The term mission creep is defined as “the tendency for a task to become unintentionally wider in scope than its initial objectives.” It’s usually used to describe military operations, but schools have made mission creep their standard operating procedure. Schools no longer simply concern themselves with providing students a solid, well-rounded education. In fact, it’s hard to think of a role previously reserved for parents that our schools haven’t adopted. Today’s schools provide breakfast and lunch, character education, dietary guidance, after-school child care, transportation, counseling services, athletic opportunities, computer programming courses, foreign language classes, and about 100 other things.
Now some schools have even started acting as full-service laundromats. The Care Counts program, a partnership between schools and Whirlpool, places washers and dryers, as well as detergent, fabric softener, and laundry bags, inside urban schools with the goal of reducing absenteeism. It’s working. Research from the 2016-17 school year showed that high-risk students attended school nearly two more days a month while participating in the program. The success has led to more than 1,000 school representatives reaching out to the program’s sponsor.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? The media certainly think so, with laudatory headlines like:
The Key to School Attendance: Washing Machines
60 Schools Across the US Are Using A Genius Strategy to Boost Kids’ Attendance Rates
How Installing Washing Machines in Schools Can Change Students’ Lives
What’s to criticize about a program that increases school attendance for the most at-risk kids in the country?
There’s an image in a USA Today story on the Care Counts program of a school principal loading clothes into a washing machine, which prompts the question, what is that principal not doing when she’s doing laundry?
Read through the articles and it’s as though trade-offs don’t exist. Nowhere in any of them does a journalist ever wonder what isn’t happening while school employees wash kids’ clothes. Is that principal not meeting with teachers when she should be? Is she neglecting student discipline responsibilities or pawning them off on another staff member? Should she be looking at assessment data to evaluate the effectiveness of a program she initiated last school year?
Even if cleaning clothes does boost attendance, we should ask if it’s worth it. Is it worth it to ask principals, who often make in excess of $100,000 a year, to wash blue jeans? Is it worth it to give the leaders of our schools, who are already overwhelmed with work, one more thing to do?Just because a program works and people like it, doesn’t mean it’s worth doing, especially in schools, where almost every employee is already expected to do too much. Click To Tweet
The Care Counts program, well-meaning and effective at reducing absenteeism as it is, exemplifies schools’ eagerness to solve every problem faced by their students, and it highlights their inability to consider trade-offs. Instead of following the lead of successful businesses and people all over the world and deciding what they’re good at and doing that relentlessly, schools attempt to do it all. As a result, they end up doing very little exceptionally well.
The number of programs teachers are being asked to implement continues to grow. The number of ongoing district-wide initiatives expands unabated. The number of electives today dwarfs the options available twenty, or even ten, years ago, to say nothing of the extracurriculars held before and after school. Today, there’s something for everyone! Sports teams, drama, band, robotics, foreign language, school gardens, visual arts, choir, dance, photography, web design, culinary arts, metalworking, and many more. Schools have eagerly accepted an ever-expanding menu of responsibilities, offering students more opportunities, and expecting staff to pitch in when the workload inevitably becomes overwhelming.
Teachers are trapped inside such a system, which makes doing less exceptionally hard. The expectations placed on educators have gotten so bad that when teachers were striking in Oklahoma and West Virginia in 2018, many of them came to work to feed students, sometimes spending their own money to do so.
Schools are trying to solve so many societal problems that it is now somehow educators’ fault if kids don’t eat.
We don’t expect this of any other profession. Health care providers don’t attempt to counsel patients on their spending habits. Financial advisors don’t care what you eat or how much you exercise. Real estate agents don’t offer spiritual guidance. Schools haven’t just failed to stay in their lane, they’re off-roading across the entire landscape.
While it may seem that offering more to students can only be a good thing, the reality is that the more schools try to do, the less they will do well. And the more schools try to do, the more their leaders will ask teachers to “do their part”. They’ll claim that there’s too much to do, so they need everyone on board. Many hands make light work, they’ll remind you. If you complain, they’ll question your dedication. They’ll shrug and tell you that this is the way it is, never bothering to consider that it’s the way it is because school leaders have allowed it to be that way.
You will not simply be a teacher. You will also be a role model, a counselor, a nurse, a motivational speaker, a secretary, a data analyst, a test proctor, a dietician, an event planner, a cheerleader, an interior decorator, a referee, a judge, a janitor, a coach, an entertainer, and a computer repair technician.
It’s no wonder teachers are exhausted.