Teacher, You Live in Two Worlds

teachers rally capitol contest
Teachers, parents, and administrators make an unusual foray into the world of the contest March, 2014 with this huge rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

We teachers live in two worlds: One is of collaboration and democracy. The other is of contest and domination.

We’ve done well with that first world, the one of collaboration. It’s that second one of the contest and mental brutality of eliminating the competition that we have a hard time swallowing. 

But, if the profession is going to survive the next ten years and beyond, we have to learn to successfully operate in both worlds. We will have to become comfortable transiting between the two. Our lives will be lived in that intersection.


When I first started teaching I believed that teaching was telling and that any interruption to that had to be conquered.  It’s the same approach that corporate charters take now with their hyper-strict behavior rules and students walking lines in the hallway that is not very much different from prisons.

But I changed over time. I learned what those experienced teachers tried to tell me at first: Teaching is collaboration — not just with other teachers, but with your own students.

What experience teaches any teacher that lasts longer than five years is that the more input that students have, the better they do. The more say that they have in how the classroom works the better. It’s an environment that they must inhabit, but may not choose to inhabit if they had the choice.

Teachers who have been teaching for over one year understand that all students in the building are affected by all of the teachers. The notion of having one or two teachers paid more that the others for some “performance” measure seems ridiculous.

What experienced teachers know is that parents can be great allies and collaborators. But not only that, they are collaborators if their children are successful.

The case of one forlorn student with a horrible home life being rescued by a heroic teacher is very often smoke on the part of someone and is the extreme exception. Certainly it is not the rule.

What honest and humble teachers know is that children from homes of poverty have a very hard time no matter what the school does. Supporting those parents who are working 3 jobs and barely have time to say anything to their children is a key element to their success.

The honest ones of us who refuse to tell stories where we are the hero, know that without parent collaborators, students often fail or drift away quietly as dropouts or barely passing D students.

It is ugly justice that Bill Gates has turned the myth of the single, heroic teacher into a policy. If a student succeeds, it is because every teacher they ever had contributed to it.

Teachers as a group may become frustrated with their administrators, but when push comes to shove, they will collaborate with them if given any chance.

Teachers are people who, at first by nature, and then by experience and training, learn to collaborate in new and creative ways as the years go by.

We are collaborators.


But a world that we often don’t know very well has started to affect the profession that we love. In fact, that other world is threatening to undo teaching as a profession and public schools as a public good.

That is the world of the contest that politicians, business people, lawyers, and investors inhabit comfortably every day.

It’s the world of either/or. Either you win or you lose. You get the deal, or you don’t. You elbow out your competition, or you don’t. You win a case or lose it. You win an election or you lose it.

In that world “collaboration” is what you do with other team members on your side of a contest where you are out to destroy your competition. And you don’t collaborate unless you have to.

It’s the way of the contest in the world of money and work other than teaching.

This world has been slow to turn on teaching and schools not because of their nobility, but because the whole thing is so big and complex.

But their predator eyes are now on us.  All of our careful, patient explaining that works so well in our collaborative classrooms will not deter them any more than it would deter a wolf about to attack unsuspecting sheep.

In the world of the contest, it’s about who overcomes the other first. Collaboration has little to do with it. And that’s a big problem for us, the collaborators.

People of the contest are circling

As I have pointed out in a previous post, investors have their sights on education as a new multi-billion dollar potential market if only they can push public schools and public school teachers out-of-the-way.

Very much unlike you, these are the people of the contest who measure their success in dollars and cents. In their world, it really is the case that those who end up with the most toys win.

And they will do anything – say anything – to win.

One way that they can do that is to convince parents, through carefully placed and worded propaganda, that they are the only stakeholder in their children’s education.

As I showed in one post, investors want us to believe that parents are the only stakeholders. They want parents to turn into individual shoppers instead of their being engaged citizens of their community, just as concerned for the education of their neighbors’ children as their own.

They want others in your community to simply shrug and say that they don’t care because they don’t have children or grandchildren in school anymore.

But they need to convince the public that public schools just aren’t getting there. So we have a bogus A-F grading system that falls in line with the parent as independent operator shopping for a school.

And they need to discredit teachers, so they tie teacher evaluations to student performance as if each year your students just fall out of the sky into your classroom. You know they don’t.

They will accomplish all of that if teachers, administrators, and school boards allow them to. And that will happen by not acknowledging to ourselves that we actually inhabit two worlds, the world of collaboration, and the world of the contest.

Take Action

Teachers who work in schools owned and controlled by their community – public schools – must at least organize to resist the world of the contest. Organize and stand up to the predators, or loose the very profession that you love so much.

But worse, your students will suffer from the disruption and the churning of schools that fail, go broke, or just cash out mid-year. You don’t believe it happens? I have posted the evidence.

Here’s what public school teachers need to do now:

  • Vote! Consistently, in Oklahoma, only about 30% of teachers vote.
  • Support candidates for public school board who support public schools.
  • Get to know the representative from your house district in the legislature very well no matter how much you may disagree. You are a citizen and their constituent, too.
  • Get to know your senator in the legislature.
  • Stay in contact with your Congress member and state senator.
  • Talk to people in your community to defend the community-owned, public good of public education.

You can no longer pretend to be above it all and say that you support public education. Support is measured from now on as actual, on-the-record, support.

If you don’t care what happens to public education enough to take a stand, the people of the contest have their own ideas about what to do with it.