There is a time to step up, or out
It happens with companies, agencies, organizations, teams, school districts, even newspapers. Management comes up with a new system aimed at improvement, and the players are expected to step up.You might be able to talk the leaders out of it ahead of time, at the idea stage. You most likely are able to influence how it works in actual practice. But once your group is committed, you have two honorable choices. You can engage whole hog. Or you can leave.Sabotaging and/or anonymously whining up a storm while choosing to continue collecting a paycheck at this point betrays a lack of personal integrity, frankly. This ain’t Iraq. We have choices here, and plenty of other opportunities. Engagement doesn’t mean blind acceptance, of course. But the discussions, even hot arguments, that come from this commitment have a much different character than the saboteur’s whispers in the dark. There’s a vast gap between shaping something for the best chance of success, even if you are not convinced it will work, and simply trying to kill it.In this country, we tend to indulge our workplace insurgents and curmudgeons, especially those in the public sector. We have whistleblower laws, employment rights, the long shadows of the First Amendment, and most notably in education, tenure – a wonderful concept for college professors if perhaps extended a mite far for kindergarten faculty.Ask my superiors. I’m quite sure that I’m a complete pain in the you-know-where whenever they come up with that “better” idea, that new section, that new improvement program, that fresh heaping atop a plate that’s already overflowing. I mount my arguments, lawyer-like. I fuss, I growl, I bark. I ask pointed questions. I don’t hold much back. I must be the most exasperating employee ever. You know, sometimes I think I’d fire me if I were my boss.I’m no insurgent, though. I’m full frontal assault if I disagree with an idea, hand-to-hand at full noon. Let others skulk and snipe. But then a funny thing happens if the idea survives to plan, and then implementation. I figure out how to get it done, and I put everything into making it work. Now, if god forbid, the top execs decided to turn the Vail Daily into Hustler or really did figure that trading news stories for advertising was a grand idea, well, I’d come to those two honorable choices right quick.It’s clear to me that the Eagle County School District has not gone Hustler with education or sold out with the teaching improvement program known as TAP. I’m sure TAP has plenty of kinks to work out, and that the educators have lots of discussions, even hot arguments, ahead of them about how to get the most out of it.But the time has passed for trying to kill the program outright. A long mediocre school district in a mediocre state simply is not in position to declare that everything is great, just ask us. That’s not nearly good enough. I give the highest praise to the leaders of the district for tackling the painful process of change. In case you haven’t noticed, no one accepts change less than teachers long accustomed to more comfortable ways. Pressure, standards you have to strain for to achieve, stress, urgency – these are not inherently bad things, although to be sure, uncomfortable when you’ve grown used to jogging and now mistake that for running.I don’t know about you, but I want my kids’ teachers running. Hard. Some already have this work ethic, no matter what system or standards are in place. Plenty of others, though, can use the collaboration, continuing education, reward and prod that come with TAP and other merit systems.I can tell differences between the focus on my children before and after TAP. My eighth-grade daughter’s middle school went TAP last year. I see much more intense attention on her and her skills than I saw with my now-high school son when he was at the same school. I can sense which teachers just hate this whole TAP thing and which ones embrace the challenge. You know what? I’m not disturbed at the ones who obviously dislike the pressure. If they may not quite be hitting full stride, they sure are jogging faster.This year the two public high schools are finally taking up the TAP reins, so I’m not surprised at the fresh wave of whining in Tipsline as this change rolls through. The folks calling in may lack integrity in my view, but I’m glad they expose their views, even if anonymously. And I earnestly hope they do leave if they can’t step up – for my and your kids’ sake. Their replacements certainly will step it up if these people cannot. Turnover is not necessarily a bad thing, either.I know this is a harsh assessment, and it comes from those tough moments when I’ve had to turn over non-performers in the broken – and sometimes merely mediocre – newsrooms I inherited at a couple of stops in my editing career. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to just accept a status quo than to dare bid for better. The public should applaud the courage and conviction of the school board and administration in seeing this through. It truly is for the kids’ sake. It is fair to expect more from our students, and from the folks teaching them. However much they yowl about it now. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado
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