In this episode, we speak to Dr. David Conrad, professor of Educational Administration at Governors State University. Dr. Conrad discusses trends in principal leadership in the State of Illinois, including responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
My middle grades teaching career began in August 2003 when I found a teaching job in line with the guidelines for the Master of Arts in Teaching alternative route to certification. My family moved from the metro suburbs to a rural community. Yes, we moved one day, and I attended a teacher inservice the next.
I worked full time as a 7th and 8th grade teacher of record with a provisional license, teaching three classes of each grade level for a total of approximately 160 students. The administrator and language arts department assisted me, but I had come from the private sector — administrative assistant in marketing — and feared relying on others too much. Certainly I could handle reading 160 essays, providing feedback, and grading revisions before the statewide portfolio assessment was due.
Teaching full-time, grading students’ papers and writing my own, and leaving two little ones behind while I attended class each Saturday made me question (many times) why. I felt stuck — we had moved, I needed to finish this degree, and I did not know if I could handle one more day. One Saturday, I entered the university classroom, saw other students with their composition notebooks, and realized my journal assignment was incomplete. Before class even started, I had hot, overwhelming tears of frustration spilling from my eyes, no longer containable.
It is years later, and I am okay. I have written several times about classroom successes and exciting professional experiences. My colleagues — friends — make me thankful each day for choosing such an amazing career.
But not everyone is okay right now.
The Padlet board “An Anonymous Teacher Speaks” reminded me of hot, overtired, stressed, one-more-thing tears of not enough — not enough me to be my best.
Not enough of my best to read, provide feedback, and grade
and learn new technologies, plan engaging instruction, implement online activities
and conference with students and parents
and attend workshops, trainings, and committee meetings
and be a parent
and be something for myself.
I hear you.
Tell me how I can help you be okay.
What is motivation?
We learned about behaviorist theory in education classes. B.F. Skinner said we should concern ourselves with observable behavior be it desired, compliant, or disruptive. Tie those behaviors to extrinsic motivators and classrooms should function perfectly–as long as the motivators are attainable and the desired behaviors are well-defined. So what happens when neither is the case? A conversation between a university preservice teacher and a rather astute 13-year old showed who had the better grasp on the failures of behaviorism.
The middle school student, ticked off about the point system for behavior, shared she would not have enough points to attend a reward event at week’s end. She continuously ran errands and cleaned the classroom when she would much rather sit quietly reading her book, all in hopes of earning more points towards her goal. Unfortunately, because the cost of 30 points were beyond her reach, she would not be attending a volleyball game, much less eating popcorn and drinking soda. In her rant, she drove home three rhetorical points that gave me pause.
1) Students with ongoing good behavior are at a disadvantage. Teachers expect good behavior from them and unconsciously dismiss their “point-earning” achievements such as walking quietly in the hallway or turning in their homework on time. She shared the example of a quiet, honor student with only nine points. Strike one.
2) Students who misbehave regularly get noticed. Teachers reward their good behavior because they want it to continue. This reward system reinforces a pattern of bad behavior, improve, reward, no reward, who cares, bad behavior, repeat. Strike two.
3) If teachers create an unattainable reward, it impacts behavior more negatively than if there were no stated reward at all. Strike three.
Change the participants to employers and employees and we are witnessing a perpetually broken system.
So what is motivation?
This 13-year old could discuss what was wrong with extrinsic motivation because, as an avid reader, she knows what it feels like to be intrinsically motivated. Her bitter-sweet story continued with the description of a classmate who wanted to read a book after watching the movie based on it. Encouraged by the 13-year old of this post, the classmate checked out the book. The teacher, concerned with the book’s thickness and the child’s reading level, told the classmate to wait until summer and find something different to read.
“If they would only let her try,” said the 13-year old, shouldering the guilt of motivating a classmate to reach for an unattainable prize. “She can’t read very well because she doesn’t have faith in herself, and now,” she continued, “the teachers don’t have faith in her either.”
Through her tears of frustration, she showed me what motivation isn’t.
I don’t know if the quiet, honor student will have enough points to see the volleyball game or if the classmate will be allowed to read the book. I do know a 13-year old who has lost some of her faith. It is my hope that the preservice teacher can find a way to restore it.
I posted the above blog on 4/22/14 on a different platform, but I still believe in its message and relevance for today’s school. The resurrection of this post connects to the Map of Meaningful Work by Marjolein Lips-Wiersma and Lani Morris as well as William Glasser’s Choice Theory – two conceptual theories I am intersecting in my research and writing.
The 13-year old is now 18 and has the same sense of justice and fairness as she did six years ago. I encourage her to keep asking the tough questions. I hope, as teachers, we continue to try answering them.
Education at home
Each day this week, I have awakened with a surreal, unfamiliar feeling. It has been disorienting to realize in the few moments after waking that life is a different normal. We are in the very beginnings of an education plateau. No new, meaningful, strategic learning can take place without dedicated caregivers who can access all the tools being made available online. I can help my own children access learning tools, but can everyone? Although I can teach literature analysis, help with reading comprehension, and discuss history, science, and multimedia, there was a reason I did not become a math major in college.
We had the talk with our 13-year-old son. Quit playing with multiple kids outside. This is it. He wasn’t happy, but he will comply. So when he wrestles with his sisters, chases the dogs around the house, or hits baseballs into the net in the basement, I will need to lock my lips tight, sit on my hands, and create a blank face. And if I let the kids sleep until late morning in order to get a few quiet work hours, please do not judge.
In higher education, we have been fortunate to already have several online delivery systems in place for optional use among professors who teach face-to-face courses. Shifting immediately to online spaces is not easy but also not impossible, particularly with the level, timeliness, and constancy of support the tech teams are offering. We are attempting to make online classes feel the same as face-to-face meetings with tools such as Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom, and I plan to test other interactive tools – Padlet and VoiceThread – for consideration in a true online version of this course that was already in the works. Who knew that I would be testing them so soon?
But the struggles are still real. One student has reached out to ask if the synchronous Blackboard Collaborate session during our scheduled class time was required. She has taken more shifts at her grocery store job in order to make up for the hours lost as a teacher’s aid. She assured me that she can figure out a way to attend class virtually at the scheduled time if necessary. But I would rather figure out a way to engage her in the class without costing her essential income.
These are disorienting times. The current situation is forcing our nation to redefine essential jobs. This may be the biggest and most important lesson that our children will learn right now.