Hostile Witnesses

13 November 2006

Classroom teachers know that every class has a particular dynamic. Like families, there are roles to play. If you've seen The Breakfast Club, you know the drill. No doubt, if you're a teacher, you can add to that pantheon of student archetypes. You can also delineate all of the roles different staff members play. All you have to do is observe a staff meeting like an anthropologist and watch the dynamics. In all likelihood, such a stance will be far more entertaining than the meeting itself.

Now, take a step back and imagine things at the school level. View the district at a distance. Are there "princess" schools and "outcasts"? How does your department or school fit in the grand scheme of things? As a classroom teacher, I never thought very much about it. In my role with the district, I have this perspective quite a bit.

The junior high schools tabled a discussion last spring. Parents, students, (most) teachers, and administrators reached consensus that we should have an honors option for seventh and eighth grade science...but nobody could agree as to what it should look like. We just didn't have the time and headspace last year to deal with this issue. But, I picked open that scab last week and did I get an earful (or perhaps I should say "eyeful" as responses were via e-mail) from science staff at one school.

Science teachers at the rabble rouser junior high are an interesting lot. A few are elementary teachers who were moved up at one point in their careers (they have no/little science background, but are learning and are good instructors)...one is a good general purpose science teacher...and the other is biding time until he retirement. If they were playing a particular family role, I would say that they are the classic middle child...and they have serious attention seeking behaviours and passive-aggressive tendencies.

So, when I sent out a reminder to science teachers that there was consensus from stakeholders that honors be an option, three of the staff at the rabble rouser jh e-mailed me rather contentious messages because their opinions differed from the consensus. A difference of opinion doesn't bother me...and I knew from discussions last spring that they weren't interested in honors science. It's the "what" of their messages that made me shake my head. One said "I teach all my classes as advanced and the kids who don't get it flunk, just like WASL." Um, okay. So much for being student centered. Another claimed that it was good for the kids who might otherwise be in honors to be mixed in so that they could help the lower kids. Again, how is that student centered? How does spending class periods tutoring help you advance your own content knowledge and skills? Kids are not teaching tools...and they should not be scheduled so that you have a nice class period.

Sigh.

I sent a nice, but firm, reply to the three. I mentioned that I respected their views but that it was not representative of the vast majority of stakeholders. In addition, we have a responsibility to help every child reach his or her potential...not just get low kids to standard. All was quiet on the rabble rouser front. I had surmised that they had just decided to be quiet and pretend that things wouldn't happen.

This morning, I had some nice inquiries from them. They've decided to come to the meetings to plan out the honors option. They have a representative for grade 7 and one for grade 8. I am wondering if they will be "hostile witnesses," there to be vigorous in stopping the process, or if they can set aside their personal opinions enough to work with the other schools to come up with something that's good for kids. Even so, I would much rather have them involved as we move along. Their presence---no matter how negative---is needed. I am hoping that some peer pressure and the fact that only one teacher per school will be present for each session will help. Should make for an interesting blog entry in three weeks, eh?

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