As a high school counselor for many years, and an English teacher and clinician before that, my life has long been intertwined with the growth of kids and their education. In my bones.
These passages are my attempt to keep pace with the tumult of school reform, to keep faith with and support those who labor in class rooms and school hallways, and to contribute to the dialogue that we all hope will bring the educational enterprise of this diverse and creative country to the cutting edge.
For teachers and other school personnel I intend to condense and report the school reform debate as I perceive it in the media, on university campuses, and via legislative and executive byways both local and nationwide. This, because many committed school folk are so fully engaged in their work with kids that they have little time to keep on top of the disputations and decisions that may eventually affect their work profoundly.
A sample of topics past and future:
School reform must include the politics thereof, occasional editorials, and the recognition that reform finances will tax the public exchequer.
The culture in which we live creates the students and their characteristics that walk in the schoolhouse door.
Charter schools and what they can teach us.
At risk kids and getting them to go.
Meditations on teaching and learning.
Perhaps most importantly, the lynchpin to all the above, is the conversion of the teacher corps to a professional body in charge of their own bailiwick, rather than servant to the directives of the hierarchy.
All along, I have had an abiding interest in the nature of organizations, and how they promote or retard productivity.
My name is Bruce Brand. Though my early professional experience was as an Upward Bound teacher and a high school English teacher in the Boston area, I early realized the teaching of English for me was a medium through which to motivate at risk kids.
I returned to graduate school for a master’s in clinical psychology, and after some adventures working in a psychiatric treatment facility and in community mental health (family and child therapist), I returned to schools as a high school counselor, in which role I served until my recent retirement in a school district in the Seattle area.
I have been married for 35 years to Marie, my friend, with whom I have raised two adult children, Nicole and Zack.
For those who would like to know:
M.S., Psychology, San Francisco State University, 1978.
M.A.T., Teaching of Literature and Language Arts, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1970.
B.A., Economics, Yale University, Magna Cum Laude, 1967.
Finally, my original sketch for this blog, lest I forget:
“I came to age in a school bureaucracy, sure to its character, which seems often to not perceive that teachers and other staff might offer insight creative in the very difficult tasks we face in schools.
Moreover, to offer suggestions counter to those in administrative vogue is to see ideas hit a wall and slide down to oblivion or, worse, set he who proffers on a course to poor favor or, even worse, into fear for one’s job.
So I decide for now to stay underground, anonymous in my postings, fairly sure that the point of view I express will resonate with denizens similarly ensconced as I, head down, in the thousands of school bureaucracies nation wide.
Let me be clear, however. There have been few villains in my school experience; to the contrary, the vast majority has been willing enough to do right by kids and give good enough energy to the task, administrative types and line staff such as teachers alike.
But we all labor in a bureaucratic web, a meta reality, that stifles communication and the birthing of good ideas, and siphons too much of our energies. We are all borne into it as newly minted professionals, and by the time we have become more experienced, we have already been inculcated in its ways, all of us.”
The views expressed herein are solely my own and do not represent the views of my school, school district, union, or any other individual in any of these entities.
I am glad to see that School Dog is out of the kennel and back on the front lines!
Bark, bark, and a few yowells at the moon. Am at it, yes, a bit fuzzily still, but the writing lifts me out of the recovery torpor.
I reply again, via Schooldog’s website, because the site seems not to acknowledge that I emailed you back via usual channels. So, find copied my email to you, plus a small addendum.
Ah ha! — Methinks I recognize the correspondent! I shall cut to the chase, and the challenge of your last paragraph. I was urged early on into administration, I suspect more because the principal at the time was interested in cannon fodder for his admin machine, than that he saw promise in yours truly. In retrospect, I do not probably give him enough due, because in the twenty plus years since then, no one has seen fit to make any similar suggestions. Which exposes one more weakness of schools — their failure too often to mentor promising folks into leadership roles. Can’t say I was ever mentored, whether as a principal candidate, or as a counselor. Have mentored others since then, as a counselor. When teachers (or counselors) do leap to administration, it is normally under cover of their own ambitions.
There’s more to the story, as I will continue in the next blog or two….. But I am reminded of our friend Hal’s dictum that there are three parts to life — family/kids/marriage, fitness, and work. The Reames rule is that one can do well with two of the triumverate, but not all three. To some extent, I focused more on the first two; mountains/vacation, and kids/marriage weighed more heavily for me. Not to say work hasn’t been important for me; knowing myself, the work of schools may have well consumed me as a principal, and sacrifices would have come elsewhere, particularly since Marie was once an incipient principal, herself.
I also remember feeling that the guts of the matter has always been working with kids; as a counselor, one does so consistently, less so as an administrator, particularly if one keeps climbing the ladder. Hence another weakness of schools; the ambitious must place themselves further from the real action; little power is given to those on the front lines, with kids. (Or, better, drive to power by those on the front lines is blunted, as a threat to the hierarchy.) To some degree, the blog is a scream out at this reality, both personally in my own frustrations, and as recognition that progress requires involving grass roots folk much more extensively in school design and function.
I like working as a counselor; not sure I would enjoy to the same degree as an administrator.
Often thought of myself as “underground”….. seditious thoughts rampant, but words upon deaf ears. So, to your last paragraph query, your third question, that of the work trumping ambitions, is probably the closest to the mark. That work included that of marriage, of fatherhood, taking care of a house and home, etc. I had all I felt I could handle. I felt the lack of advancement, but whenever I revisited the question, the same answers returned.
Back to the other comments in your message…..Interesting that we both saw the body of our friendships splitting as we both describe, but I don’t remember any conversation between us that acknowledged the similar perception, despite our cohabitation in St. Elmo’s. My experience in the dining hall came fairly late in senior year, if I remember correctly, and even then I may not have recognized its significance as I have in later years.
Thanks for the comment…..
Addendum: In counterpoint to the lure of administration, there has always lurked in me the character of a writer. After my early job as an English teacher, and before I launched back into graduate school, I had taken a year off to write. In fact, the “lexicon” that appears occasionally in Schooldog was an early attempt at a poetics of teaching. During the long trudge through schools, in the back of my mind I always thought I might return at some point to the writer. “When I have time.”
Hope you are well, let me know,