10 Things Overworked Teachers Can Stop Doing Tomorrow

If there’s one common thread that runs through the most popular articles on this blog it’s that teachers ought to do less.  I suspect those articles generate the most shares and responses because the topic is divisive. Some teachers read them and nod along, their beliefs affirmed in digital print. Others read them with varying degrees of bafflement and anger. The self-righteous will insinuate that those of us who want a life outside of school aren’t as dedicated as our more exhausted colleagues. Others, like one Facebook commenter on my article Dear Teachers, Please Go Home, ask some version of, “Then when are we supposed to get it all done?”

Which is a revelatory question.

Such a question presumes that most teachers have relatively equal amounts of work to do and that the only way to get it all done is to devote untold hours to the job, usually at the expense of other areas of their lives.

But such an assumption is wrong. Teachers vary greatly in how much work they have to get done and it’s not because they teach in different buildings or teach different grade levels or have different bosses. Some teachers have less to do because they’ve decided to have less to do. It’s usually that simple.

There are a number of items you can likely take off your to-do list tomorrow if you’re willing to swallow some pride, care less about what other adults think of you, and stop trying to knock every lesson out of the park. Here are ten.

Stop Decorating Your Classroom Like It’s In a Magazine

I know teachers who spend weeks getting their rooms looking just so for the start of school. They then devote even more time to maintaining its immaculate appearance throughout the year. They organize, straighten, color-code, label, redecorate, change bulletin boards, hang curtains, and dangle doodads from the ceiling, and for what?

Hardly anyone is going to see it. Of the people who do see it, at least half of them won’t care. Of those who are impressed, what does it matter? How does their being impressed help you or your students? I don’t know of a single study that shows a connection between teachers’ interior design talents and student performance. In fact, the research that does exist indicates that a heavily decorated room actually disrupts student attention and learning. Save yourself a ton of time and stop decorating your classroom like it’s in a magazine.

Stop Writing New Learning Goals on the Board

I’ve watched a lot of TED talks and I’ve never seen a speaker start their speech by displaying and reading aloud the thing they’d like me to learn in the next 15 minutes.  Having a goal for your lesson is important. Writing it on the board isn’t.  Prominently displayed learning goals aren’t for you; you know what students are supposed to learn. They aren’t for your students; a good lesson makes clear what students should come to understand. The requirement to write learning goals on the board exists for one reason and one reason only: administrators want you to do things that work, but they don’t really want to spend a ton of time in classrooms actually watching you do those things. With learning goals, they can peek their head in your room, see them on the board, and tell themselves that in their buildings, teachers are using research-based practices. They can check it off a list and pat themselves on the back.

Writing new learning goals every day is busy work. By themselves, they will do nothing to move the student achievement needle. So write some beautifully crafted learning goals using whatever format your leadership has decided is best. Then leave them up all week. Or all month. See how long until someone calls you on it, and when they do, claim you forgot that day. Most administrators spend so little time in classrooms, this is one tick-suck you can cross off your list.

Stop Creating Lessons

Once upon a time, teachers had to create their own lessons. They don’t anymore, and they shouldn’t. For today’s teachers, finding lessons isn’t the problem; choosing among hundreds of them is the greater challenge. Creation takes time that others have already invested (and in many cases, been paid for). Take advantage by teaching their lessons instead of creating yours; they’re probably better anyway because of something psychologists call the IKEA effect, which is a cognitive bias where people place disproportionate value on products they had a hand in creating.

The IKEA effect poses two problems for teachers. The first is that what you make is likely not as good as you think it is. Your lesson is not better than another teacher’s. You just think it is because you made it. You would almost assuredly be better off using a product made by someone else. And as much as you don’t want to hear it, you’d be best off using products created by people whose job is to create those products. So while it may offend your sensibilities, stick with the program your district spent thousands of dollars on because it’s probably better than anything you’re going to design.

The other problem is the time required to create this stuff. If you spend three hours making a magnetism unit because you tell yourself it will be better than anything you currently have in your filing cabinet or that you can find online, then you’ve lost the opportunity to spend those hours doing other things, like going home at the end of the day.

More here: The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation

Stop Creating Materials

Google is your friend. So is TeachersPayTeachers. Every worksheet, rubric, and graphic organizer you will ever want already exists. Spend more time clicking and less time creating and you will have more time for the important stuff.

Stop Controlling Everything

When students do more, you do less.

Teachers looking to trim hours off their workweek should constantly spend their days asking, “Is this something students could do?”

Most of the time, the answer is yes. Students can do bulletin boards. They can staple, cut things out, and rewrite the lunch choice every morning. They can organize your classroom library and replace all the science materials used in an experiment.  They can check their own work. They can help each other understand the math assignment. It’s true that your room might not look as pretty and the agenda on the board will be written askance and the books won’t be as neat as they would be if you had organized them, but it’s also true that most of that stuff doesn’t matter and students will feel a stronger connection to the room if they have a large hand in its appearance and day-to-day functioning. Save yourself time. Stop being such a control freak.

Stop Reading Everything Your Students Write

Students need feedback on their writing, but you do not have to be the only person who provides it. Technology allows students to share their writing with classmates and even parents. Ask them to provide the feedback. When my daughter was in third grade, she brought a journal home once a week and it was my job to write a response to her entries. For other low tech options, print students’ writing and put the papers in a three-ring binder. Insert a blank page after each piece and teach students how to leave useful feedback on it. Or set up a gallery walk where students place their writing on their desks and move around the room with a stack of sticky notes, using them to leave feedback on 10 different papers. You can also avoid taking student writing home by utilizing technology and the station rotation model. Catlin Tucker explains how here.

Stop Checking Papers

One enduring stereotypical image is that of a teacher, usually a woman, sitting at home on a Saturday with a stack of papers in front of her, vigorously scrawling across them with a red pen.  If we’re going to ask students to do all this work, the thinking goes, then we need to hold them accountable, and the way to do that is to give everything a grade. This isn’t where I argue against grades (although I certainly could). Instead, I’ll argue against everything needing a grade.  Consider most of the work your students do as practice and you’ll find it a lot easier to toss it into the circular file instead of bringing it home where it will cast accusatory glances your way all weekend. Instead of checking everything, only check assessments.

You can also significantly reduce the height of your stack by eliminating homework.  The research on homework is now well known and for elementary teachers especially, there’s no academic reason to give it; it just doesn’t work. The less work you assign, the less you have to look at. An easy and research-based way to reduce your own paperwork is to seriously curtail or eliminate homework.

Another easy way to reduce your stack is to take advantage of programs that do the grading for you. If you’re fortunate enough to have software that provides students with immediate feedback on their assignments, then your work is already done. You need only to look at the results. If not, go old school by having students check their own work as you go over the answers or do what I spent a fair amount of my school years doing and have students trade papers and grade each other’s assignments.

Stop Helping So Much

You can always tell the students who were “rescued” by their previous teachers. They’re the ones who can’t make it through a test without asking for help, even though you just explained that you can’t help on a test. A lot of teachers enable learned helplessness by constantly stepping in the moment students struggle.  Teachers have this notion that to teach means we must always be doing something. If students are in the room, we have to interact with them. We gotta teach! But sometimes, the best way to teach is to sit down and shut up.

Failure is part of learning. In fact, it’s the critical part. Sometimes, the best teaching is to let students flail, even fail. Because there’s more learning to be found in failure than there is in success. And while students are working things out, or seeking out others for assistance, or trying a different strategy, you can plan next week’s lessons, or grade a few tests, or locate resources online so you don’t have to do that stuff after school.

Read more here: Why Teachers Should Help Less

Stop Saying Yes

It’s impossible to do all the things you have to do if you’re spending hours every week sitting in meetings because you couldn’t bring yourself to tell your principal no.  We all have meetings we must attend, but too many teachers take on additional responsibilities out of feelings of obligation and guilt.

Before you agree to extra work, ask yourself this question: Will the time spent on this new thing result in better outcomes for my students than the time I would have spent if I were not doing this new thing? Click To Tweet

The answer is usually no. So grow a spine and stop agreeing to waste time on work that won’t do your students any good and will leave you with even less time to do all of the really important stuff.

Stop Maximizing

Making every lesson shine is an honorable intention. Nobody will question your dedication, but they should question your long-term strategy. Teachers can’t escape trade-offs any more than the rest of the world can. Devoting two hours to planning a great civics lesson means two hours not doing all of the other things your job requires of you. It’s also no guarantee that the lesson will go well, and if it doesn’t you’ll feel demoralized on top of exhausted.

Many teachers are maximizers. They seek out the best option to arrive at the optimal solution, even if it means investing substantial time and energy.  Many are perfectionists, unable to let little things slide. Satisficers, on the other hand, are individuals who can accept good enough. They consider trade-offs. They know that you can’t “do it all” and they accept the reality that an extra hour spent on lesson creation won’t necessarily result in the kind of enhanced understanding from students they were hoping for. Sometimes, good enough really is good enough.

There’s also your mental health to consider. Psychologists have found that compared to satisficers, maximizing individuals are more likely to experience lower levels of happiness, regret, and self-esteem. While maximizers accept higher-paying jobs, they tend to be less satisfied once they start working those jobs because they second guess themselves. They constantly wonder if they made the best choice. They’re always looking over the hill for greener pastures. For this reason, maximizers have a hard time finding contentment in life.

Not every lesson has to be a Lexus. Most of the time, a reliable Camry will get the job done. Stop trying to make everything shine. Be willing to accept good enough, and you’ll be a happier teacher with more time for yourself.

A Disclaimer

None of the above are things you should stop doing if you love doing them. If it fills your heart with gladness to color-code your classroom supplies or if creating lessons from scratch gets your heart racing, then by all means, keep doing those things. Just don’t complain about how many hours you work. Those are choices you’re making, and there are plenty of teachers out there making different ones and going home a lot earlier than you are.

Stop wondering how you will get everything done if you leave work where it belongs and go home shortly after the kids. Instead, give yourself less to do.

If you need a step-by-step guide to the above and many more time-saving techniques, I recommend giving Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club a look. It’s the most comprehensive resource I know of for overwhelmed teachers. Angela offers a money-back guarantee that her club will help you trim hours off your workweek.

If you’re wondering if the club is right for you, take this fun quiz!

To get a taste of what the club has to offer, try Angela’s free 5-day challenge, “Goodbye, Teacher Tired: 5 Days to Doing Fewer Things, Better”

If you’d like to read reviews from club members, click here.


Teacher Habits is a proud affiliate partner of the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club and all links to the club are of the affiliate kind. That said, I’m a member and it’s good stuff.



Go For The Bananas


The story goes like this:

Five monkeys are put in a room by some scientists. A ladder is in the middle of the room. At the top of the ladder sits a basket of bananas.  Each time a monkey attempts to scale the ladder to get the bananas, the scientists douse all the monkeys with cold water. After a few attempts, the monkeys get the picture and give up.

Then, the scientists remove one of the monkeys and replace him with a new one. This new monkey, unaware of the others’ experience, goes straight for the bananas. But knowing they’re all about to get soaked, the others pull him back and beat the hell out of him, sending the clear message that ladders are not for climbing. The scientists continue replacing monkeys. Each new monkey is similarly deterred. Eventually, the group is composed of five new monkeys, none of whom has ever been sprayed with water.  Still, none will go for the bananas.

Imagine a new monkey entering the group and seeking advice from the sage monkeys who have years of experience in the habitat. “Hey, fellas. What’s with the bananas, and why aren’t any of you eating them?”

“Oh, we don’t climb the ladder.”

“Why not?”

“We just don’t. Bad things happen when the ladder is climbed.”

Without questioning the conventional wisdom, each new monkey remains one degree away from ground-level truth, the information he needs to make good decisions.

Simply by asking “why,” the entrenched behavior of the monkey community could be turned on its head. It’s possible that circumstances have changed — perhaps the scientists got bored and left or maybe they’ve changed the experiment — and they won’t be sprayed with cold water when attempting to go for the bananas.

The story appears to be completely made up and spread by the Internet. That’s okay. Aesop made up a bunch of stories and we have no problem telling them because we recognize that they contain valuable lessons. Fables are good for that, whether they star talking ants and grasshoppers or sadistic scientists and monkeys.

This one’s especially good for teachers today because just about any time I write about working less or saying no or not sacrificing your personal life for your school life, I get something like the following response from a few teachers:

“But I have to say yes or I’ll get fired (or evaluated poorly or shamed or scolded or choose-your-own-negative-consequence).”

Almost all of these teachers are acting like monkeys. I’ve taught nearly 20 years, and while I have seen teachers let go, moved into undesirable positions, written up, treated poorly by principals, and dinged on their evals, I have never seen those things happen to an otherwise effective educator and pleasant person who simply said no more often.

There may have been a time when teachers were metaphorically doused with water for protecting their own time, but I’ve never seen it. Most of us are just like the new monkeys. Even though we have no first-hand experience of being punished for saying no, we go on believing that doing so is dangerous.

What’s Good About Teacher Shortages

There’s a lot of talk right now about teacher shortages. The topic is usually used to highlight everything that’s wrong with education today.  Writers pointing to the shortage hope to create a sense of urgency to fix systemic problems so that teaching can be more attractive and schools can choose from better candidates. But not everything about the teacher shortage is bad.

Combined with our robust economy, the teacher shortage gives teachers more leverage than they’ve had since I started in education.  When schools know they’ll be scrounging to fill open positions and might have to hire someone who they normally wouldn’t consider, it makes them less likely to let teachers go for frivolous reasons. Smart districts will try to keep their teachers happy, knowing that if those teachers leave they will have a difficult time replacing them. Since many people do not want to do the job, those who do have power.

Rahm Emanuel famously said that you should never let a crisis go to waste. The teacher shortage crisis presents an opportunity for educators to flex some muscle. It won’t last forever, so while it does, teachers should fight to protect their time. At the very least, they should demand to be paid for their work. They should say no if districts don’t offer additional pay for additional responsibilities.

The circumstances have changed, as has the balance of power in many places. The time is now for teachers to climb the ladder.  And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, then you can at least stand back and watch when others place their feet on the rungs. You’ll probably see that there is no one waiting to soak you with water.

Stand up for yourself. Say no. Get what you want. Go for the bananas.




Yes, Career Counseling Is Necessary

The following is a guest post by contributor Frankie Wallace.

photo: Pixabay.com

Yes, Career Counseling Is Necessary

By Frankie Wallace

For many students, the idea of graduating from high school is daunting. There is an undeniable sense of urgency in figuring out exactly what they want out of life and exactly how they are going to make it happen over the next few years. That feeling of standing on the edge of a nest and being forced to jump out of it is at its strongest.

Is college the right direction or is something like a vocational or technical school the right move? Regardless, how does one navigate paying for all this education? Furthermore, what does it mean to be a real adult who has to do laundry, feed themselves, and work to pay all the bills while still balancing a social life?

None of these questions have particularly easy answers, especially for students who are lacking the support and expertise to get this information from home. This is where a career counselor can come in and make a real difference in the lives of the students they counsel. Counselors in schools can provide a multitude of services ranging from career preparation advice to emotional support for traumatic situations and bullying.

Providing Career Preparation Support

Arguably the most influential role a school counselor will play in the majority of student’s lives is providing advice on career decisions after graduation. This process can start early in a student’s academic program, sometimes as early as middle school. One of the most important things counselors can do during the school year is provide advice on class scheduling. According to a College Board poll conducted on the class of 2010, nearly 40 percent wished they’d taken different classes while in high school to help better prepare them for the real world.

Unfortunately, a substantial number of students do not have the support to help them prepare for higher education after graduating, especially if no one in their family has pursued higher education before. There are a lot of unknowns that can provide serious barriers to finishing technical school or becoming a successful college student. Without the help of a school counselor for decision making and timelines, even some of the smartest students can fall through the cracks.

School counselors can provide career advice by suggesting employment paths that students may not have thought of or even knew existed. They play a pivotal role in helping students decide if college or technical school or other types of higher education is right for them and kicking off the enrollment/application process. Some studies suggest that helping students through the post-high school education application process is the most important means of boosting enrollment among students who want to go.

Providing Life Advice

In addition to offering career advice throughout the young adult years, career counselors in schools also prep students for making the transition into the real world. Making this transition can be a surprisingly difficult move for many students, especially while balancing post-high school education plans. Failure to successfully do so is often listed as a factor explaining why students drop out during their first year of college right after high school.

School counselors obviously cannot be the sole teacher of what life is like in the real world, but they can provide advice on numerous things that can make a big difference. For instance, they can help students understand the financial decisions that impact their credit score. Most students don’t have the slightest idea how important keeping a high credit score can be to making successful major purchases in the future, and often times it doesn’t come up until it is too late to fix easily.

Furthermore, school counselors can help students prepare for a successful transition into their career by offering insights on things such as developing a healthy work-life balance, maintaining and building friendships while working, and budgeting successfully. On the surface, these may not seem to directly impact the career success of graduating students, but in reality, these may be the most important little things in ensuring goals are reached.

Providing Emotional Support

Outside of career advice and preparation instruction, counselors also play a significant role in the emotional and mental support of students throughout their educational experience. Whether it is coping with anxiety over test taking, working out misunderstandings amongst friends, or combatting bullying, counselors play a role. A good school career counselor may be the single biggest factor in helping students overcome emotional barriers.

Bullying is perhaps one of the most devastating aspects of the modern educational system. According to a 2015 U.S. Department of Education study, nearly 25 percent of students reported having been bullied at some point during their middle or high school careers. School counselors have an impactful role in identifying and addressing bullying through educational programming and emotional support for students working through the ramifications associated with bullying.

The emotional support provided by counselors can be life changing to some students. For instance, learning to manage workloads and anxiety can help students to balance projects successfully —  an important skill both in life, in careers, and in higher education. Developing these strategies can also boost self-confidence in students, which can have substantial impacts on improving success in the classroom.

Overall, career counselors in schools are a vital component to the long-term success of students. They work towards helping them achieve their career goals through schedule planning and post-high school planning and enrollment. Furthermore, they help students through difficult emotional situations and provide tips on successfully transitioning into adult life.

Yes, I Am Challenging Your Kid

The following is a guest post by Eugene Eaton.  Eugene is an Australian-based blogger for CareersBooster, who is into stand-up comedy. His favorite comedians are Louis CK and George Carlin. A good morning laugh is what keeps Eugene upbeat and motivated through a harsh day.

Dear Parents, I Am Challenging Your Kid

Education has always been a controversial topic. Parents want the best for their children and teachers try their best at the same time. A problem arises when kids don’t accomplish what their parents expect of them.

Their struggle leads parents to misunderstand what’s happening and approaching the problem from the wrong direction. Instead of working things out as a family, they sometimes blame the teacher.

Even when they have a chance to converse normally, they ask uncomfortable questions. Amongst them is an accusation that teachers don’t “challenge” their child. This elephant in the room causes rifts in parent-teacher relationships.

The parents’ perspective

When they raise their children, parents get to know them and learn their habits perfectly. However, this is in a limited environment, without too much proof of the child’s character. The moment school starts, parents expect more from their kids, but from the education system as well.

Expectations are the wrong way to look at their child’s intellectual growth. Instead of bringing joy and success, parents tend to get mad or disappointed when their expectations aren’t met.

Jeremiah Matters, a pedagogy and psychology specialist at CareersBooster, says, “Parents go through a lot of pressure because they want the absolute best for their child. They try so hard that they sometimes end up venting their frustrations the wrong way. Unfortunately, teachers are the ones who suffer because of their children’s shortcomings. The most uncomfortable thing they do is question the work ethic of teachers.”

During parent-teacher conferences, some parents want to know if the teacher is doing everything he or she can to educate their child. All they think about is results, instead of looking at the whole picture.

The parents think the problem is because the teacher doesn’t challenge their child enough. Even posing this question is insulting. As a teacher, I will give you an analysis of the educator’s perspective.

Unnecessary questions

We teachers take our job very seriously and work on even the most basic things. Amongst these facets is the best possible teaching method – posing a challenge to students. A class is structured precisely this way. I teach math to high school students, and I follow one of the most efficient teaching methods. Here’s how it goes:

  • I explain the lesson and everything connected to it.
  • In between different explanations, I pose questions to cause students to become more curious.
  • As they become more curious, they become more involved as I explain the rest of the lesson.
  • Once the lesson is done, I explain problems.
  • Simple problems give children confidence.
  • After we’re done with simple problems, I give them the opportunity to solve the harder ones.
  • As they solve the harder ones, I ask them additional questions and challenge them to give their best.

Education in itself is a challenge. We give our students the tools to solve seemingly difficult tasks. When they feel challenged, they are motivated to give their best and succeed.

In the classroom, we only want the very best for them. So yes, your child is being challenged, and not a single lesson is an exception to this way of approaching students. What’s the problem, then?

Where the problem appears

Some might not realize, but we further deepen the challenging part of our classes. Every day, I do all the following things to help your child become better:

  • Give them a challenging task and allow them to engage
  • Encourage them to solve the problem by establishing a healthy and competitive environment
  • Give them the opportunity to think deeply about the crux of the problem
  • Offer the students an opportunity to teach each other through group assignments and working in pairs
  • Stimulate their love for the topic

Not only do I teach your child everything they need to have an A+ in math, but also everything they need in life. A problem appears when the child doesn’t have good enough marks or if he isn’t motivated.

At this precise time, you should talk to your child before you talk to me. No matter how much I challenge my students, there will still be factors I cannot influence. Through talks with your child, you can learn so much.

Understand your child

Childhood is the most difficult period in everyone’s life. In a little more than one decade, children have to learn so much, about a variety of topics. Even if your child is incredibly intelligent, he can still feel fatigue.

Sit down with them and talk. Don’t be afraid to come over and have a talk with me together. My job isn’t done after the bell rings. Your child is a person, and I want them to grow into the best person they can be.

As a teacher, I encourage all of my students to tell me if I’m making a mistake or if I can do something better. However, you cannot say I am not challenging them enough. That is the basis of my entire profession, and I dedicate every moment of my work to bringing out the best of my students.

Parents and teachers aren’t enemies. We have to work together, and I am always available for cooperation.

Your child may not like math, and that’s okay. Encourage him to speak to me, but please don’t think he or she is not challenged enough. Instead, let us work as a team to make them the best person possible.

Concluding thoughts

A child is going through a turbulent period in their life, and we’re here to help them. Talking resolves all problems, and I’m sure we can come to a solution. Teachers are human too, and we would love if you stopped thinking we’re not challenging your child. Every day, we give our best to provide challenges for the entire class, and we’re never going to give up. Instead of accusing us, talk to us and allow us to get to know your child. Let’s build a relationship.

The Teacher’s Veto

We’ve all been there. Sitting in another meeting and being told about yet another initiative that promises to solve the same problem the last initiative was supposed to solve. We’ve sat stone-faced as failed teachers (also called trainers) explained to us exactly how to use the fancy new program our district overpaid for. We’ve kept silent as principals informed us of new policies that conflict with everything we believe about good teaching. And we’ve nodded along, feigning assent, as district leaders sold us on the latest education trend, which they have eagerly adopted on our behalf, that will at long last get the results we all want.

In spite of the furious rebuttals trying to punch their way past our lips, we’re able to hold our tongues (and our good standing among our supervisors) because we all know where the last line of defense resides. If you’ve taught for even a couple of years you’ve heard (and probably thought) the teacher’s saving grace, the one sentence that likely prevents teacher after teaching from doing their best Howard Beale, upending their neatly stacked letter trays, kicking their tote bags across the room, and storming out of the building in righteous, fed-up anger.

It’s always there, whispering its comforting assurance:

“Whatever,” the voice says. “I’ll just close my door and keep doing what I’m doing. Who’s going to know?”

This is the teacher’s veto, the last vestige of true autonomy in the classroom. It recognizes a reality that all teachers understand but few reformers or school leaders seem to acknowledge:

What happens in classrooms is ultimately up to the teacher.

You can tell teachers how to do their job. You can tell them what to teach. You can tell them what to write on their boards. You can demand fidelity to your new program. You can ban movies or independent reading or competitive games or candy in prize boxes.

But the only way you can enforce any of it is by actually going into classrooms, observing, and disciplining the mavericks. Most school leaders, for reasons both good and bad, won’t do that.

And teachers know it.

You can design brand new standards that you claim will raise student achievement, but you can’t make teachers teach them. You certainly can’t make them teach the standards the way you want them to.

You can purchase the best curriculum money can buy, but you can’t force teachers to use it with fidelity.

You can require learning goals be written on the board before every lesson. You can even require a particular format for them. But you can’t force teachers to use the goals with students or to actually teach the things that are written on the board. (Admission: I’ve often left the same goals on the board for weeks. No one’s ever noticed.)

You can make teachers define success criteria and write performance scales and you can send a document telling teachers which assessments they will use to mark report cards and how to use the scales, but once teachers sit down to mark report cards, they can use whatever criteria they want. And chances are pretty good that no parent will ever question it.

You can institute a no-movies policy, but unless an administrator is going to spend a lot of time peeking through classroom doors, you can’t do much to prevent teachers from showing whatever movie they want.

You can roll out a new state test and you can force teachers to give it to their students, but you can’t ensure that teachers stress the test’s importance, or that they establish a good testing environment, or that they don’t tell their students, “I don’t give two mushy turds how you do on this stupid test because you’re far more than a test score and besides, no one is ever going to care about your dumb fourth grade science test score results, so if you want, just go ahead and click stuff so we can finish this thing and get back to learning.”

Thank God for the teacher’s veto. It may be the only thing keeping some of our best teachers in the profession. The knowledge that you can usually ignore the dumbest ideas and continue to do what’s best for kids is what makes laughably bad policies and ill-conceived mandates bearable.

Smart teachers will figure out ways around stupid policies. They will follow the letter of your law while protecting students from its unintended consequences. They’ll limit the damage created by your ill-informed mandates.

So what’s a reformer or school leader with new ideas to improve education to do? If teachers are going to ignore anything they don’t like, what’s the point? Why not just throw in the towel and admit that change will never happen?

Because the solution is remarkably simple: Include teachers from the start.  Ask them what they need instead of telling them what to do. No, you won’t get them all, but they will be a lot more likely to try something they’ve had a hand in creating than something they’ve been compelled to do.

If teachers are telling you that something is a bad idea, then they’re telling you it’s not going to work and you can be sure that teachers aren’t going to do something that doesn’t work for very long. They are the ones who’ll be blamed when it fails. They’re the ones who have to field the parent phone calls. They’re the ones who have to look students in the eye and explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. When they need to, they will exercise their veto.

And we should be glad they do.