Random thoughts. Creative insubordination.


I love it when a drawing or a cartoon of mine generates as much, or more, discussion than my words.

There was some discussion yesterday following the posting of my drawing of Deborah Meier. Meier started the ground-breaking small public school, Central Park East in New York and is still a voice for good schools and against corporate reform.

Each of my teacher drawings includes a quote. There is a problem when you characterize a person by picking out a line or a sentence from all that they have said. There is no context. No nuance.

In this case there was some concern with the words “only secretly” in the quote I chose: “Only secretly rebellious teachers have ever done right by our least advantaged kids.”

I, frankly, have always loved this quote along with Debbie’s phrase “creative insubordination.”

I have always thought that good teaching was an act of rebellion.

Yes. I was a teacher in a public school system with a union and a contract that provided me with some protections. It was without a doubt more protection than I would have received in a non-union charter.

Yet, as much as some in administration and the union-haters talked about our collective bargaining agreement as if it was a union document, that was never true.

Our CBA was an agreement between the system and the teachers. It didn’t always protect me when I did the right thing because it had stuff in it that was for them and not for me or my students.

I was a union president. But I had no release time. I was always a full-time teacher in the classroom.

Some times I made a stink. Some times I kept it quiet, although my colleagues and administrators would probably be surprised to read that.

My email was subject to a FOIA request by right-wingers.

My personnel file as well.

Letters of reprimand placed in my file.

I was good at bringing a crowd.

But I often worked, as many must do, as a secret rebel in a system that is often difficult if not hostile. 

9 thoughts on “Random thoughts. Creative insubordination.

  1. My email was subject to a FOIA request by right-wingers. My personnel file as well. Letters of reprimand placed in my file.

    E-mail: yes. personnel file: BS (unless you consented, and maybe not even then).

    1. Laughing. You should explain your views bout my personnel file to the folks in Park Ridge District 64. I gave no consent. And except for references to third parties, they got it all.

  2. Personnel files are mostly exempt to FOIA. School administrations are mostly incompetent. It appears that Park Ridge District 64 was no exception. The right-wingers probably implied a lawsuit if their request was not complied with, quoting a part of FOIA that says “you must comply”, leaving out other parts such as what is exempt. The secretary probably called it up to their supervisor, who called up to administration, who then phoned their boss to ask what to do. And so it goes, like the game of telegraph, the specifics get blurred with each level of administration. Upper level administration forms a committee to smokescreen and shield themselves from any one of them being held accountable (CYA). They then decide they must comply with FOIA requests and send a memo “the committee has determined we must comply with the requirements of FOIA”, and a copy is circulated to each supervisor. So the order is given, and your records are sent out. This sort of action probably is a violation of rights of the employee, but when have they ever been concerned about the rights of teachers?

  3. Fred is correct. I had several parents -who had grudges over their kids’ grades – look at my personnel file. But even I could not see the third party info.

  4. Oh I love creative insubordination. Nodding my head yes, closing my door, and then doing what I think is best for my students. I’m not the only one doing this either.

  5. “Creative insubordination” ran our building, though our version was, “We teach in spite of them.” By “them,” I’m referring to our school boards composed mostly of clueless, sometimes hostile business types, public relations-obsessed superintendents, toady principals, even venal politicians, and our ultimate curse: their wacky fads and policies that had the potential to become serious impediments to our jobs in the classroom had there not been a higher moral imperative.

    Never once did our administrators ask us teachers whether or not their policies or schemes had any merit. Never once did they ask how they could be of help to make our jobs in the classroom easier. They had all the answers. What did teachers know anyway? Ours was not to reason why, ours was but to do or die… What I currently read and hear about the state of my former profession is alarming; circumstances have only worsened since I retired more than a decade ago. I can’t imagine.

    In our day, elaborate, expensive, so-called “innovative” fads that our administrators either concocted through imagination on steroids or imported from some school of education’s treasure trove of nightmarish EdD theses that purported “to improve teaching and learning” became their obsessions for, as they called it, “implementation.” Always be on your guard when someone uses buzzwords like “innovation” or “implementation.” Teachers and students were, in effect, administrators’ guinea pigs for a lengthy and possibly excruciating period of time. Their ambitious, educational wet dreams turned into our nightmares that fueled faculty resentment, ridicule, and eventually, a quiet demise; only to be replaced by the next fad. The cycle of never-ending faddist gibberish was the most frustrating part of my career.

    Educational fads achieved a real whack-a-mole immortality. As soon as one went down in flames, another reared its ugly head to take its place. When all else failed, “dead” fads got resurrected from the grave, then to be rebranded and peddled by charlatans as the new snake oil to cure the ills of education in our district and beyond.

    One of these recent resurrections is an enhanced version of “accountability” which drives some of today’s grotesque policies, euphemistically called “education reform.” The original version from the early 1970’s evidently didn’t go far enough to put undue pressure on teachers. “Accountability,” until it’ oozes from your pores! After all, we now have “scientifically-based,” standardized testing instruments with which to “measure” this still vague concept. How could any teacher be against “accountability?” More snake oil, perhaps? How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways… Especially, when one’s salary or career ends on the chopping block as a result.

    Many of us who entered the teaching profession in the late 1960’s and early ’70’s may well remember such faddish gems as the “Accountability Movement”; “teaching through goals and objectives”; Individualized Instruction; Career Education; T.I.S.A. (Teaching to Improve Student Achievement); T.E.S.A. (Teaching to Enhance Student Achievement); O.B.E. (Outcomes Based Education); “Mastery Learning”; T.P.R. (Total Physical Response); even “merit pay” for teachers; and several more that I really don’t care to recall. All were costly wastes of our district’s money and teachers’ time; some, like “merit pay” were just designed to control or to destroy. Benefit to our students? Nil! All of these fads had one thing in common: None had practical application in the classroom. How could any teacher not find value in the “implementation” of “teaching through goals and objectives” in his or her classroom? Our administrators achieved the impossible: they found a way to turn teachers against ideas that on the surface seem to have merit. “Creative insubordination” helped to do the job where it counted: in the classroom. We taught in spite of them.

    The lessons for school boards, administrators, the public, and politicians are two-fold and simple:
    1. Support public education!
    2. Have some faith in the competence and professional integrity of public school teachers! Work with them.

    These lessons do not apply to hedge fund managers, certain politicians, and other assorted privatizers whose true motive is not the improvement of education; on the contrary, it’s the demise of public schools and to turn flesh and blood kids and teachers into commodities for the sake of greed. Any lessons to them are meaningless, because they have no thoughts or ideas about the most critical element for whom education was intended: human beings.

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