Listening to our Great Teachers

I recently received the following comment from a great perfectly describes one of the biggest reasons why the world of education seems to currently be spiraling downward. We don’t listen to our great teachers. Here’s the comment:

“It’s funny. One of the things that Ron Blocker did in 2009 before he retired was invited the teachers that had the top scores in the county to have a brainstorming session. We talked about what we really needed and what worked in the classroom. It was such a positive day, and I was so excited at the possibility of real change and being heard. Barbara Jenkins was there. And none of the things that we recommended or talked about ever happened. Nothing was ever mentioned about this great brain storming session. It’s like that day was some dream that never happened. I promise it was real, but it was all for nothing. I felt so honored to be included in such an “important” meeting that in all reality meant nothing.”

The greatest source of educational wisdom that is available can be found in the classrooms of great teachers. Most everyone has had at least one great teacher during their time as a student. Some have had multiple great teachers. Think about what made those teachers great. Think about why you enjoyed going to their class. It makes sense for leaders to listen to great teachers in order to glean from their wisdom. Leaders not only need to know how to improve education, but they also need to learn how they can support teachers in their efforts to make sure they aren’t hindering them in some way. This seems like common sense to me. Why don’t we listen? Or, better yet, why do we pretend to listen and then never implement the suggested recommendations that are offered by these highly valued employees?

I still remember when I first entered this race for Orange County School Board Chair, and I met with Nancy Robinson and Eric Schwalbach. Nancy made it clear to me that I couldn’t beat her—she had more money than I had, and she strongly recommended that I should drop out of the Chair race and go for the District 7 race. Eric was a candidate for District 7, so he responded, “Matt has a lot of support from teachers.” Nancy replied, “Teachers don’t vote.”

Whether or not teachers vote is up for debate. Wanting a teachers vote is not why I listen to teachers. I listen to teachers because they are on the front lines of education, doing the business of instruction, helping and guiding student toward success. I want to understand how I can help them in their efforts. Great teachers know how to improve education better than anyone else.

I also know that teachers don’t have a lot of extra cash to make big political donations, which is probably why politicians don’t really care much about teachers. Teachers can’t drop a personal and business check of $1,000 apiece into a politician’s campaign account. Who do you think the politician will listen to? Who will the politician serve? Money may help get a politician elected, but listening to the people who are doing the critical work of the organization is what will make that same organization ultimately successful. Our problem today is quite simple—we have people who are far more focused on getting elected than they are on actually improving the learning and working conditions of schools. I have to assume this is true when I don’t see any indication of improvement in a few very important areas of concern to students, parents, and teachers. I am going to name a few here...these are areas where those in leadership should be intently listening to those beneath them...especially those with a proven track record of success.

(1.) Our school district must improve in the area of student discipline and student respect—both for teachers and other students. The current discipline practices within OCPS are making students and teachers feel unsafe. We must have clear behavior expectations with consistent, meaningful consequences. After two or three years of following discipline guidelines that seek to “fix” the suspension and arrest data without fixing the bad behaviors, students and teachers feel less safe at school. I quote a very seasoned African American Administrative Dean, “The bad characters are figuring out that nothing is happening to them.” We have to admit our failures and change directions. Do you doubt what I am saying—anonymously survey the teachers.

(2.) Our school district must adopt a student-centered scheduling model that does not force students into AP classes against their will. I find it amazing that candidates can say they support more mental health counseling while at the same time supporting scheduling practices that force students into multiple AP classes against their will. Such practices ultimately lead to increased stress, depression, and even suicidal thoughts in some of our students. A candidate cannot say they support more mental health counseling if the systems they support is one of the primary causes of the students mental health issues. We need to intelligently schedule by having our professional school counselors work with students to find out their career interests where they want to be pushed, the extracurricular commitments, and their work schedules.

(3.) Our school district must admit and address the low teacher morale issues that are growing within our teacher ranks. School Board members who have served multiple terms have to take some ownership of the current climate within our school district. Listen to teachers on this topic...find out what is causing teachers to leave. Collaborate and negotiate on the teacher evaluation system. The Marzano system has driven teachers out of education with its micromanagement and perfectionistic nature. We must “stop the bleeding” of losing teachers. Stop and listen to your great teachers.

(4.) Our school district must address the issue of students hating both reading and school, especially at the younger grade levels. Talk to the great teachers at these lower levels and find out about the depth of this problem and how it can be turned around. This is a critical situation—very bright students are learning to hate reading and school. These students are our future. This is a “calling all cars” situation...we have toxic elements at work in our classrooms and curriculums that are having very negative effects on our most vulnerable students, and this is clearly evidenced by the most recent test results.

There’s still much to be said...and much to be changed. The words that I am speaking are not crazy words...they are common sense. The individuals that read them know that they resonate with them because if they are close to education in any way, they are seeing their reality in their daily experiences, whether they are a student, parent, or teacher. We must start to listen and stop blaming others for the problems that are within our ability to fix.

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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Matthew J. Fitzpatrick, Non-Partisan, for Orange County School Board Chair


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