I got a decent number of comments on my last post and that was pretty cool–in fact, I’m always surprised when I get comments at all because I have a tendency to write (and rant and rave) around here as if I’m the only one who’s going to be reading this. So when I see that I have an audience (and yeah, I check my stats every once in a while … I admit it … I think we all do anyway), I have to say that I’m grateful that someone wants to read my drivel.
But anyway, I come to bury my commenters not to praise them. Kidding. No, actually, I got an interesting comment on the last post. Paul Bogush commented that the veteran teachers who seem to give out unsolicited advice the most are those who most likely have something to lose if there is change, so they “indoctrinate” newbies. I responded that listening to the blowhards might be a good thing because you can gain some insight into how people “play the game” in a particular workplace, saying that yes, they’re trying to preserve themselves, but we all are. I found his response to that line particularly interesting:
I find the “they’re trying to preserve themselves, but we all are” line in your comment very interesting. I suppose most people are…but why…where did they pick-up the baggage in their life that made them need to protect themselves(must be from having those veteran teachers
I suppose many people try to preserve themselves…I think I have become addicted to change
I thought about that when I was on the couch at 6:45 this morning watching cartoons with my son (because he’s unaware that in order to preserve myself, I might need to sleep on occasion) and wanted to respond to his comment but thought that an entire post might actually be better than a comment because as I laid out the response in my head, it got longer and longer because I thought of more than just Paul’s comment. I thought of a #stuvoice chat that I was on a couple of weeks ago where a couple of tweeters and I were having a back-and-forth about … well, what it was, I’m not sure, but I know that at some point I have to say, “It’s always helpful to figure out how to game the system,” and one of them replied, “Why do we have to game the system?”
There are, I thought, way too many idealists in education.
Okay, that was a bit snarky, but I am the person in the room who gets labeled a cynic when I honestly think of myself as a realist. Maybe it comes from being in my mid-30s, maybe it comes from having worked in Washington, D.C. for a while before I decided to be a teacher, maybe it comes from my Long Island upbringing, but I am not the person to look at a career in teaching as if it’s mission work or something. Yes, I think I’m doing work that is serving a greater good and I do think that there are ideals to which I hold, although sometimes I wonder if I hold to those ideals because I need to justify taking so much crap for so little money.
I made my point about self-preservation because I honestly think it’s true, and I don’t think that people have any sort of reason for self-preservation other than the fact that it’s a basic human instinct. In fact, I’d posit that someone like Paul who is “addicted to change” or goes out on a limb and tries new stuff as a teacher is also participating in the act of self-preservation. After all, “change or die” is spoken as much as “cover your ass.” And I say that you have to figure out how to “play the game” or “game the system” because no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’re more than likely part of something bigger and if you want to achieve your goals, you probably need to figure out how to do that. In other words, politics and savvy are as important as hard work.
New teachers need the bad as much as they need the good; furthermore, they need to see it for themselves rather than have someone tell them what’s right or what’s wrong (especially if the someone telling them hasn’t seen the business end of a classroom in years). They need to be able to see it for themselves so they can develop their own skills, their own views, their own savvy, because figuring out how things work and using that to your advantage is just as important as the hard work itself.