Monday, June 30, 2014

network breakdown

I saw this teacher/zombie meme on twitter today... perhaps referring to the emotional stone faced by educators in BC right now, or maybe a reference to the Zombie Summer School that the BC government deems an "essential service." This stirs up some thoughts about how educator networks are under strain.

Last night I attended a meeting for the my local teacher union and was struck by a few things that the teachers there seemed to have in common: 1) continued anxiety over the unresolved labour situation in BC Schools. 2) humour, creativity, and hope as we discussed what job action, if any, would be useful and necessary in summer. 3) the need to get some closure on the school year, to put things in perspective, and reserve some energy for the other good things in life that aren't locked out or on strike.

After, I had a short online chat with a Ft. St. James colleague Kelley Inden who had many of the same thoughts. She is a remarkable teacher and storyteller, with obvious commitment to her students. She is also one of many teachers who closely examined BC's new Education Plan, got past the rhetoric, ignored the parts that had a political agenda, and found areas that resonated with her own practice. For example, her efforts to transform assessment and nudge all students to think critically show a willingness to experiment and cast off old practices when they no longer make sense.

Much of the work of teachers is connected by the networks they share. Some are face-to-face, like the union executive meeting I attended, and others are online, like the circle of educators that folks like Kelley and I have happened across via twitter in the last couple of years. These groups don't have to be close, we don't even have to like each other, but we keep gnawing away at what drives our teaching and what inspires learning. Real community (like family) is something different, and can survive hardships like labour strife, but networks are engineered entities and relationships built on function are are highly susceptible to redesign, for better or worse.

This lockout/strike/negotiation has been hard on networks. We say things we probably shouldn't, we second-guess our efforts, we deal mostly in anger over an intransigent contract-stripping government and sometimes the direction our union takes, or individual members therein. Anti-teacher trolls step up their efforts to equate the bctf with communism, teacher trolls flame the media for not being compeltely sympathetic to our cause, and a variety of other kooks come out of the weeds to embarrass us in other ways. Our government employer and education minister make statements in the media that wouldn't stand up to a modicum of fact-checking, district administrators seem content to carry out the government's directives without protest, and school board trustees seem confined to writing letters and offering condolences via social media. No doubt in the midst of this some strategies are working (for both "sides") but it will be a pyrrhic victory regardless of the outcome -- the educational landscape is currently being scorched, most visibly in the way we treat each other.

Longer term, we worry about how the widening gulf between teachers and all arms of the provincial government will play out vis-a-vis education reform. If anyone had any doubts about embedded cost-offloading, privatization, and de-professionalization of teachers in the BC EdPlan, they've found plenty more evidence in the last few weeks. One example is the government's use of the curriculum-focused @bcedplan twitter feed to broadcast bargaining messages from the employer with "funny" math about teacher wages. Other moves, like the bizarre lockout, the dumbing down of "essential" exams, and the summer school directive that actually excluded all (living) students in BC, have further alienated future efforts to build common language and actions for education reform. These moves have also shown that the government is more interested in punishing the teacher union than it is in a settlement. The middlemen in this battle, school administrators, have been hosed from either side... set up for failure by district admin and the BCPSEA in regards to the lockout, marks, summer school, and picket lines, and then vilified by teachers for being virtually silent on any of the education and funding issues facing our education system.

In short, the bad relationship in BC Education has gotten worse, and it happens at time when progressive educators -- teachers, principals, and others -- were making some progress towards understanding where our education system might go in the coming years. I've noticed this breakdown most in the conversations I've had with educators about their networks -- teacher in-fighting over labour tactics and actions past/present/future, administrators collectively embarrassed about what they've been asked to do, endless twitter battles between groups that are not going to shift their position, and growing anxiety about what next year will look like after present charring of the educational landscape.

Hope, resilience, and humour, however, are never in short supply, so I'm of a mind that "this, too, shall pass." I do share Kelley Inden's concern, however, that picking up the pieces next year will be challenging, regardless of the eventual contract settlement. Personally, it has strengthened my resolve to build more self-reliance as a teacher (which means shutting out some of the crap that comes from colleagues, school, districts, and province), and also to foster more interdependence through the networks that re-emerge from this present strife. Having broken down to some extent, educator networks will necessarily go through a period of renewal next year as people come to terms with what they've said and done and reposition themselves with others who offer good dialogue, support for fresh thinking, and continued efforts to make teaching and learning joyful and rewarding.

Failing that, there is an awesome two months of summer ahead and I plan on avoiding zombies while camping, teaching my son how to fish, keeping up with my daughter in the pool, and coaxing my wife to stop fretting so much.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Glen - thanks for putting so much of this into coherent thought. I appreciated the chat -you shored me up when I really need it! We do what we love, and so anything that sends us backward is wrenching. Getting back into my classroom will be the only true salve for my battered spirit. In the meantime, you are right. On to other things for now.

Anonymous said...

Hey, wondering if you could provide some comment for a Globe and Mail story today about the signing bonus expiring- will this leave the two sides farther apart? Deadline is 2:30 p.m., I'm afraid. 604-631-6668.

Dave Harper said...

Here's to a fine summer. Your humorous ramblings helped me get through June 2014 and the Ides of the Zombies!