I think that we’re at a crossroads in our history as a profession in this country. And like all crossroad “moments” there’s some soul-searching that needs to take place as we move forward.
For me one of core questions that needs to be answered in terms of how we continue our journey through the 21st century has to do with the way that we think about the work we are doing:
As teachers, do we see ourselves playing house league, or are we members of a rep team?
I think that this question can and should be examined from a number of vantage points, but I suspect that most perspectives will lead us to a strong sense that, while there are many initiatives being introduced that would like to push us towards rep performance, our own unions and associations are, in fact, holding us to a sense of mere OK-ness. And there are several reasons for this, not the least of which is our current approach to the underlying principles of the collective agreement.
Face it, the union mentality that has become part of the profession over the last 25 years has contributed to a general numbing of the drive towards collective excellence. The way I see it, unions are there to protect the rights of the 10-20% who are likely going to mess up in some way, either through incompetence, negligence or poor judgement. Unions also protect members against the 10-20% of administrators that are likely to try to take advantage of the good nature and good will of teachers.
But, that leaves 80% of teachers that are trying to work to the best of their ability, and 80% of administrators who are fair, supportive and who want to bring out the best in their staff.
(Ok, the numbers may need some working, but you get my point)
What happens, however, is that this protectionist mentality tends to favour the establishment of a minimalist, “lowest common denominator” approach to professional quality. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be many, many teachers striving to do their best. It only means that that “best” is not demanded, and not expected. And often the drive towards excellence means running the risk of violating the agreements that constitute and ground our professional connections to one another.
The result is that we are left with a professional narrative that is more akin to house league than it is to rep-level performance. Everyone is welcome to play so long as they follow the basic rules, show up for games, and occasionally bring a snack for the other players. House league is more about protecting the rights of the merely adequate, than it is about pushing hard towards competitive excellence.
House league is about accepting everyone’s level of performance and by not holding winning up as the ultimate goal, encourages everyone to go out, work within their own skill level and have fun in the process.
As I see it, we have come to a crossroads and we need to decide—individually and collectively—how we wish to proceed. Will we continue to support collective adequacy or will we demand that our agreements and contracts begin to ask more of us, provide us with the tools to move forward creatively and boldly, and foster a sense of professional performance and integrity that extends beyond meeting a set of minimal standards?
As always, I’m just beginning to explore some of thisout loud.As always, I appreciate your wisdom and insights.