Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pushing Back

Are we pushing back enough?

Lately I've been pondering this question on a lot of different levels. For starters, as a teacher there are a lot of things that we do or have done to us that we don't question or push back against. To be clear I don't think of pushing back as being insubordinate or unprofessional. What I mean is, do we question and look for clarification or seek answers as to why we are doing something? Or, do we take things at face value and simply follow orders? If we are given a directive from an administrator that we do not feel is in the best interest of our students, do we push back on behalf of those students? I feel as though a great many teachers fear the consequences of pushing back. They fear it will be a mark on their evaluation or possibly lead to disciplinary action. Yet if we fail to push back, who is going to be there to make sure the students are taken care of? Who better understands the needs of the children in the classroom than the teacher who works with them daily?

On the other side of things I often hear of administrators who don't push back either. There push back looks a little bit different in that they are pushing back at their staff. I have seen several examples of staff unwilling or uninterested in frankly doing their job as teachers or working to improve themselves as professionals. They are mediocre and are doing their work in the same manner in which they have for 20 or more years. What I often fail to see is administrators pushing back against these teachers and challenging them to improve for the sake of their students. I have even heard the comments, “Well that is the way they have always done it. I'm not going to change them at this point in their career.” That is essentially a white flag and a blank check for that teacher to continue operating in a mediocre fashion.

Another element to this is teachers pushing back within their own teacher ranks. This is not to saw we are bashing our own kind but are we pushing back and challenging our colleagues or do we tolerate mediocrity when we encounter it? In situations where a fellow teacher is doing something you know to be wrong or is simply not being a team player, how are you approaching it? Do you step away and decide not to get involved or do you say something and try to push them into a positive direction? If we are not pushing our fellow teachers or are willing to be pushed ourselves, are we doing all students a disservice?

When it comes to the role of a parent I far too often see a failure to push back. As a parent myself, I spent a lot of time around other parents. My sons are swimmers and soccer players and I often find myself in a bleacher or on the sideline talking to other parents. Very often these conversations revolve around Ugg Boots or idle neighborhood gossip. However, these conversations also revolve around school and what is happening with their kids. I have lost track of the number of times a parent has complained to me about something that has happened in school with their child. They ask me for advice since they know I am a teacher. Nearly every single time a story such as this is shared I ask them if they have ever pushed back. Have they ever called the teacher and asked a question about why something took place. I asked them if they have sought clarification or understanding or even a justification about what is happening in the classroom. A vast majority of these parents all answer the same. No. There is a fear holding them back. They don't want to be viewed as “that” parent or have their actions or words taken out on their child.

Myself as a parent, I have held back on speaking up against things at times because I didn't want it held against my child. As a parent and a teacher we often have to walk a fine line. The fear that parents feel is real because we have all seen teachers who hold the actions of a parent against a child, as wrong as that is. Yet, I go back to the idea that if as a parent I don't push back nothing will ever change. If there's something happening to my child that I don't agree with, chances are that is happening to other children and has been happening to other children. I feel as though we as parents have an obligation to speak up not only for my child but also for every child whose parents are afraid of speaking up.

Yes, there's a way to push back professionally and in a civic manner and I realize not everyone pushes back in this manner. Sometimes the push back comes in the form of ranting, raving and the occasion swearing. Despite this, we as teachers, parents, administrators and everyone in between need to not only be open to push back but also do some more pushing ourselves. If fear is holding us back, what do we lose due to that inaction? More importantly what are our children and students losing because of our fears? 
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