School Bureaucracy — Seller’s Remorse?

So I just shot my mouth off, intemperately, manifesto like (blog 2/23/11 “School Bureaucracy – Is This a Manifesto?”), and am now suffering a bit of seller’s remorse. A reader might think from my tone that I have labored in gaol for lo these many years, subsisting on bread and water, and only occasionally been exposed to the sweet tones of supervisor conversation. The reader might also wonder rightly if there be something wrong with one who complains in such an uncompromising tone, yet remains in a setting where he is psychically whipped every day of his working life. A professional victim, you say.

Well, yeah, it isn’t that bad. Fundamentally, there are the kids, still fresh and enjoyable to work with, whose positive futures I can see, though they themselves may not perceive yet so well. Then my immediate colleagues in my department with whom I share an atmosphere of trust, friendship, conspiracy sometimes, and often honest exchange. Our broader teaching staff gives a strong degree of effort and many bring strong intelligence to their work; their insight and collaboration help me greatly in my own specialized work. Finally the admin types both in my building and beyond with whom I have both continual and intermittent contact, often likeable sorts, most of whom harbor a professional concern for kids and their role in educating them, and who have personally been helpful to me when I’ve needed it. The human element keeps me in the game. As a rule, individuals are not the culprit, and the bed is not all of thorns.

But the concerns of the “Manifesto” to which I just referred crystallize a theme of bureaucratic stupefaction that laces through all of our professional lives, admin and staff alike, and leaves us all at times feeling burned and our professional energies squelched. The upshot is that we focus on the routine in our professional lives, and the part of us that might together quest for a better way of doing things lies dormant, awaiting the next order from somewhere, within intellectually encrusted boxes. Tightly focused on day to day issues, and day to day kids, professionalism does come to play, but the broader feeling and activity of a professional identity neither rises strongly from individuals, nor is it encouraged by the culture nearly to the degree to which professional identity might be expected to have impact.

Interestingly, in our school, as the pressure mounts to bring up test scores, it seems to me there has been a shift to reliance on teaching staff to create interventions that will be effective with individual kids. Not a perfect shift to full reliance, but early returns seem encouraging. At least, it is a directive that broadly seems to make sense to teaching staff, despite the fact that the directive occurred without consultation.


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