Thursday, October 4, 2012

Frustrating Work Conditions and Schools

It seems like a growing number of people give lip service to working conditions in school, but without many specifics.  If teachers are frustrated by the working conditions in their schools, how would we expect their behavior to change?

We're using Bolman and Deal's textbook in the Organizational Theory course I'm teaching this semester, which includes a large section on human resources in organizations.  Part of that section discusses Chris Argyris' work on the differences between human personality and management practices.  Argyris contends that workers have six options when trying to escape frustrating working conditions (pp. 128-130).  See how many of these seem familiar to you when thinking about schools:

They withdraw -- through chronic absenteeism or simply by quitting
This certainly happened at my school -- working conditions were so bad that the vast majority of teachers took all 10 of their sick/personal days each year (which compounded the problem, since we usually couldn't find any subs to come into the building).  I'm not sure what's been published on the topic, but I do know that if one looks through the NYC School Report cards that a lot of schools average a lot fewer teacher absences.

They stay on the job but withdraw psychologically, becoming indifferent, passive, and apathetic
This is the quintessential "bad teacher" right here.  The tenured burn-out who can't be bothered to do much of anything anymore.

They resist by restricting output, deception, featherbedding*, or sabotage
Sounds just like the legion of obstinate teachers who refuse to implement the latest, greatest curriculum or other reform handed down to them from above.

They try to climb the hierarchy to better jobs
As teachers in my school used to say: "those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, become principals" (I should note that there's some emerging evidence that many principals had above-average VAM scores when they were teaching).  Either way, it's pretty clear that a lot of teachers try to escape the classroom to become coaches, coordinators, and administrators of all types.  In my school, the most veteran teachers who hadn't moved into one of those types of positions all taught in positions that got them out of the classroom (e.g. "resource room," in which they'd pull out a couple kids at a time).

They form alliances (such as labor unions) to redress the power imbalance
Unions certainly play a large role in many schools.  What we often forget, though, is why the unions came about.  If teachers aren't frustrated and don't distrust their supervisors, they don't usually form (or utilize) unions.

They teach their children to believe that work is unrewarding and hopes for advancement are slim
I haven't seen any evidence of this happening with teachers . . . hopefully it doesn't get that bad.


I definitely see evidence of five out of these six behaviors, though it's unclear whether any of these are currently increasing.  I'd argue, though, that ameliorating the conditions that lead to these types of behavior should be one important goal in our quest to raise teacher quality and turn around low-performing schools.

If we instead go the opposite direction (sterner management, scripted curricula, etc.), we risk turning our schools into highly organized, poorly performing factories.  Taken to the extreme, teachers essentially become mindless drones.  The authors quote Ben Hamper (a former factory worker who then wrote about his experiences) saying that "Working the Rivet Line was like being paid to flunk high school the rest of your life" (p. 131).  Work like that certainly won't inspire anybody to become the high-quality teachers we all agree we need.


*"Featherbedding is a colloquial term for giving people jobs that involve little or no work" (p. 138).

1 comment:

Angelie Clarkson said...

It is frustrated when the school is so crowded. But the good part is your teaching a Human Resource Organization which is a very good Subject. I am a teacher and i teaches Human Resource and i work in HR fachfrau bern . I have an advice don't be bother about a lot of students. Just do our job.