Friday, 9 August 2019

THE WORK ENVIRONMENT OR CULTURE OF SCHOOLS

 

cosmos energy

THE WORK ENVIRONMENT OR CULTURE OF SCHOOLS

How does it happen in the same school district, teachers in two schools view their work so differently from each other? In Meadow Valley Middle School, teachers come to school within 15 minutes of the requested arrival time and leave school 15 minutes after the last bell. If a teacher arrives earlier or stays later, other teachers’ questions and glances make that teacher feel as if he or she shouldn’t be working more that the required time. To do so is to violate an unspoken norm that teachers have come to accept about the proper amount of time to spend in school. Yet one and half a time across town, at the other middle school in the same district, the norms about proper time are different. At Mountain View Middle School, teachers are in their classrooms 45 minutes ahead of time, sharing coffee with each other, organizing materials, and conferring with individual students. One our after school each day, the majority of staff are still there, working industriously in their own rooms, conducting tutorials, calling parents, and checking on tomorrow’s plans. If a teacher arrives later or leaves earlier, the questions and glances of the other teachers make him or her feel that a taboo is being violated.

 

Teachers in both schools work undergo the same district regulations, yet their expectation about work in their particular school are quite different. Why is this so? How does this come about? What have been the enduring norms of schools, and how have they been established? The answers to these questions are quite important if we are to know how to intervene in our own schools so as to minimize resistance and capitalize on school beliefs that give impetus to student learning.

 

THE LEGACY OF THE ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE

Discussing the present work environment of schools without discussing the one-room schoolhouse would be comparable to talking about issues in Western democracies without acknowledging the Magna Carter. Much of what exists in beliefs and expectations about schools can be traced to the idyllic-looking, clapboard, one-room school-houses of pioneer times. The teacher was responsible for the total instruction of all students, the maintenance of the building, keeping the stove filled with wood, and cleaning the floors. Our first schoolteachers were seen as working in an honorable but menial profession, poorly paid but second only to the preacher in prestige (Lortie, 1975).

 

In the one-room schoolhouse, the teacher was responsible for all that transpired within its four walls; therefore, collective action in a school was automatic. What the teacher wanted to do about curriculum was what the school did! This legacy of independence, isolation, and privatization of teaching remains alive and well in many schools today. Instead of having physically separated one-room schoolhouse, we often see the one-room schoolhouse repeated every few yards down a school corridor. Each teacher sees his or her students, within the four walls, as his or her own school. Although the old one-room school is physically gone, it still holds a pervasive grip on the minds and actions of many teachers and schools.

 

The sense of classroom as being private places is in direct contrast to the research on norms of improving schools:

 

Research suggests that the schools with the greatest student learning going on are those which do not isolate teachers, but instead encourage professional dialogue and collaboration. Teaching in effective schools is a collective rather than individual enterprise. (Freiberg and Knight, 1987, p. 3)

 

The one-room schoolhouse or pioneer times has a deep-seated institutional belief among educators that is characterized by isolation, psychological dilemmas, routine, inadequate induction of beginning teachers, inequity, lack of career stages, lack of professional dialogue, lack of involvement in school decisions, lack of shared technical culture, and conservatism. Many educators accept that they pervade the minds and beliefs of most teachers and administrators. However, instructional leaders question whether belief and practices accepted in the past are appropriate for the present, when we must initiate a new culture based on purposeful and collective belief about school, students, and teaching. Let’s look at the characteristics of today’s education that are derived from the one-room schoolhouse of bygone days.

 

Isolation

The isolation and individualism of teachers has been observed in all major studies of their work environment. As an example of this isolation, Dreeben (1973) noted:

 

Perhaps the most important single property of classrooms, viewed from a school-wide perspective, is their spatial scattering and isolation throughout school buildings; and because teachers work in different places at the same time, they do not observe each other working . . . the implication of this spatial isolation are far reaching (p. 468)

 

As Dreeban pointed out, classrooms are set up structurally in such a way that teachers are difficult to supervise, do not receive feedback from others, and cannot work collaboratively. During a typical workday, a teacher will talk to only a few other adults - on the way to the classroom in the morning, for 20 minutes or so at lunch and recess, and at the end of the day on the way out of the building. While teaching, teachers in most schools are invisible to each other and lack any concrete knowledge of what others teachers are doing in their classrooms.

 

Sarason (1996) pointed out that physical teacher isolation can lead to psychological isolation:

 

What does it mean to go through a work day with no sustained personal contact with another adult? Being and talking with children is not psychologically the same as being and talking with peers . . . When one is almost exclusively with children - responsible for them, being vigilant in regard to them, “giving” to them - it must have important consequences. One of the consequences is that teachers are psychologically alone even though they are in a densely populated setting. It is not only that they are alone, but they adapt to being alone (p. 133; emphasis in original)

 

Teachers who ave experienced long-term psychological isolation tend to view their work environment as limited to their classroom, their students, and their teaching. Although their isolation was initially involuntary, over time they have adapted to and accepted the tradition of isolation (Sarason, 1996; Brooks, Hughes, and Brooks, 2008); they now resist opportunities for professional dialogue and collaboration with other teachers that might arise.

 

Psychological Dilemma and Frustration

The teacher’s work environment is marked by incessant psychological encounters. In just a few minutes of observation, one might see a teacher as a question, reply with a smile to a student’s answer, frown at an inattentive student, ask a student to be quite, put a hand on a student’s shoulder, and begin to lecture. Teachers have thousands of such psychological encounters in a normal schoolday (Jackson, 1968). A look, a shrug, and a word all have intended meaning between teacher and students.

 

Each day an elementary teacher meets with 25 to 35 students for six and one-half hours. A secondary school teacher meets with 10 to 150 students for five to seven 50-minutes periods. All this human interactions take place in a 900 square-foot room, where a teacher must instruct, manage, discipline, reinforce, socialize, and attend to multiple occurrences. This crowded professional life makes teachers wish for smaller classes to reduce the psychological demand of constant decision making. Sarason (1996) described this incessant demand as a psychological dilemma:

 

The teacher feels, and made to feel, that one’s worth as a teacher will be judged by how much a class in a given period of time. The strong feeling that teachers have about the complexity of their tasks stems from the awareness that they are expected to bring their children (if not all, most) to a certain academic level by a time criterion in regard to which they have no say. Faced with numbers and diversity of children and the pressure to adhere to a time schedule presents the teacher not with a difficult task but an impossible one. I say impossible because I have never met a teacher who was not aware of and disturbed by the fact that he or she had not the time to give to some children in the class the kind of help they needed. (p. 187; emphasis in original)

 

To maintain their own sanity in the face of an over load of psychological encounters and an inability to attend to the psychological needs of each student in a confined and regulated workplace, teachers often cope by routinizing classroom activities. The classroom routine for students becomes similar to the outside routine of teachers. For example, a science teacher might have students listen to a 20-minutes presentation, followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer period and then by 20 minutes of seatwork. An elementary teacher might have three reading groups who rotate to him or her for 15 minutes each; each group reads aloud, responds to teacher questions, and does worksheet. By routinizing what happens within the classroom, a teacher avoids making hundreds of decision. The routinization of teaching allows the teacher to avoid the inherent conflict between being overwhelmed psychologically by the responsibility for teaching a large number of students and being aware of neglecting the personal needs of individual students.  

 

Routine of the teaching day

The routine of the teaching day is imposed by administrative fiat, school board policy, and state guidelines. Every classroom teacher is required to be at school before students enter and to remain until they have departed. In primary or elementary schools, a teacher has specific times for recess and lunch, as well as approximate time allocated for teaching a given subject (for example, 45 minutes for reading, 30 minutes for mathematics, 30 minutes twice a week for social studies). the teacher is assigned a certain number of students and has responsibility for them for the entire day and school year. He or she is expected to remain physically I the assigned classroom for the schoolday, with the exception of recess, lunch, or special classes. Outside the classroom, teachers also have scheduled responsibilities for lunch, recess, and dismissal. In middle schools, junior high schools, and senior high schools, he schoolday is different from that of elementary schools but still has a set routine. A secondary teacher has four to seven different classes of students but still has a routine. A secondary teacher has four to seven different classes of students meeting at specific times each day for an extended period (11, 18, or 36 weeks). again, the teacher begins and dismisses each class at a prescribed time and has regular duties outside the classroom (for example, monitoring the lunchroom, hall, or bathrooms).

 

Sarason (1996) raises a critical question concerning the effect of routine on teachers and students:

 

If teaching becomes neither terribly interested nor exciting to many teachers, can one expect them to make leaning interesting or exciting to children? If teaching becomes a routine, predictable experience, does this not have inevitable consequences for life in the classroom? The model classroom does not allow me other than to conclude that children and teachers show most of the effects of routinized thinking and living. (p. 200; emphasis in original)

 

Inadequate Induction of Beginning Teachers

Teaching has been a career in which the greatest challenge and most difficult responsibilities are faced by those with the least experience - a strange state of affairs indeed! Beginning teachers in many schools are faced with a number of environmental difficulties: inadequate resources, difficult work assignments, unclear expectations, a sink-or-swim mentality, and reality shock (Gordon, 1991; Gordon and Maxey, 2000; Colley, 2002; Johnson and Kardos, 2002; McCann and Johannesen, 2004). As we describe these difficulties, we invite you to reflect on your own first year of teaching and to recall if they were part of your entrances to the profession.

 

Inadequate Resources: If a teacher makes known that he or she will not be returning in the fall, then after the last day of school other teachers often descend on the vacant classroom and remove materials that will be useful to them. Not only are instructional materials removed but also desks, tables, and chairs! In their place are put those discarded items and furniture that no one else wants. Additionally, teachers may jockey around for the more spacious, better-lighted classrooms. Thus, for the incoming year, the neophyte teacher with the school, with discards for furniture and equipment and few instructional materials.

 

Difficult Work Assignments: Experienced staff and administration often arrange for the so-called problem children and/or lowest-achieving groups of students to be assigned to the newest teacher. In addition, the least interesting and most difficult courses usually are assigned to beginners (Kurtz 1983; Johnson, 2001, Stanbury, 2001). New teachers are often given large classes and more duties than experienced teachers (Romatowski, Dorminey, and Van Voorhee, 1989; Birkeland and Johnson, 2002).

 

Unclear Expectation: A common complaint among first-year teachers is that they are never sure what is expected of them as professionals (Kurtz, 1983; Johnson and Kardos, 2002). Administrators, other teachers, parents, and students express conflicting expectations of the beginner, leaving the neophyte in a quandary about whose expectation he or she should try to meet. A failure to socialize novice teachers into a professional community leads to what Corcoran (1981) has called the “condition of not knowing” (p. 20)

 

Sink-or-Swim Mentality: For a variety of reasons, beginning teachers are left on their own to “sink or swim.” Administrators and experienced teachers tend to view the first year of teaching as a necessary “trial by fire” through which all neophytes must pass. Many experienced colleagues are reluctant to provide assistance to beginning teachers. Some veterans think it is only fair that new teachers should pass through the same trials and tribulations that they navigated when they were beginners. Some see it as a process that “weeds out” weak teachers, allowing only the strong to survive. Other experienced teachers are reluctant to assist beginners because of the norms of individualism and privacy that pervade the school culture.

 

Beginners often are reluctant to ask the principal or colleague for help when they are experiencing management or instructional problems. This is due to the fact that teaching is the only profession in which a novice is expected to assume the same (or more) responsibilities at the same level of competence as experienced colleagues. Novice teachers often do not ask for help because they fear that a request for assistance will call into question their professional competence, in fact, neophytes often go to great lengths to conceal their classroom problems (Newberry, 1978).

 

Reality Shock: Veenman defined reality shock as “the collapse of the missionary ideals formed during teacher training by the harsh and rude reality of classroom life” (1984, p. 143). individuals tend to enter teaching with idealized visions of what it will be like. Classroom management problems, student learning difficulties, and the environmental difficulties already discussed tend to destroy those ideals rather quickly. Moreover, neophytes are faced with the numbing realization that they are unprepared to deal with the harsh realities of teaching. This realization can lead to disillusionment and professional paralysis (Corcoran, 1981; Chubbuck, Clift, and Alland, 2001).

 

Effects of Environmental Difficulties: The environmental problems just discussed can cause tremendous stress and eventually lead to physical and emotional problems. Novice teachers tend to have more negative attitude about themselves, their teaching, their profession, and students at the end than at the beginning of their first year of teaching (Gordon, 1991). Between one-third and one-half of teachers drop out of the profession within their first seven years of teaching (Metropolitan Life, 1985; Ingersoll and Smith, 2003), with up to 15 percent leaving each of the first two years (Schlechty and Vance, 1981). Many of the most promising teachers are the ones who leave the profession early in their careers (Harris and Collay, 1990; Feiman-Nemser, 2003). America’s schools must hire millions of teachers over the next several years to replace those leaving the teaching profession. Finally, as a result of their initial negative experience, many teachers who stay in the profession develop a survival mentality, a narrow set of teaching methods, and resistance to experimentation and change that may last throughout their teaching career (Huling-Austin, 1986; Romatowki, Dorminey, and Van Voorhees, 1989; Gordon and Maxey, 2000).

 

 

Inequality

The inequality between experienced and beginning teachers is not only the type of disparity often found in conventional districts and schools. Schools located in lower-income communities often are not provided the same resources as other schools in the same district. The physical facilities in low-income schools may be in ill repair and even present health and safety hazard. Class sizes often are larger than those in middle- or upper-class schools. Textbooks and instructional materials may be woefully out of date or nonexistent. Low-income schools may be short-changed on human resources as well. Many teachers in low-income schools are teaching outside of their field (Ingersoll, 2002; Achinstein, Ogawa, and Speiglam, 2004). New teachers often stay at low-income schools only until they are eligible to transfer to other schools, creating problems with faculty and school stability. The personnel problems in low-income schools often are blamed on the difficulty and frustration of teaching low-achieving students, but the major causes of the problem is that districts often provide neither sufficient resources or incentives to attract the most qualified teachers nor sufficient support to retain them.  

 

Unstaged Career

More prestigious professionals avoid such an abrupt transition from student to full professional. Physicians, lawyers, engineers, and scientists all experience several transition years of apprenticeship, internship, and junior membership on the job before they qualify for full rights and responsibilities in the profession.

 

This set of circumstances leads to the negative characteristics of the teaching profession that perhaps most significantly differentiates it from others - an unstaged career. Most prestigious occupations have rigorous screening and requirements. Furthermore, they have a transitional or proving-ground stages; only when an aspirant has been judged competent by senior members does the junior member step into the next stage of the career, which provides high visibility, greater challenges, a substantial increase in salary, and responsibility for monitoring and judging the next wave of junior members. For example, a law school graduate must pass the bar exam and then serve as a clerk, as a legal aid, or as a junior member of a law firm. He or she works behind the scene on writing and research that are credited to his or her superior. After proving competence over time, however, the lawyer then becomes a partner in a firm, a public prosecutor or defender, or an independent attorney. This movement brings visibility and stature in the profession and the right to have one’s own apprentices to do the less challenging, less exciting work.

 

Teaching, however, has been unstaged from entry to exit. Education majors take courses, spend time in schools perform as students teachers, and then graduate from college into their own classroom as teachers. After that, no matter how many years they continue to teach, they do not move into another stage. The 20-years veteran teacher has the same classroom space, number of students, and requirements as the first-year teachers.

 

Lack of Dialogue about Instruction

Generally, people in schools do not talk about their work - teaching - with each other. DeSanctis and Blumberg (1979) found the length of instruction-related discussion among teachers in a typical schoolday in a high school in New York was two minutes. Little’s (1982) study of schools, Rosenholtz’s (1985) review of effective schools, and Pajak and Glickman’s (1987) study of 15 exemplary elementary and secondary schools in three improving districts pointed to one essential dimension of successful schools: Professionals constantly talk with each other, in a problem-solving, action-oriented way, about teaching. This talk is generally through a faculty and committee meeting, in-service workshops, observations and conferences, faculty lounge contacts, and other informal occasions. This talk is of a specific nature: the teaching of and learning by students. Of course, teachers talk with each other in all schools, but the talk is typically of a more social nature - telling stories about students, parents administrators, community, and school events.

 

For teachers to talk often and seriously with each other about the core of their job - instruction and curriculum - is a rarity in many schools. Time is not planned for it to occur. Faculty meetings are information giving, and when school concerns are raised, they are often deflected to non-instructional matters such as schedules, district policies, extracurricular responsibilities, and building maintenance.

 

Lack of Involvement in Schoolwide Curriculum and Instructional Decisions

If teachers don’t see each other at work, don’t talk with each other about their work, and see teaching as what goes on within their own four walls, it is not surprising that they are not given the opportunity, time, or experience to be involved in decision about curriculum and instruction beyond their four walls. Goodlad’s (1984) study of schooling found that teachers’ involvement in decision about curriculum and instruction was virtually nil. Blumberg (1987) refers to one of the basic problems with public schools as “situations premised on having mature, competent adults as employees, yet treating these same adults as children when it comes to deciding and operationalizing their work.” Boyer (1983) is even more adamant, referring to schools as impoverished intellectual climates for adults. The norm in most schools is that teachers are not expected to contribute experience, knowledge, and wisdom to decision about the common good of educating students.

 

Lack of a Shared Technical Culture

Colleagues within a shared technical culture possess common purpose, expertise, and wisdom to decisions about the common good of educating students. They have developed sophisticated performance standard and communicate through a shared technical language. Imagine that a team of surgeons is about to perform a heart transplant operation. Each member of the team shares extensive knowledge of the cardiovascular system as well as state-of -the art surgical procedure that will be used during the operation. The purpose of the surgery, as well as the technical means of achieving that purpose, are clear to each team member. Both in planning and performing the operation, the surgeons communicate in complex technical language, much of which would be difficult for a layperson to understand. During the operation, the surgeons receive precise feedback from advanced technology and each other on the parent’s condition. Should communications arise during the operation the surgeon rely on their expertise and each other to analyze the problem and take corrective action. The patient’s survival is never assured, but the shared technical culture of the surgical team greatly enhances the patient’s chances for recovery.

 

Unlike advanced professional communities, most schools are not characterized by shared technical culture. Isolation, lack of dialogue, inadequate induction, and lack of involvement in schoolwide decision all inhibit the development of such culture among teachers. Based on his classic sociological study of schools and teachers, Lortie’s (1975) description of school culture is in sharp contrast to the shared technical culture we have been discussing.

 

There is little “state of the art”. . . . The image projected is more individualistic, teachers are portrayed as an aggregate of persons each assembling practices consistent with his experience and peculiar personality. It is not what “we the colleagues” know and share which is paramount, but rather what I have learned from experience. (p. 79)

 

Conservatism

The lack of a shared technical culture and the resulting ambiguity and uncertainty foster teacher conservatism. One aspect of this conservatism is a set of restricted, teacher-centered instructional methods. After reviewing data from observations of more than 1,000 classrooms, John Goodlad (1984) concludes the following:

 

The domination of the teacher is obvious in the conduct of instruction. Most of the time the teacher is engaged in either frontal teaching, monitoring, students’ sea work, or conducting quizzes. Relatively rarely are students actively engaged in learning directly from one another or in initiating process of interaction with teachers. When student work in smaller groups, they usually are doing the same thing side by side, and these end to be determined by the teachers. (pp. 123 - 124).

 

Beyond reliance on traditional teaching methods, less obvious aspects of conservatism can be observed in most schools, including the following:

 

An emphasis on short-range rather than long-range instructional goals

Satisfaction with success with individual lessons, student, and prjects rather than with the continuous growth of all students

Reliance on personal experience rather than educational research

Narrow limits on the types and degree of collegiality and collaboration in which teachers are willing to engage

A reflexive resistance to curriculum or instructional innovations

 

Such conservatism is not surprising considering the isolation and psychological dilemma found in the traditional school environmental problem we have described, tends to hinder efforts to solve those very sample problems!

 

 

  

No comments:

Post a comment