Are Work Emails Adding to Your Exhaustion?

One of the more interesting things I read in the past year was in the book, The Happiness Equation, by Neil Pasricha. Neil tells a story about working for a powerful and well-respected CEO who never replied to his emails. When Pasricha finally worked up the courage to ask the CEO why, he was told:

“Neil, there’s a problem with email. After you send one, the responsibility of it goes away from you and becomes the responsibility of the other person. It’s a hot potato. An email is work given to you by somebody else.”

I remember that last line every time I check my email at work:

An email is work given to you by somebody else.

Take a look at your last ten work emails and see if it’s true. Here are my five most recent:

1. A parent wanting more information about a playground incident her son reported.
2. An office request that I send a Remind message to parents about the upcoming school carnival.
3. An email informing teachers that the office has two fundraiser packets without names on them and requesting that we try to identify the students based on the names on the order forms.
4. A parent asking how her son did in class today.
5. A reminder about schedule changes due to the third graders’ concert rehearsal.

Four of the five require something of me, and that can lead to exhaustion.

How?

As I write about in my book, Exhausted, each day we wake up with a full tank of willpower. As we exercise self-control and make decisions, that willpower is depleted, and along with it, our glucose levels. Additionally, high-intensity emotions like anger and negative thoughts like worry also drain us of energy. Each time you check your email, you risk the very strong likelihood that one of the following will happen:

1. You read something that requires action, and you know you already have too much to do and not enough time to do it. This stresses you out. Stress fatigues the body.

2. You read something that upsets or annoys you, and must then use willpower to not swear or slam your fist down or fire off a strongly-worded rebuttal. Using this kind of self-regulation burns glucose, one of our major sources of energy.

3. You read something that requires you to make a decision, and making decisions depletes your willpower.

Each of the above uses up some of the limited energy you have in a day. Combined with all the other times teachers use willpower, make decisions, regulate their emotions, and experience anxiety, emails can contribute to your exhaustion.

So what do you do?

Check your email less often. I used to carry my phone around in my pocket and check it 20 times a day in the classroom. If I saw the notification light blinking, I’d check to see what it was and I’d read every email that arrived within minutes. I took pride in always knowing what was going on, of being on top of things.

But now I only check it three times a day. Knowing that each email is likely to lead to stress, the need to self-regulate, or require a decision from me, I seek to minimize the damage to my energy levels while I still have to get through most of my teaching day.

I check email once before school, once during lunch, and once before students leave (in case a parent is relaying an end-of-day message about where their kid needs to go after school). Then, when school is over, I go through and read those emails I delayed action on and delete any I don’t need to keep.

Checking your email at designated times is just one way to be more intentional with technology so you can be more productive and reserve your limited stores of energy. Angela Watson has many others and she’s sharing them right now. Angela is currently offering a 21-Day Intentional Connectivity Challenge that can help you establish new habits around your devices.

Read more and sign up here:

Angela Watson’s 21-Day Intentional Connectivity Challenge

The Real Reason Teachers Are Evaluated

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, a group of self-important people decided that schools weren’t getting the job done. Naturally, they blamed this failure on the people working inside the schools. Since only one group of people worked directly with the students who were doing such an abysmal job compared to their international peers, they decided that teachers were the root of the problem.

The solution was simple: Get better ones.

But attracting people who might be better teachers than the ones currently doing the job would be difficult and costly. Teaching is hard. You can’t get rich doing it, no matter how driven you are. And taxpayers don’t love paying for things.

Providing better training to those who were already willing to become teachers might help, but that seemed hard too. How rigorous of a training program are you going to put candidates through if the reward at the end is an endlessly stressful job that (eventually) pays a middle-class income and subjects the graduate to scapegoating for all of the nation’s ills? Would better training even make a difference? If B and C students were becoming teachers and it was too hard to entice A students to the field, then was it really prudent to reform teacher training programs? How good should we expect B and C students to be?

So they landed on the one thing they could control and that wouldn’t cost much money: Get rid of the bad teachers. If you got rid of the duds, then only the good ones would remain. And then students would do better.

In order to get rid of those bad teachers, they had to make it easier for districts to fire them. So they attacked tenure and removed other teacher protections so districts could more expeditiously dump their losers.

This idea had the benefit of being nearly universally supported. For who could oppose getting rid of awful teachers? Most people had no trouble thinking of at least one teacher who deserved the ax.

I’ve worked with two truly bad teachers in my eighteen-year career. One was a gym teacher who only had her students play cat and mouse. All year long. Never went outside. Another was a grump who hung on for the paycheck. She mostly showed videos. Not educational ones, either. She’d just stick a full-length Disney movie in and let it play all afternoon while she sat at her desk and grumbled at students who dared talk during the film. The rest had varying levels of dedication and competence, but they all did the job. They taught. They cared about how their students did. None of them mailed it in. But fire those two? You bet!

If it had stopped there, with getting rid of the worst of the worst, most teachers would have supported the reforms. Nearly everyone in a school knows who should no longer be teaching. An evaluation system needn’t be any more complicated than asking everyone in a building to write down the names of teachers who should be let go. If the same name shows up five or more times, then get rid of that person.

But no. That’s cruel. That’s unfair. It’s not very scientific. The potential for abuse is obvious. Why, school personnel might conspire to get rid of an unpopular but effective teacher!

So we made it more complex to give the appearance of fairness.

We now have convoluted evaluation systems that require a lot more money and work so we can churn out lots more numbers and labels. Instead of just getting rid of the worst among us, administrators have to observe every teacher, fill out onerous checklists, input countless data points, and complete several year-end evaluations, all so teachers can be ranked and sorted and given a meaningless number and silly label.

Tests have to be created, not to assess students, as tests are supposed to, but to assess teachers because there have to be multiple data points. Districts spend thousands on preapproved evaluation systems like Danielson and Marzano and thousands more on data warehouses. Administrators have to be trained to use the evaluation tools so we can pretend they’re being used consistently.

We do all of this because we want the decision to fire a teacher to appear scientific and therefore fair.

But in reality, the observations are subjective, which means they’re unscientific and therefore unfair. The tests often measure proficiency instead of growth, which makes them not very useful for judging teachers. The potential for abuse is obvious. Why, administrators might conspire to get rid of an unpopular but effective teacher!

In other words, we’re wasting scarce resources to not solve any problems. We have traded a simple way of removing bad teachers for a complicated way that squanders an incredible amount of time and money, is not actually any more scientific or fair than a simple vote would be, and can easily be used to target teachers that administrators don’t like.

We’ve done it because it allows us to comfort ourselves with the lie that this way — because it’s complicated and there are numbers involved –is a more fair way to do things.

But it isn’t. It’s just more dishonest, wasteful, and cowardly.

The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Leave School At School: Work Less, Live More, Teach Better. It’s available in both Kindle and print forms on Amazon.

I eat in the teachers’ lounge, and almost every day someone brings in one of those Lean Cuisine frozen lunches and pops it in the microwave.  You can trace the origins of such convenience foods to the years following World War II. The military had developed MREs and other foods meant to withstand long periods of storage and allow for easy preparation on the battlefield. After the war, several commercial food companies had leftover manufacturing facilities, so some of them created new freeze-dried and canned food products for domestic use. They pumped out boxes of fish sticks, canned peaches, and even ill-fated cheeseburgers-in-a-can. Jell-o introduced new dessert flavors throughout the 1950s. Sales soared.

With so many new products to sell, advertisements swept across the amber waves and purple mountains, reminding Americans again and again how busy they were, how hectic their days had become, and how desperately they needed quick meals. “If you’re a typical modern housewife, you want to do your cooking as fast as possible,” wrote a columnist at Household magazine who was promoting instant coffee and canned onion soup. Kellogg’s even created cereal that could be served faster. Their ads claimed that busy moms loved their presweetened Corn Pops. Because who had time for the laborious task of sprinkling on a spoonful of sugar?

TV dinners. Minute rice. Instant potatoes. “Hot breads—in a jiffy!” All were peddled to harried housewives who just didn’t have enough hours in the day to cook like their mothers had. “It’s just 1-2-3, and dinner’s on the table,” exclaimed an article in Better Homes & Gardens. “That’s how speedy the fixing can be when the hub of your meal is delicious canned meat.” [1]

But the faster the cooking, the less it felt like real cooking and the greater the potential for guilt on the part of the homemaker. That was the problem with instant cake mix. Intended to save busy housewives time by simply adding water to a mix, stirring, and popping in the oven, instant cake mix seemed like a fantastic idea. But sales fizzled after a few years. It turned out that TV dinners or the kids’ cereal were one thing, but a cake — well, that was another matter. Any homemaker worth her salt wouldn’t make a generic cake from a box that couldn’t be distinguished from a cake baked by the guests she was serving it to.

When marketers dove in to uncover what went wrong with cake mix, they discovered that it was too easy. The solution was simple: Have the baker add an egg. Once the powdered egg was removed from the mix, sales recovered and instant cake mixes became a mainstay in nearly every home in America. By adding one step to the mixing process, homemakers felt they were really baking again.

The cake mix lesson has since been repeated many times over. Build-a-Bear sends you the raw materials and the directions, but it’s up to you to actually build the bear. Cooks at “patron-prepared” restaurants like Mongolian Barbecue will cook the food for you, but only after you select the ingredients. City-dwellers take “Haycations,” where they pay farmers to do their work for them. And of course, there’s IKEA, which sells furniture at a discount because buyers have to build their own bookcases, cabinets, and tables. In each of these instances, people seem to place more value on items to which they have contributed some labor.

With this in mind, three psychologists, Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, conducted a series of studies to find out whether consumers would, in fact, pay more money for products they themselves assembled. The research consisted of three different experiments.

In the first experiment, researchers found that participants were willing to pay 63% more for furniture they had built over furniture that came pre-assembled.

In the second experiment, Norton, Mochon, and Ariely asked subjects to make origami frogs or cranes. They then asked the subjects how much they were willing to pay for their own work. Following this, researchers gathered another group of volunteers who had not created any origami. These new subjects were asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by the participants. Then the researchers asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by an expert. These people, who had no personal connection to the creations, were willing to pay more for the expert’s products, which is exactly what one would expect. The participants who had made the origami frogs and cranes were then shown a display of origami that consisted of one set they had built themselves and one set that had been built by the experts. They were asked to bid on the different origami. The builders perceived the origami they had created as being of equal quality to those created by the pros.

The results of these studies suggest that when people construct a particular product, even if they do a cruddy job of it, they will value it more than if they had not put any effort into its creation.

Participants, wrote Norton and colleagues, “saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions.”

The psychologists dubbed this the IKEA effect.

Two Problems For Teachers

There are two problems the IKEA effect creates for teachers. The first is that what you make is likely not nearly as good as you think it is. Your rubric is not better than another teacher’s. You just think it is because you made it. Same goes for everything else you’ve created. 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 second lesson is that there is a cost to spending time creating stuff. If you spend an hour 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 that hour doing other things. You could have used the time on something that will make a difference for your students. You could have spent it doing an activity you enjoy. You could have even taken a nap during that hour and gone to work the next day better rested. The science is harsh but clear: If you’re a teacher who creates his own materials, you’re wasting your most precious resource making stuff that isn’t very good, in spite of the fact that you can find better resources with a few clicks of your mouse, or even more simply, by opening your teacher’s guide.

For the teacher looking to improve his effectiveness while spending less time working, the IKEA effect gives you permission to stop making stuff and steal (or purchase) from others.

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[1] Shapiro, Laura. Something from the oven: reinventing dinner in 1950s America. Penguin Books, 2005.

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22 Reasons Why Performance Pay for Teachers is a Terrible Idea

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The idea of paying teachers for their performance is attractive to many reformers, and even to some educators. While the rhetoric behind such a push is often high-minded, with advocates claiming they want to “reward great teachers,” the motives are suspicious. Merit pay looks good on paper, but it will lead to a staggering number of unintended consequences, most of which are bad for kids, bad for school districts, bad for administrators, bad for teachers, and bad for communities. I thought of twenty-two. Add your own in the comments.

1. Cheating — If you pay more for higher test scores, you’ll get higher test scores, one way or another.

2. Lack of Money — So what happens in a school district where students score off the charts on tests and the district suddenly has to pay teachers more than they budgeted? My guess is that the state is not going to be willing to simply cut a bigger check.

3. Budgeting –School districts don’t like unknown costs and since employee compensation is by far the largest chunk of any district’s budget, I have no idea how districts would budget for upcoming school years. My guess is that they’d significantly lower the base pay for all teachers to provide ample wiggle room for performance pay. (Which might be what merit pay advocates are hoping for.)

4. Rigging Teacher Evaluations — Let’s assume performance pay will be paid out based on a teacher’s evaluation (which is based on test scores and principal observations). Now let’s assume each district has a finite amount of money and cannot get any more. Let’s further assume scores are unusually high (maybe because of cheating). How will districts afford unexpected higher costs? They’ll avoid them by directing principals to ding teachers on observations, thereby lowering their overall evaluation. Which is exactly what cash-strapped districts would do.

5. A Greater Incentive to Get Rid of Expensive Teachers — The major problem with the way public education is set up is that there is a greater incentive to control costs than there is to improve educational outcomes. Districts with funding problems get taken over. Districts that excel at educating kids get nothing extra. If states establish systems whereby “effective” teachers make more money, and if a district has too many “effective” teachers, then their costs will rise. There will exist a financial incentive, especially in tight times, to shed the most expensive employees, which in this case will be the most “effective” teachers. Doesn’t make a whole lot of educational sense. But when there’s a choice between money and academics, money always wins.

6. A Lack of Fairness in Pay — You might not like the current system. You might plausibly argue that an excellent teacher should be paid more than a mediocre one. But at least everyone understands the game before they get into it. How would a merit pay system affect a gym teacher? A music teacher? A special education teacher? There are a lot of different jobs in a school and not all of them are measured by students taking a test. Pay for performance doesn’t fit in far too many instances.

7. More Teacher Mobility — This is one consequence that teachers might actually benefit from. Right now, since tenure protections have been eroded and layoffs are supposed to happen according to teachers’ evaluations, the only thing keeping teachers in their districts is the pay structure. It doesn’t make financial sense for a ten-year veteran teacher to switch districts and be paid for five years, if they’re lucky. If districts decide to pay for performance instead of years of experience, there is nothing to keep teachers coming back every year. This might be good for teachers–it effectively makes them free agents every summer–but it’s horrible for districts and communities. Think about how much money districts would have to spend training new teachers every year. How much time would be wasted bringing large numbers of new members into the fold at the beginning of the school year and teaching them all the school procedures? Instability in a school is not a good thing.

8. Competition Among Teachers — Ideally, we hope that teachers share their best practices with their colleagues to make every child’s education better. A performance-based pay system will lead to competition among teachers for scare resources. You can expect infighting for Title One service time and other assistance, arguing over schedules, as teachers perceive their schedule gives them a disadvantage over another teacher’s, and possibly the hoarding of limited materials. Again, schools have set amounts of money. When more is given to one teacher, less has to be given to another.

9. Less Recess, Especially for Kids Who Need It Most — So you’re a teacher who knows his pay will be affected by how his students do on a test. You also know you have about ten students who, with extra practice, can realistically be expected to show enough growth over last year’s test that it makes it worth your while to give them extra practice. Now, where might you find the time to provide that extra practice? You could keep them after school and sacrifice time with your family, or you could take away their recess.

10. Fewer Arts Classes — A merit pay system might lead teachers to consider the following choice: Do I allow my students to go to music class, where they will learn very little that will help them do well on the standardized test that will determine my pay, or do I tutor them during this time?

11. Teacher Resentment Over Kids Who Need the Most Support — Obviously, under this pay system, teachers will want students who can and want to learn. Every year, in every grade level, there are a handful of students who, for a number of reasons, can’t and don’t. Instead of looking at these poor kids as people who need more love and support, teachers may look upon them with resentment, which is exactly what they don’t need. Not only will those students be costing their teachers dollars, their behavior may well impact the learning of other students, which could lead to an even lower teacher salary and even more resentment.

12. Less Patience for Misbehavior — Get ready principals. Because if you’re going to pay teachers based on performance then teachers are going to push for an atmosphere conducive to learning. Very few will be willing to work through a student’s behavior issues if they have the alternative of kicking the kid out and teaching the kids who have a chance of scoring well (or at least improving enough) on the state test.

13. Ignoring the Lowest of the Low — Why bother teaching the lowest students at all? Some teachers will do the calculus: If Student X has little to no chance of scoring well or improving much on the test, wouldn’t it make more sense for that teacher to focus his scarce time and energy on the students who do stand a chance of succeeding?

14. Ignoring the Highest of the High — Susie is going to do well on the test regardless of her teacher. She’s got great parents, she already reads above grade level, she’s good at math. Susie is literally money in the bank for her teacher in a performance-based pay system. Instead of challenging Susie, you can expect many teachers to leave Susie alone while she works with the students in the middle who have a chance of boosting her income.

15. Teaching to the Test — Already happens. Will happen even more.

16. Less Hands-On Learning — Standardized tests have no hands-on components. It would be a waste of time to do experiments when a teacher could be preparing students to do well on the state test to enhance her pay.

17. Say Goodbye to Field Trips, Assemblies, Class Parties, and Lessons from the Guidance Counselor — Few teachers will want to spend their most precious resource–time–on these activities when that time will do nothing to improve the chances that they’ll earn a larger salary. People respond to incentives. It’s naive to think teachers won’t.

18. Going Rogue — So a teacher’s school district has mandated that she teach a new reading program, but that teacher has seen really good results with a previous program. Now the teacher has a choice: Disobey orders from administration because she thinks she’ll get better results with the old program (and make more $), or be a good soldier even though it may mean less money for her. Multiply that over and over and you get each teacher making his or her own decision in every subject, which is essentially what we had before state standards and a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.”

19. Good Luck Finding a Placement for Student Teachers — You’re a teacher who is going to be paid based on how well your students do on a test. What are the chances you’re going to let some twenty-two year old rookie stand in front of your kids and stumble through a math unit?

20. Making Class Lists — I wouldn’t want to be a principal in charge of making class lists under a merit pay system. Nearly every teacher will complain about their list. Too many special ed students, too many autistic students, THAT kid, too many students, how come Mrs. Davis got all the good kids? She always gets all the good kids. Etc., etc., etc.

21. Ignoring Parent Requests — As a parent, I want to be able to have some say in who my child gets as her teacher, but the truth is some teachers get a lot more requests than others and it’s not always because the teacher is all that great. She may have just been around a long time. First-year teachers hardly ever get requests. And let’s be honest, parents who request teachers are, by definition, more involved and are more likely to have children who are better students as a result. So honoring parent requests will lead to class list inequality, which isn’t exactly fair when you’re tying teacher pay to the performance of their students. Districts will have a choice: Antagonize parents in the interests of keeping teachers happy with balanced classes or appease parents and anger teachers? They lose either way.

22. The Best Students Get the Best Teachers — This may be the worst unintended consequence of all. You’ve graduated at the top of your elite high school’s class. You could be anything. You decide to make a difference in the lives of young people and become a teacher. Upon graduating, you have a choice. You can teach in a poor district, where your job will be challenging, your students will come to class with all kinds of problems you never had growing up, their parents will be overworked, stressed out, lacking in parental skill, and just won’t have the time, energy, ability, or inclination to help their children much at home. These students will struggle to perform on the state test, and you will be punished with a lower salary. Or you could go teach in the university town with the brand new building, gorgeous athletic fields, air-conditioned rooms, and parents with college degrees who make their children read every night and offer to come into your classroom to teach lessons in their areas of expertise.  These students will score well on the test, with or without you, and you will be paid handsomely. Which would you choose? And is that good for the country?


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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.