A couple of years ago I was written up for wearing a red shirt to school. It was one of those national “Wear Red for Ed” days and the union had sent an email telling everyone to wear shirts that had been designed during a previous round of negotiations. They bore the words “Support Charlotte Teachers As We Support Your Students.” Administration caught wind of it and issued a memo telling teachers that such an act would be considered political and could result in discipline (because I guess suggesting that the public support teachers and students is political now – nice time we live in). Some teachers switched to other red shirts. I altered mine a bit:
The Superintendent directed the principals to go around and record the names of all the teachers who wore red shirts. I guess it’s in my permanent file now, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
This episode was one of many that teachers in my former district endured under the “leadership” of petty tyrants, and even it, silly as it was, doesn’t come close to how bad some teachers have it.
When I started this blog two and a half years ago, I didn’t think I was being brave. Still don’t. But apparently, that’s because I work for sane people. I’ve had readers email me things like, “Thanks for saying what we can’t” and “Thank you for being a voice for those of us too afraid to speak up.” Teachers have left anonymous comments on blog posts with arguments far more persuasive than anything I’ve written but then declined an opportunity to write a guest article because they were afraid someone in their district office would see it and deduce its author. One Amazon reviewer left the following review for my book The Teacher’s Guide to Saying NO:
“Every teacher should read this book, subscribe to his page, follow him on Facebook! He and his guest writers say exactly what we would say if we could.”
Others have flat out said that if they wrote what I wrote, they’d be out of a job.
Some of this is likely fear on the part of teachers. While they may indeed work for contemptible, officious prats, they’re probably exaggerating the limits those prats want to place on their speech.
But some of this fear to speak up — far too much of it — is the fact that we have too many petty tyrants in positions of educational leadership. Offered a sip of power for the first time in their lives, they slam down the entire goblet and prance around like Nero.
These leaders cause harm to our education system. They make improvement impossible by shutting down any possibility of debate that could make things better. The culture of fear and silence they cultivate drive good teachers from the classroom and destroy the morale of those who stay. It’s hard to pour your heart and soul into a job when the people who are in charge show so little respect for the work you do and focus instead on the color of shirt you’re wearing. Leaders who stand in front of teachers and tell them that it’s all about the kids but then act in ways that discourage candid criticism and snuff out pointed questions are not actually interested in improving their schools or districts; they’re interested in doing what’s easiest for them.
They say that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. In my experience, this is true. I know many teachers who left their previous schools, not because of pay, or parents, or student behavior, or the physical condition of the building they worked in but because they were sick and tired of working for people who were more concerned with silencing teachers, squelching dissent, and promoting a false image of harmony to the community than they were about improving the teaching and learning in their schools.
If you won’t allow your teachers to speak to the media
If no teacher in your employ ever speaks critically at a school board meeting
If your instinct after having one of your decisions criticized is to get revenge on those doing the criticizing
If you’re more concerned with your image than the performance of the school or district you run
If you’re spending any time at all looking at your teachers’ social media pages
If you ask teachers to fill out surveys and there are no criticisms because the teachers suspect you’ll be able to identify them
If you never ask teachers to provide feedback on your performance as a leader
Then you might be a petty tyrant.
If you are, KNOCK IT OFF. Do better. Be better. See if you can find a little humility and maybe learn something that will make your district or building a better place to work and learn.
And if you can’t do that, then please find something else to do.
Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is once again accepting new members. I’m an affiliate partner of Angela, which means I get a cut from every membership she sells. This is my only affiliate partnership because I only endorse products that teachers like and that work.
The folks over at My Morning Routine interviewed me about – you guessed it – my morning routine, such as it is. You can read that here.
I’ve got a cover design for my next book, Teach Like a Cat. It’s over on the right. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Education.com is running a writing contest that will award $500 in scholarship money to six lucky K-5 winners. Scholarship money is hard to find for kids this age, so you might want to share this with parents or do it as a writing assignment in class.