Friday, November 04, 2005

The Problem with Administration

I was just reading an article by Chris Ardis at The Monitor. Chris mentions how teaching is no longer an enjoyable job and how the stress of teaching makes people sick or want to quit. I know exactly what the problem is and I know that it can only get worse. Public education needs to be reformed. Let me give you an example about why teachers are in the position they are in using my own experience.

I helped open up a store, almost 3 years ago. I've been a central figure in establishing operations there. At first, none of us knew what to do. We opened for business, but none of us had worked in the type of business we operate. We had great lattitude and freedom in what we could do because there were no rules. Basically, it was help the customer find what he or she needs and check them out. With time, we noticed that some actions were time consuming and if continued would cost more than we would earn. So, we made a rule. Don't do that unless certain conditions exist. Then, we had problems remembering delivery fees and a problem with an employee giving free delivery in exchange for favors. So, we created a form and required attaching a receipt to show that a delivery fee was charged. Then there were issues with charging customers a certain way and providing refunds. We had issues with employee behavior. Add more and more rules.

I'm good at making rules. I'm not necessarily good at following them. The reason is that there are so many damned rules and so many things to execute for certain types of sales. I have made most of the rules or contributed to their creation. There is a reason why we made them. We want to be sure that certain things get done and have proof that they were done right. This is a microcosm of the publich school system.

Public school is in actuality much worse. You have teachers who are constrained by the department chair, by the school district, by the state, by the federal government, and by parents. Each one has procedures that they want the teacher to follow, which may even be contradicting. On top of that, the teacher is fed a bunch of socialist boloney in college about the "right way" to educate a student in a perfect world with an unlimited budget. If a teacher messes up, a whole bunch of people come down on him or her about it. I don't blame teachers for documenting things and spending so much time jumping through administration hoops just to keep their jobs.

There are just too many people with too many rules with their hand in the process of educating a child. At the store, if it were me alone with no employees and no owner, it would be simple. If I have it, I'll sell it if you want it. Give me the money and I'll give you the goods. Teaching is just as simple. If there is material, the teacher can teach it if the student wants to learn it. The student does the work and the teacher will evaluate. If you want proof of this, look at home schooled students. They often have higher test scores than public school students. One teacher with a lesson plan and one student is all that is involved.The parent's main concern is getting the child to master the material and move on to the next lesson. In home schooling there is no documentation, conferences, training, meetings, or other administrative overhead that public school teachers have to endure.

So, if we really want to reform public education, we should do the total opposite of what we are inclined to do. Instead of going in there and busting heads with new requirements and regulations that will require even more administration to keep track of all of that, we should step back and give some slack. In one way, this is the fault of teachers too. Teachers need to root out bad teachers by pointing fingers at them. If teachers had not abdicated this responsibility to students, they would not have all these requirements heaped upon them. It's the same idea when there is a substitute teacher in class and one or two kids misbehave. The whole class gets punished.

Teachers, you need to give up some stuff. Give up on the idea of job security. Schools need to get rid of bad teachers when it is apparent that a teacher is one. One bad teacher means that the next year's teacher has to teach remedial material on top of the current year's material. Yours is not an elite fraternity. You don't have to cover for each other. If you police yourselves and set your own high standards, you won't need as many administrators all over you. Most of the rules I made at the store were to keep employees in line and to standardize their actions. If I could trust that they would always do what was best for the business, I wouldn't have to rely on rules. Unfortunately, too many bad teachers have ruined the profession for everybody. So, I suggest looking at charter schools or private schools. Unlike public schools, they have to turn a profit. If you are dead weight, you are out. In addition, private schools and charter schools can't afford layers upon layers of administrators.
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