employment and whether they might be persuaded to leave it.

When these achievement-driven districts had an opening, administrators wouldn’t sit around and wait for applicants. They would immediately reach out to the top teachers on their scouting reports. They’d find out what it would take to get those teachers to leave their positions to come work for them. They’d offer to pay them more than they were currently making, instead of insulting them by offering to start them at the bottom of the pay scale.

Once they hired these all-stars, they’d do what they could to keep them around. Great teachers might be more expensive, but districts would get more bang for their buck than they would spending that money on textbooks, PD, or fancy new tablets and SmartBoards. The research on that is crystal clear.

So why don’t districts operate this way? Because there’s a greater incentive for district leaders to save money than there is to improve educational outcomes. (And maybe because there’s an unspoken agreement among superintendents to not poach each other’s best teachers.)

Regardless of the reasons, it’s clear that if your school district doesn’t know who the best teachers are in the area, then they have no intention of hiring those teachers. And if they aren’t willing to pay effective teachers what they’re worth, then they’re not really serious about improving student performance, no matter how much they may protest to the contrary.

 

 

 

Why More Teachers Than You Think Will Arm Themselves

Here are some recent headlines:

Florida Lawmakers Pass Bill That Would Allow School Staff to Carry Guns
Michigan House to Explore Arming Teachers
Mississippi Vote Raises Question: Should Mid-South Teachers Be Armed?
Bill To Arm Tennessee Legislators Passes First Hurdle
Armed Teachers: Illinois District Wants to Be 1st To Give Teachers Guns

The pressure to do something is going to continue to grow if school shootings keep occurring, and there’s absolutely no reason to think they won’t. The solutions, if there are any, are difficult and politically divisive. The easiest thing for federal officials to do is kick the can and dump it on the states, and the easiest thing for state legislators to do is drop it in the laps of schools. So they’ll pass laws that allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons, they’ll require some training, they’ll refuse to pay for most of it, and then they’ll sit back and wait to blame schools and teachers the next time a shooting happens in their schools.

And teachers will play right into their hands because it’s what we always do. A lot more teachers than you think are going to end up carrying guns. They’ll do so for three reasons.

Fear

Fear is a strong motivator. It makes us do things we never thought we would. And the fact that this fear is misplaced doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter when school districts spent millions on secure entrances, security cameras, door stop devices, reinforced glass, and other measures that won’t do a damn thing to stop a determined school shooter.

When something gets this much exposure, we start to believe it’s more likely than it is. Following a plane crash, we’re more nervous to fly. Watching Nancy Grace causes us to watch our kids like hawks. A hysterical Facebook post about an attempted abduction from a grocery store parking lot stokes fears of being trafficked for sex among women across the country. A terrorist attack has us seeing potentially explosive knapsacks on the backs of every young bearded male we encounter.

We’re scared to be the next victim, so we do what we think will protect us (even though it likely won’t). We remove our shoes. We submit to invasive searches. We don’t even care all that much when we learn that our government is spying on us. And we do it all because we tell ourselves silly things like, “If it saves even one child…” and “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

We’ve seen this before.
Teachers don’t want to be shot.
They don’t want their students shot.
If they think a gun might prevent those things, a lot of them will carry one, damn all reason and consideration of unintended consequences.

Guilt

Why do you attend unpaid after-school events? Fear of being thought lazy or guilt over your colleagues’ attendance? Why do you join committees you’re not interested in? Why do you say yes when you want to say no? Good old-fashioned teacher guilt is an epidemic.

Let’s consider how this arming teachers scenario might play out:

1. Your state passes a law allowing you to carry a gun in school.
2. The local police department offers training (Although, with enough teachers, the demand will probably lead to for-profit enterprises being certified to take the load off the overworked cops and they’ll cobble together some lame training program like most of the inadequate training teachers are forced to endure).
3. Your school district comes up with a policy and finds the cheapest training program to send willing teachers to, permitting them, upon completion (and probably a stupid certificate to hang over their desk) to carry a gun.
4. You find out that a few other teachers have taken the training to carry. They tell you they feel safer now.

Now what thoughts are likely to go through teachers’ minds? I can tell you one: Anticipated guilt.

See if these thoughts seem likely:

It doesn’t seem right that Joyce is the only one armed. So all the responsibility falls on her if a shooter gets inside the school? What if she can’t get to the shooter? What if she’s absent that day? Someone else should be armed, too.

What if parents find out that I’m one of the teachers not carrying a gun? Will they feel their kids are less safe in my room than in other rooms? Will they talk about how I don’t care about protecting their kids on Facebook? Will they question my dedication? Will they think I’m a coward? Will my colleagues? Will my principal?

What if, God forbid, a shooting does happen and the shooter comes into my room and kills a student and the press finds out that I could have been armed but had chosen not to be? Will they blame me? Of course they’ll blame me! Will the parents of the dead child blame me? (Yes) Won’t I blame myself? (Uh-huh) How could I live with myself? (Good question)

What if principals are pressured by parents to put pressure on teachers to carry? After all, if a school with one armed teacher is safer than a school with none, wouldn’t a school where everybody is armed be the safest of all? What will I do if I’m made to feel like I have to carry a gun?

I suggest most teachers will do the same thing they’ve done every other time they were made to feel like they had to do something, whether it was attending a professional development session that had absolutely nothing to do with their job, or teaching in a manner they know from research is not best practice, or implementing a program with fidelity even though data show it’s not working, or buying something from their friend who sells Rodan + Fields even though they don’t want that crap.

And if you think those thoughts won’t happen, then you haven’t been paying attention. Remember these parents, who “recklessly” allowed their kids to play alone at the park, or this mom, who was called the “world’s worst mother” for allowing her nine-year-old to ride the subway unattended? Why do you think you rarely see kids playing outside anymore without adult supervision? Video games and other indoor entertainment play a role, sure. But so do parents who are terrified of the worst happening and then being blamed if it does. The fear and anticipated guilt we feel when we imagine the unimaginable makes overprotective fools of a lot of us. No teacher will want to risk being blamed for a child dying in her care. Many will carry a gun, if for no other reason than to say they did all they could.

Reliable Compliance

Teachers give in. Almost all of us regularly capitulate. We don’t fight. When we do, we get dragged out of board meetings and dinged on our evaluations. How many degradations and indignities have you already put up with in your teaching career? How much do you do not because it’s good for your students but because you’re told to it? Do you really think teachers are suddenly going to fight back?

There’s a reason the West Virginia teacher strike made national news: teachers strikes are rare. In spite of decades of declining respect, falling earning power, and national scapegoating, most of us have gone along to get along. We’ve agreed, even when we didn’t like it. We held out noses and persisted. We did what was “best for kids” even when it damaged our health, our relationships, and our profession. We’re nothing if not reliably compliant. What possible evidence exists that teachers will suddenly execute an about-face and take a principled stand on guns, especially when guilt and fear are also working against them doing so?

Ultimately, more teachers than you think are going to end up armed for the same reasons we’ve agreed to terrify six-year-olds with lockdown drills. We succumb to the seductive illusion of safety. We’ll arm ourselves because we’re scared and because the thing we fear the most is our own future guilt. We’ll submit because it’s what’s expected of us. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll continue to do.

So Now They Trust Teachers?

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In the aftermath of yet another school shooting, our national debate has centered around a handful of “solutions” that can be categorized into three groups:

We have the “no guns” crowd (masquerading as the “fewer guns” crowd) who believe that passing a series of laws making it harder for people to buy firearms is the answer.

There’s the “people not guns” contingent who believe we don’t do enough about those with mental health problems and who blame the coarsening of our culture (usually due to those damn videos games and Hollywood movies!) for turning people into unfeeling monsters.

Then we have the “more guns” folks who believe if we just put more weapons in schools then the would-be child killers would stay home or at least shoot up some other densely populated place. They recommend schools hire armed security guards or want laws that allow teachers to pack heat.

I won’t go into all of these proposed solutions, but I must admit to rolling my eyes at those who want to arm teachers. Many of them are the same people who think American education sucks and it’s the fault of lazy, untrustworthy educators.

I’m tempted to shout, “Oh, so now you trust us!” Because they certainly haven’t up to this point.

While politicians may talk about including teachers more, they continue to make policy without asking us. School boards make decisions without our input. Administrators establish policies that betray their true feelings about the people working under them. The treatment of teachers leaves little room for doubt: Most people, inside education and outside of it, think we’re not worthy of trust.

If your school district bans videos or requires you to get permission to show them, it’s because they don’t trust you to use them as instructional tools instead of as time wasters.

If your district requires you to show up when class is not in session to do administrative work, it’s because they don’t trust you to manage your own time and get the work done when and where you want.

If your district tracks the number of sick days you’ve used and levels insinuations, it’s because they don’t trust that you’re using them appropriately.

If your district counts the number of copies you make and makes teachers feel guilty for making them, it’s because they don’t trust you to make decisions about instructional resources (and also because they’re cheap).

If your district provides one-size-fits-all professional development, it’s because they don’t trust teachers to professionally develop themselves if they were simply given paid time to do so.

If your administration requires you to meet in PLCs and collects agendas from those meetings, it’s because they don’t trust you to use the time how you best see fit.

If the threat of evaluations is used to get teachers to use “best practices,” it’s because they’re not trusted to use them on their merits or figure out what works on their own.

If your district requires you to teach a Board-adopted program with strict fidelity, it’s because they don’t think much of your teaching abilities.

If you’re required to adhere to a pacing guide, it’s because you’re not trusted to determine what and how much instruction and practice your students need.

If administrator walkthroughs are evaluative instead of supportive, it’s because you’re not trusted to do your job.

If you need to seek approval before trying anything new, it’s because you’re not trusted to make decisions.

If you’re required to turn in lesson plans, it’s because you’re not trusted to design good lessons or even to follow the prescribed program that lays out all the lessons for you.

What’s baffling is there seems to be little reason for the lack of trust. Most teachers receive high ratings from their principals. In surveys, the public consistently rates teachers as some of the most trustworthy professionals in the workforce. Even students think their teachers are pretty good. The average score for teachers on Ratemyteachers.com is 4.46 out of 5.

So while it might be tempting to think that, when it comes to protecting our students’ lives, politicians have decided that teachers can finally be trusted, you’ll understand my skepticism. You don’t trust me to do my job, but you trust me to handle a gun? How’s that?

The truth is that arming teachers has nothing to do with trusting them. You don’t suddenly hand a firearm to the same people you’ve been micromanaging. It has everything to do with money and a lack of political will to actually address the problems. The reasons some politicians are suggesting we arm teachers is because:

They don’t like spending money on education, and school districts would expect additional funding to hire trained security guards. Little if any additional money is needed to allow teachers to carry their own pieces.
A cynic might suggest that arming teachers is simply another way to sell more guns, which is just what the powerful gun lobby wants.
Such a law would provide convenient scapegoats every time there’s a shooting.

Here’s how you know this isn’t about trust: Because once again, no one has asked teachers what they think about a law that would directly influence them and their students.

But hey, at least if states allow teachers to arm themselves, then when another shooting does happen, politicians won’t have to blame their own inaction, or guns, or inadequate mental health care, or video games. They can blame the teachers, who either weren’t brave enough to fire back or weren’t selfless enough to arm themselves, even though they didn’t want and shouldn’t have that responsibility in the first place.

Then the gutless politicians can point where they’re used to pointing and say, “Well, we shouldn’t have trusted them.”