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The Day that It Changed for Me

Bob Geary photo accompanying an IndyWeek article about the NC General Assembly's plans to divert millions of taxpay money from public education to private schools.

Some of you are aware that I am working on a new book.  I wrote about it here, in I Can’t Believe that I’m Doing this Again!  The initial intent of the book is to describe the history of educational technology, as I have witnessed it.  However, I won’t really know for sure what this book is about until I finish it.  Like all living things, it’s becoming…

Reaching the vicinity of 1994 has provoked a long forgotten memory, an event that convinced me that my days, in my cushy government (NCDPI) position, were numbered.

Here’s what happened.

The big thing in leadership circles at that time was Total Quality Management (TQM). It was developed by Edward Deming, at least partly during the post-war years helping Japan rebuild its economy.  I have shamelessly forgotten all of the tenets of this movement, as with all of the improvement schemes of the 1990s. But TQM was really big thing at NCDPI, as the Associate State Superintendent, Henry Johnson, had recently attended a set of workshops. So inspired was he, that hire the consulting firm and required the entire instructional services staff to attend.

I do not remember the name of the firm that delivered the workshops, nor the name of the little woman who led them. I just remember that she came in about every other week, with two or three young minions in tow, prepared to change the way we did things. Although we felt that we could better use the time, we also recognized that we could alway improve our services.  So we came with learning and self-reflection in mind. What we didn’t expect was to have our steady-enough legs swept out from under us.

It was near the end of the day of the third or fourth session, when she asked us, “Who do you work for?”

We said, in unison, more than a hundred of us, “The Children of North Carolina.” She looked a little puzzled, and then repeated the question, “Who do you work for?” We looked at each other, our turns to be puzzled. Some people, hesitantly called out, “Communities of North Carolina?” “Parents of our students?” “The schools of North Carolina?” “The teachers in the schools of North Carolina?” ..after each attempt that little lady would repeat,

“Who do you work for?”

Our frustration turned to horror when she blurted out, “You work for your General Assembly (legislature)!”

We, in instructional services, had all come to the Department of Public Instruction because we were educators. We were not there working jobs. We had missions. We believed that we were contributing to a better world by serving the education of our children. The North Carolina General Assembly was viewed, most often, as a barrier to our work, restricting us with budget cuts, politically motivated dictates, and the effects of increasingly blaming teachers and NCDPI for what these politicians called, “Failing schools.”

Horror probably best describes how we felt when she told us that we worked for the General Assembly, and even more horrible was the sudden realization that she was right. The job of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction was to enforce and support the laws passed by our law-making body.

That was the day that I realized that I would be doing something else, sometime soon.

Comments

  • Angela Herring Brazil

    This article has blown my mind. I am kind of sad that I found it because I too, have this pie in the sky attitude of feeling that I work for the children. I am researching educational blogs for a master’s course on teacher leadership. Just as I was beginning to feel empowered in my daily leadership skills and opportunities to the students in my classes as well as my colleagues, I find this downer. So, instead of working for my 7th grade English classes this article says I really work for the South Carolina Department of _____? Education? No, because that entity falls under the SC State Government/Legislators. So I work for men and women that are not educators, probably never were, yet they decide what funds I have to give my students the best possible chance to change the world? They are politicians and they decide the policies and procedures I am held accountable and liable for? It is not that I disagree with this article, I actually mostly do, however I can not allow myself to get wrapped up in its truth. For if I did, and if more teachers did, then there would be none. And our children need good teachers, even if they are not who we ultimately work for. I am proud of the teachers that stand up and fight the government and choose to turn things around. I am still going to say I work for the children. No matter who’s pulling the strings because I am in my class and I DO have power that the government never will.

    • Lindsay Elsenheimer

      I totally agree with you Angela. I have always believed that I work for the children that are in my class and school. It is very difficult for people to understand that often the people that are in charge of the guidelines and decisions in our field have never experienced teaching a class of young minds. You are so right in that we have to believe that we work for our children. We lose so many wonderful teachers each year due to all of the political decisions that are made by those people who have never been a teacher. Some days, it seems like the only people that are there to support us are other teachers. We need to stick together and be leaders for each other, and most importantly, be there for our students. Students deserve the very best teachers out there that can help to prepare them
      to take on whatever life brings them!


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind
(2005)

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