Monthly Archives: February 2012

Cave Dwellers

I am a cave dweller. Or more accurately, I was a cave dweller. By definition, my definition, a cave dweller is a secondary and post secondary educator. Cave dwelling teachers do not collaborate with peers; do not share they crayons; do not appreciate attempts by others to force them to share (remember schools in the round? — Open Classrooms?) As a former administrator once admitted to me, the ideal teacher is never seen nor heard from and neither are their students. It’s all about discipline. When I first accepted a job in a high school, I was given keys to the classroom, a lesson plan guide paper, a blank attendance form (that I was never told what to do with) and my grade book (also with no instructions.) The only guidance I got was keep students in your classroom at all times and keep them quiet. I don’t believe you can find a seasoned administrator anywhere that would tell you their philosophy toward classroom teachers was anything else.
My first month of employment as a high school teacher was for the most part completely devoid of adult interaction. My wife used to comment at times that she spent so muct time with the kids, she craved adult conversation! I felt her pain — talking to class after class of whining adolescents made my brain start to congeal. It was not until the “system” woke up and discovered I had not submitted my attendance reports! And of course the bottom line in anything is money — and attendance = money. So finally I discovered the “main office” and a raspy voiced school secretary who took me under her wing because her dead husband and been retired military as well, and she showed me the ropes. All the little secrets I needed to know to survive.
My first faculty meeting was where all the cave dwellers came out into the dim light of the musty library for a group beating. Today’s beating was about how many copies we had run off that we should not have … I had been going to K-Mart making my own copies and did not know we had a copier! I was surprised at the number of cave dwellers there were! Some seemed to know each other and after a few meetings I was to the point where a few would make eye contact and even mutter a hello.
The point to all this is to begin to address classroom change, any type of change, you’ve got to understand the history and the social dynamics of secondary school teachers and staff. Unlike elementary teachers where they all sit together, share the same spoons, swap lunches, meet together and work together all the time, cave dwellers do not because they are responsible for maintaining discipline over the largest pre-inmate population in the country: America’s Teenagers. Untouched for the most part by the legal system that does not recognize them as adults, abandoned to the school system by their parents who are afraid to interact with them, and shunned by adult society, high school teachers take them, lock the door, and with whatever discipline tactic possible control the herd for anywhere from 50 minutes to 90 minutes at a time. And by the way, now teach them something. That takes talent. Some are very good at what they do — others are not. Plain and simple. Those who are not good as educators are probably good at discipline and able to control the class thereby making them as successful in the eyes of the administration as the best math teacher. Those days are over. Not because administrators finally woke up to the need for students to achieve higher scores, but because our economic engine in this country started to sputter and we realized that part of the problem is our failure educationally to prepare students for the workplace. Bottom line once again is money. So how do we fix this beast? More on this tomorrow.