Saturday, September 30, 2006

On Caring

I've been thinking about this idea of pushing caring (or giving a shit® if you prefer) as a means of school/ district improvement, and I think I get it now. Educational leaders are selling the need to care more because it's all they got. There isn't anything else they can do. Because teaching is bereft of meaningful evaluatory tools, professional standards of competence, and anything approaching a system of accountability, the only way to bring about better results is by growing the level of caring.

In teaching we have an absurd undertaking in which the job description and enforceable responsibilities -- as defined by the contract -- fall incredibly short of matching the reality. I haven't met the teacher who can bring about acceptable student progress by working to the contract. Moreover, all those things we need to do in order to see better results fall outside the scope of what can be required or expected. No one can make you grade homework. No one can make you provide support after school. No one can make you design the type of lessons that require extensive planning. No one can make you teach on Saturdays. The District can create time for collaboration, but no one can make you go.

No one can make you do any of the essential endeavors that lead toward being a quality educator. You have to do it because you care.

Caring is the mechanism that has replaced the formal requirements of competence that exist in nearly every profession, from law to roofing. In teaching, you are asked to do your damn job out of love, and not because you're a professional who's being paid to produce results. This makes for good copy, and allows us to weave compelling narratives about the glorious teacher-martyr, but it is a flimsy thing, unmeasurable and unreliable -- like so much of what we do.

This then, provides the foundational, ethical basis for working in a flawed system. But it is foundational only, and to suggest that the development of caring, or resistancy, or assest analysis is somehow complete in and of itself remains a drastically incomplete approach to making our schools better places.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The tension between idealistic caring on the one hand and professionalism on the other may be similar for teachers as for nurses. Nursing can be seen as a calling to selfless caring for the sick - or a demanding job requiring medical competency at a level only doctors had a few decades ago, and requiring years of education at a level comparable to many engineering tracks. For teaching as for nursing, emphasizing the idealistic aspects of the job quite likely contribute to selecting somewhat more for individuals who need to be needed and less for candidates who are highly ambitious and mastery-oriented. Low salaries and little competition result from and reinforce the notion of teaching - and nursing - as a moral obligation rather than a very challenging job requiring advanced skills. Intense effort and early burnout result for those who try to live up to both high standards of professionalism and the moral obligation to do an adequate job where lives are at stake.

1:15 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Awesome. That's exactly what I was trying to hit on, but fumbled away. Thank you.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, in nursing as in teaching, the clients - the sick, or the students - become hostages in any labor dispute. You do care - deeply - about the clients, you are obliged to care, and further you are expected to care to a point and in such a way that you would not (even temporarily) hurt them by going on a strike or spending time on negotiations. All energy is spent on scrambling to get the job done, because the immediate and urgent needs of the clients trump long-term and only potentially useful strategizing any time.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Live n Learn said...

Thanks for this post. I came across it recently and the discussion in the comments reminded me of my time in the health sector. The difficulties of unclear objectives and unreliable measures of success seem to be common to the "caring professions". Of course we need the base of caring to build the quality of our work. I have discussed this a little more in my post.
Ian Ross

3:37 AM  

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