. . . then why are so many so petrified of losing their jobs? In conversation after conversation with teachers from a wide variety of schools around the country this continues to stand out to me. And I'm not quite sure what to make of it.
What are the contexts of these conversations? They mostly arise in the following two situations:
1.) A new administrative regime comes in (at either the school level or higher) or the current regime hands down a new directive. Teachers scramble to re-do their bulletin boards, do more test prep, fill out more paperwork, or whatever else they think they need to do to cover their behinds. This certainly doesn't apply in all situations, since I've also seen teachers ignore new directives, essentially refuse to implement new curricula, etc.
2.) More worryingly, I've seen it time and time again when teachers are aware of wrongdoing by other people in the building or district -- particularly when it involves a direct supervisor. I often seemed to be the only one in my building willing to report the unethical behavior I witnessed -- possibly because I had the luxury of knowing I wasn't trying to teach in the same district again the next year. I was recently speaking with a colleague who has witnessed outrageously unethical behavior by the principal at his school. I encouraged him to report this, and the response I received was "I need my job too much . . . [my principal] is waaaaay too dangerous. I'm scared to death of him".
I have far too many anecdotes to fit into one blog post, but I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with panicked teachers anxious about their job status. Given that almost all of these teachers were tenured at the time of the conversation, the anxiety in their voices doesn't jibe with the current rhetoric about teacher labor markets. It seems to me that there are three possible explanations for this (not including the possibility that my perceptions are skewed):
1.) Teachers are, indeed, almost impossible to fire -- but they don't realize that. I suppose it's possible that teachers perceptions are off, but it seems unlikely that their that off-base.
2.) Teaching as a profession tends to attract a lot of people-pleasers who are afraid to stand up for themselves. This may not be entirely without merit -- I'd feel comfortable saying that most teachers I know or have met are more interested in helping others than causing trouble, but this seems like only part of the explanation at best.
3.) There's a dangerous lack of trust in too many schools and school systems. I don't want to be alarmist or paint with too wide of a brush, but this strikes me as the most plausible explanation of the three. If teachers don't trust their supervisors to be fair and ethical, it stands to reason that they'll constantly worry about their jobs regardless of whatever protections they have.
Is worrying about one's job always a bad thing? Of course not; sometimes a little panic can boost productivity. But when it results in the proliferation of unethical or downright abusive behavior, I start to worry about all the worriers. And when policies aim to increase the worry-level of teachers, I worry about the potentially negative consequences for our schools and students.
To paraphrase the old milk commercials: Trust. It does a school good.