Recently I posted an "education solution" on an education forum called EDDRA run by Jerry Bracey of NEA fame. I suggested that the best way to improve schools was to look at the success of the US economy and look back at the time when those who made this explosion in creativity possible - those who were in school during the fifties and sixties, when the teacher ruled the classroom, was a respected member of the community, was deferred to by parents, was consulted by vendors, was able to take European vacations in the summer, was dedicated to education and their students, etc.

I suggested a return to Teacher Autonomy.

Well that august body split right down the middle between those who thought the idea was very today, and those that said that teachers today were not made of the stuff for autonomy to work.

What say you, the creative and innovative teachers on this network? Are you up to autonomy, or would you prefer to have overpaid, underworked admins attend conferences in your stead and choose the wrong books for the needs of your students, and all the rest of the mess teachers at the bottom of the feeding chain have had to put up with since before NCLB came to rule the land!

Tags: autonomy, cnferences, development, leadership, professional, responsibility, rules, teachers, vendors

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I understand that you are talking about autonomy within the system, but thinking outside the box may lend itself to new insights regarding the discussion.

I work with many autonomous teachers that are outside of the public school system. Most have given up on working within the system and have decided that it is the teaching and the kids that they love, but the system was beating them down. They jumped out and tested their own wings.

Imagine standing at the beginning of your own launch into making what your gut tells you is the way to teach - that if it is valid, you will get the wind beneath your wings as word of mouth spreads from the students that thrived under your teaching. What would your course look like when you have all the control and you will fly or fall based on the happiness of your 'client families'?

Some of the things I find I love about autonomy is that I am planning this out always with the thought of what would I want for my own kids if this were someone else's course that they were taking and know that I don't have to clear it with anyone to try it out. I don't have to ask for my connection to the net to be unblocked for my kids. I have kids from all over the US, Canada, and beyond which is really interesting. I love the live, interaction of an Elluminate online classroom where I can teach from home (in my pajamas sometimes ;0) I was the one that got to pick the schedule that best met my kids' and my needs and fit the curriculum - 3 days a week because there is no need to babysit them the other two days while they do independent work. I love that technology is right there in the kids' own hands 24/7 at home not locked up in a cabinet at school. I love watching their friendships grow in the live, online class, the social Ning, and seeing and hearing about the fun they are having in their local lab co-ops and families as they send me pictures of them exploring science together while I lead my own local kids in our hands on research such as stream studies. I love it when the chat is flying on the topic at hand and I also love that they know I can turn it off for a few moments with a simple click if we stray too far off topic and I need to get our focus back on task.

I love being inspires by others taking the plunge into their own programs. Greg Landrym who is a professor of Human Anatomy at a North Carolina University and home school dad, teaches kids using Elluminate throughout the school year and then has them come to a variety of college campuses for two week anatomy camps where they get hands-on experience (including working with a cadaver). These high school students get a taste of dorm life as he is with the boys on one floor and his wife stays with the girls on another. They mentor these high school kids into what he knows he want to see walking in the door of his college classes. He is doing absolutely outstanding work with these kids and they love it!

Some of the hard things about autonomy. You have to find the funding/business and keep it going. You can feel like you are shouldering all the work and liability on your own. It is your own 'baby' so you really do spend way more hours on it than you ever would in the public school classroom setting. Hmmm, financial security, health benefits, retirement? Yes, even in the autonomous model you still have tests that hang over your head. Students have ACT/SATs, CLEPS, AP tests, that loom large in their college planning. The families of kids going the atypical route through high school know colleges weigh the kids scores more heavily than those of the typical entering freshmen, so they are ever cognizant of making choices that get their kids there while still providing an enjoyable experience for their sons and daughters along the way

So, if you really were at the precipice of planning your own teaching business, with all that autonomy, what would it look like compared to what you are doing now? How would you handle the downsides? Would it make you more or less comfortable with the status quo?

While autonomous teachers outside the public schools sytems exist, what our country as a whole needs is for those creative, self-motivated teachers to be in those public school classrooms. We need those teachers to be able to fill out a work order and have a window repaired the same day it is broken. We need those teachers to be able to order the manipulatives to teach math operations. We need the kids in urban areas to be able to experience those cadavers without waiting for someone on their block to be shot! We need teachers to be able to shoot off an order to Amazon for a class set of books when the kids show an interest in a topic or time period. We need teachers to be able to link up underprivileged kids to professionals in various fields so that they will know what it is they want to achieve in life.

It is not sufficient for parents to have to pay for private school or homeschool their children in order to get autonomy for the teacher and student. We need the privileges of the priveleged to be available to the underprivileged students in schools hidden from public view. We need the advantages now enjoyed by the Obama girls to be available to all the girls in all of the schools, and the boys, too.


It has been five years since I've had contact with teachers, and while I know that during that time, there has been a lot of "teach to the test" going on, I really don't think that it has necessarily completly destroyed the teachers. I think, that like walking out on a sunny beach, having the freedom to act for themselves will invigorate most teachers, and they will rise the the occasions. Call me a pathetic optimist if you must!

I think the notion of industrial reward and consequences have been seriously undermined by the national news in recent months. One can hardly argue that the executives "earned" those fat bonuses, but teacher generally don't do as much! I'd put money on a teacher being able to accomplish more with a wayward group of kids given autonomy and the promise of a million dollar bonus over the same being accomplished by one of those wall street execs!

If it were true that in the industrial/business world, those who do not perform on their jobs lose them, AIG would not have paid out all those bonuses to those who steered the company wrong. If it were true that in the industrial/business world, those who do not perform lose their jobs, we'd be seeing far more executives in the unemployment lines than hourly employees!

If million dollar budgets (not bonuses) were given to teachers, Harvard would have to declare a time out!

I think the point of the current situation is to show that the business world is not doing what you suppose it is doing in rewarding those who do well and punishing those who don't. Instead, we have learned that those execs at AIG had contracts guaranteeing their bonuses whether they earned them or not.

As low as teacher pay is in many parts of the country, all that teachers are getting is the pay that should go only to "lazy teachers". Having said that, I will ask how one is to determine if a teacher is "lazy" unless they have a camera on them all day long to show that they are not teaching the kids. Otherwise, you run the risk of judging a teacher "lazy" based on the students that she was given to work with. As a former special ed teacher, I know what it is like to have classes full of students that everyone else has given up on. Maybe only one or a few make a reasonable gain for a year. A teacher can burn themselves out trying to get that one or a few, and some would say that she was "lazy" by looking only at the end results.

If teachers were given autonomy, there would be less need for the busylessness of a lot of the administrators (who are often just burned out teachers living upscale). The teachers could then be paid at a level close to what they would be for being successful teachers, and more teachers, who are not employed as teachers, would come back to the field they either never entered or left because the pay was so low.

The problem with teacher quality is that come August, lots of admins are willing to hire "warm bodies", and when next year rolls around and the "warm body" didn't leave in a straight jacket, they are allowed to remain until they have earned tenure. But, if pay were high enough to attract what AIG calls "the best and brightest" who must have million dollar bonuses to stay, we would not have "warm bodies" in the schools. We'd have committed, energetic, competent teachers!

I do not know where AFT gets it's salary average from, but in my county, starting pay for a teacher is $30,000 a year .... for 200 days of work, $150 a day ... and how do the prerequisites of these tech jobs compare to that of a teacher? Are you comparing apples and oranges?

AIG tells us that they cannot keep the "best and brightest" working for them for a salary of $250,000 without including $1 million dollar bonuses. Even the laziest teacher you can find, can put $1 million to better use in his/her classroom than those "best and brightest" have shown they can.

The argument that better pay will insure better teachers may be old and tired, but teachers in places that pay what my county pays or less, would sure like to see if given a try.

And, you still haven't addressed how you will judge when the teacher is "lazy" instead of the students, parents, or community. You haven't addressed how you will judge when the teacher is "lazy instead of the students being either under-prepared for that grade level, or already passed that level and bored. You haven't addressed what happens when kids opt to make "test patterns" on those silly bubble sheets.

There are, as the article I posted earlier points out, no proven tests that can determine if and when a change is scores is due to the efforts of a teacher or something else. In fact, there are few tests around that can effectively establish what a student has or has not learned without the test being hand-administered. Independent tests are notoriously insufficient to the task. That's why they are not allowed for measurement of special needs students.
OK, start at the beginning ....

What is your basic problem with teacher autonomy?

The purpose of teacher training or professional development is to address exactly such issues.
One who is more familiar with professional development in all it's colors, hues and capabilities could conclude that you are better off not "engagin" in that which you have little knowledge of.

You shared this job description for a network manager who makes $155 a day:

This is the job description:
Install, configure, and support an organization's local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), and Internet system or a segment of a network system. Maintain network hardware and software. Monitor network to ensure network availability to all system users and perform necessary maintenance to support network availability. May supervise other network support and client server specialists and plan, coordinate, and implement network security measures

You and those working for $155 a day and thinking they should make more, may be interested to know that back in the beginning the above job description was part of "other duties as assigned" in the teacher's contract. If you used a LAN or were connected to the Internet, or even if you had a computer in your classroom, the teacher was responsible for everything one it, including buying ink and paper our of her salary. I did it, and I was far from alone.
Ah Indigo,

You are definitely wrong. Before there were such thing as "Network administrators" and "System Administrator", there were ordinary teachers performing those functions. I remember the time a Novell network was installed in a lab of 386's, and the principal handed me the stack of red and white manuals to run it, as the trade off for letting me use the lab with my special ed students. As I said, I was not alone. Many other teachers who gathered on VaPEN also had similar duties. You just don't seem to realize the role of teachers in the history of technology in education.

As I said, teachers have installed and managed "routers, switches and hubs" along with the other responsibilities they have. There is usually some sort of tech leaders in each building, typically a teacher, sometimes the computer teacher, occasionally the librarian, etc. because the job isn't a full time situation.

But to get back to autonomy, the teacher should be making most if not all decisions related to her classroom, from the choice of blackboard or whiteboard/smartboard, to the operating system and software to be used. The teacher should even be choosing the furniture for the room since different teachers have different needs as far as writing and computing space, and different needs are best address with the appropriate furniture.

In the past, teachers wrote the whole curriculum for their courses. There was no question of someone imposing on that responsibility. Now that everyone wants their finger in the pie, the pie has become messy and dirty, and does not always meet the needs of the exact student in front of the teacher THIS YEAR. Cookie-cutter education serves no one.
As Indigo has pointed out, those opposed to Teacher Autonomy are wont to use the shield of Teacher Accountability and Teacher Performance as rationale for limiting the control of teachers. The following article points out the folly of relying on standardized tests to establish either accountability or performance: ... The article compares the effectiveness of Bernie Madoff to sell his ponzi schemes to using the standard tests to determine if a teacher is or is not performing adequately in their job.

I will point out (again?) that unless you are watching the teacher from the beggining bell to the final bell, you are only making poor guesses at whether or not she is doing her job.



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