Monday, March 02, 2009

The Chicken or the Egg

Which came first….the chicken or the egg?

The question goes back to ancient times when philosophers debated the origins of the universe including Aristotle, Plutarch, and Macrobius. More recent discussions have taken place with Steven Hawking and others. Here's an article regarding the question from 2006 that purports the issue has been solved.

In education we have our own chicken or the egg dilemma. Which came first….the student or the teacher?

Think about it. Students can’t exist without a teacher. Even students conducting independent study have some sort of advisor, guide, or text to teach the student. On the other hand teachers can’t exist without a student. If we are going to teach there has to be a student to teach.

So, when it comes to making educational sacrifices how do we decide who is more important…the teacher or the student?

Who should come first in education?

I’m partial to the notion of putting students first…..ALWAYS, but tough economic times really shows the mettle of some folks. They either get it, or they don’t.

It seems like Americans across all socio-economic boundaries are all re-learning economic lessons these day in a very hands-on, real life fashion. Every week I learn of more and more of our friends and family who have been let go from their jobs.

Conduct a Google blog search using the key words “hiring freeze for teachers” and this is what you find: link after link to various articles regarding hiring freezes in public school systems and university systems across the United States. Here’s an article where teachers are contemplating returning their raises to their cash strapped district.

From time to time I join in on some of the education discussions on the Topix page for my hometown of Douglasville, Georgia….a suburb of Atlanta. One particular discussion touched on the subject of a hiring freeze and the general public was debating where cuts should be made. I entered the conversation to add more information regarding why school nurses are needed in today’s schools considering all of the medicines and chronic…often life threatening burdens our students carry around with them every day.

Then I made pushed the evelope….I issued my opinion stating that if employees were given their pink slips then cuts should be made across the board and not just in the classroom. My exact statement was, “As far as [dismissing] teachers…I think we could lay off a few of the paper pushers at the county offices for local school boards.”

A gentleman using the screen name “Coach” stated, “If you think about the implications of such a horrible statement before you post it, you might reconsider it. It is some of those paper pushers, not all mind you, that is fighting for teachers jobs.”

I countered, “Not quite sure what you mean by implications…No…I think I’ll stick by my statement. I’ve been involved with three different school systems as an employee, very involved parent, and observer and can truthfully say in “most “ systems there are too many chiefs and not enough braves.

Note the keywords in my post…”most” and from the original posting…”few.” Not all paper pushers as I described them are essential and yes, I do realize there are several great educators out there who end up riding a desk. Many are my friends. We need them, and they do a great job, but there are several [examples] of dead weight out there as well. In all three systems I’ve been involved with the county office has its fair share of folks who were involved in some sort of situation where I would have lost my job [for some of their antics]…yet they get to ride a desk. Yep, I’ll stick by my statement especially since it was not a blanket statement regarding all board employees.”

Clearly, clearly I rattled this guy’s cage for some reason.

He stated, “I am not as smart as you think you are, but here goes…It seems like it’s easy to say, and it has become the first think that is said. I am not at the central office, but I am an administrator…, and I have over the past month or so been sick to my stomach at the prospect of losing teachers. I have lost sleep. I think about families and mortgages and student loans and marriages and kids…[I] get mad and then I get industrious and try to think of who might need who I am losing and I make phone calls and go see people. I help teachers to have better observations. I talk to teacher eligible for retirement about the situation. I re-evaluate what can be done and change my minds hundreds of times on just my opinion on the matter (I do not have the final decision anyway).

And then I walk down the hall, and hear horrible comments like fire “paper pushers” at the board or ‘They are going to fire teachers? What they really need to do is cut down the number of administrators we have.’ And again I think about families, and relationships, and homes, and it pisses me off that the person for whom I have been fighting to keep and losing sleep over despite the fact he/she has problems calling parents, expects me to do his/her classroom discipline, and can’t figure out why 40% of his/her students are failing. I have been fighting to keep them for several reasons. They show signs of hope, they really do love kids, and they have families…just like people I know at the board of education.


It’s a shame that bad economic times brings this out in people.

So stand by your limited convictions, and go start another blog.

Coach’s response caused me great pause. I don't really understand why someone has to resort to personal attacks when discussing an issue, but I finally responded, ”….thank you for clearing up your obvious frustration in the process of letting staff go. I certainly understand where you are coming from as far as having the responsibility of telling teachers they may not have a contract next year, and I in no way meant to belittle the burden all principals have to shoulder at this time…I understand how you have a heart even for those staff members that ‘piss you off’…the staff members that despite ‘the fact he/she has problems calling parents, expects me to do his/her classroom discipline, and can’t figure out why 40% of his/her students are failing.’

Your comment ‘They show signs of hope, they really love kids, and they have families…just like people I know at the board of education’ tugs at my heart.

I’ve seen those educators as well, but at some point we have to understand that the students come first, and if a staff member isn’t coming around not only could they be out of a job…you could be out as well, and the education profession continues to have egg on its face.


How long do we wait for those educators to “get it”? The educators you describe aren’t just newbies, and you and I know it. I’ve seen quite a few 30 year veterans with complaints against them as long as my arm and yet…someone is still waiting for them to “get it.”


I’m sorry my comments seem to make you think my convictions are so limited. One or two comments on a message board certainly do not clue me into who you are or tell you who I am…However, I would think twice before I would belittle an educator’s efforts at educating the general public about his or her subject matter as I do at my blog History Is Elementary. I began my site with the full knowledge of my last principal. She understood the importance of what I was doing even when I have spoken out on issues in a direct opposite line from hers.

She understood that the only way we are going to ever get out from under many of the misconceptions and perceptions the general public has about what we do and how we do it is by speaking out.

Coach didn’t respond to me again, so I don’t know what he thinks about how long it should take for a teacher to “get it”. One year? Two? Five? Ten?

If students should come first….we can’t keep holding onto staff waiting on them to come around. There are plenty of people out there waiting in the wings that “get it” and want to get on with it.

In the meantime, I’m sticking to my original statement on the messageboard. If cuts are made….if sacrifices are requested it should be across the board and not just classroom teachers.

What do you think?

6 comments:

Alasandra said...

I agree that the cuts should be across the board. My local school district has One Superintendent and 4 Assistant Superintendents. who all get paid more then the classroom teachers. Then they all have their own Secretary and Receptionist. Then each school has it's own principal and assitant principal. More secretaries and receptionist and on and on.

I also know many teachers who need to be let go. They were part of my decision to homeschool. One had been a very good teacher until she had a stroke that left her speech impaired. Her second grade students could not understand her and many of them still had trouble reading so her solution to write everything on the board wasn't helpful to all of them. She was kept on because everyone felt sorry for her. If the students had been put first as they should have been she would have been let go. Hopefully they could have found her a job in the office. She only had a few years left until she would have her 20 years in, so the reasoning was "we should let her get her 5 years" so she'll get her retirement. Unfortunately that meant many students didn't get the education they deserved.

Polski3 said...

Lets not forget chopping those "not teaching children" jobs at State Departments of Education and County Offices of Education. IF I was president, I'd axe the US Department of Education, and cite a constitutional reason for it (the tenth amendment).

I can do my job of teaching without federal, state and county office workers.

You staying warm hun? heard you got some white stuff fallin' from the sky.....out here, we almost hit 90 degrees F.!

EHT said...

Thanks for your comments Alasandra and Polski3. You bring up good points.

Yes, we had some white stuff on Sunday. It was beautiful, but just about all gone on my side of town by Monday morning. Dear daughter was very upset she didn't get a snow day.

Crazy weather. Snow this past Sunday, and now they are predicting a high of 77 degrees on Saturday. I may throw on the bikini (not!) and lay in the sun. :)

Another thing to throw in the "cut" mix......let's get rid of some of the waste. How many times has someone in charge come to you, thrust catalogs at you and said "Here, order something. If we don't use this money by Friday we lose it, and next year we won't get as much."

It's happened to me, and as a taxpayer it makes me sick to my stomach. Let's get a clue. If we are ordering something just to be doing it then WE DON'T NEED THE MONEY!

lovesmukiwa said...

I agree that cuts should be made across the board and I think the sentiment should carry over to more than just education.
It BLOWS my mind that corporations can lay off hundreds or thousands of people while Chief administrators continue to pay themselves outrageos salaries. It should be illegal.
I work in a college setting and I would happily reduce my hours/pay if it meant reducing the hours/pay of everyone on my staff but keeping everyone employed.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

When the axe falls, it shouldn't discriminate between teachers and administrators. I believe in equality when it comes to "off with their heads"!

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