The Corporation That Ate My Profession

So guess what today was!

Today was in-service day.

All teachers know in-service day. If any of the rest of them feel like I do about it, they tell themselves, “Hey, it won’t be so bad; at least I don’t have to plan or teach or deal with students.” To my students, who actually express sympathy for me because they get a four-day weekend and I had to work today, I’ve been saying, “Hey, without students here, this is pretty much the easiest job in the world.” Lest they get too saddened — I have no doubt they would use the phrase “butt-hurt” — about my apparent eagerness to remove them from my daily equation, I have also added, “Of course, it would be pretty much the most pointless job in the world, too.” Then they feel better. Then I say, “But still: really, really easy.”

But then I actually show up for in-service. And suddenly, it isn’t so easy.

In-service is when the teachers learn what we need to learn in order to become better teachers. In one day. Often in about 45 minutes, the way they usually schedule these things. The decent in-services are based on teacher requests as to what we would like to learn; the better in-services are when the teachers are given an opportunity to collaborate, in departments or by grade level; the best in-services are workdays, when teachers can go to their classrooms — or work at home! — and get caught up on grading and planning. That is the one thing that, more than anything else, actually allows us to teach better: time to prepare, time to give genuine feedback to student work, and the reduction of stress that follows after feeling like some of the piles looming over you have shrunk a little.

The worst in-services, and by far the most common, are the ones where the administrators decide what the teachers need to learn based on some esoteric formula associated with AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress — the idiotic and reductive numerical rating that was the basis of the “accountability” of the No Child Left Behind Act) and closely tied to the hottest trends in pedagogy. This is when we learn about Marzano’s nine secret strategies to teach in order to improve learning (Want to know what #1 is? Summarizing and note-taking. No shit. #2 is using graphic organizers like worksheets. I think Marzano unearthed a syllabus from a secretarial school in the 1910’s, and treated it the way the Renaissance treated ancient Greek wisdom. Like freaking alchemy.), or, as I did today, the Seven Secrets of Success, which are the skills that all students must master in order to prosper in life. #1 is critical thinking. Another one — #5, maybe? — is good oral and written communication skills. My God in Heaven, I wish I had thought of that! If only there was some subject matter I could have studied for five years in college, in order to make it my one area of focus in this profession, that would relate to good oral and written communication. If only.

But there was something else about this particular in-service, resulting from the new school district I am now a part of, in the new state: my school is not a school. It is a business. It is a corporation. And the more I see of the effect this has on my job, the more frightened I get.

It starts with the little things: the language, for one.

We don’t have a superintendent; we have a CEO. He doesn’t have assistant or deputy superintendents; he has a COO, a CFO, and a CAO (Chief Academic Officer). After a breakfast (Which, I admit, was far better than what I’ve been fed for the last seven or eight years in Oregon, ever since the economy tanked and they stopped catering the in-service days at the beginning of every school year) and a speech, we had an icebreaker activity; then we watched a TED talk, from a Harvard professor from the School of Business, about those seven skills. And then we had individual classes, taught — thankfully — by other teachers in my distri — I mean, from within the corporate — do I say “family” here? Maybe “hegemony?” But they weren’t small group lessons, or expert trainings; they were “breakout sessions.” Lunch wasn’t just lunch, it was a “networking lunch.”

Most of which I spent grading homework.

But. This was only one day, and I don’t want to make too much out of it. After all, I’ve had in-services as long as I’ve been a teacher, and it’s not like obnoxious buzzwords are new to education — I remember my peers having a sort of “drinking game” (Actually based on eating Reese’s Pieces) every time our administrator used the term “piece,” as in, “And these rubrics will help to bring in the assessment piece, and then you can individualize them for your subject, which covers the content piece.” That would be two candies.

But this, unlike pretty much every other trend in education, doesn’t seem to be going away. It seems to be getting worse.

The corporations are eating my profession.

There will be much more on this, in days to come. For now, I’m going to wrap this up and go watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone.

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