Saturday, February 20, 2010

Educational Oursourcing

Education is like many businesses today in that too many working in the profession have succumb to the social disease of entitlement which is spreading like the plague across this great country. Too many are focusing on what they can get instead of what they can give. This time of year is tough for everyone as the weather continues to inconvenience us, budget talks and negotiations leave us feeling less valued or even worse drive us into the dark world of comparing our job to that of another who works beside us. We feel a strong need to collectively bargain for salary and benefits but then are left feeling wronged or unhappy about getting the same rewards as our coworker who works half as hard, comes late and leaves early or possibly gives students a first day talk that sends them racing to the counselor to drop the class or change teachers leaving them with half the class size as the teacher across the hall from them. We want to be treated like professionals but then at the bargaining table we demand contracts that are far more resembling of blue collar hourly workers. I believe that collective bargaining has its positive aspects, but hostile negotiations does little to improve the working conditions for employees. There are a number of districts which have moved to interest based bargaining which seems to allow boards, administrators and teachers to all keep their focus on their common goals and not fall into hostile tactics which leave both sides feeling disrespected and under appreciated.

I do not want to continue to ramble about collective bargaining as it can work if we all consider what is best for the organization rather than just what is best for me. This, however, is not the current reality. There are those in our profession that want to constantly compare themselves to those working other fields requiring the same amount of education. We do this when it is convenient and where there are obvious differences which favor other careers. We forget that those working outside the field of education when hearing these types of complaints begin to critically examine our system as well.
We held a career fair at Fort Dodge Senior High just this past Thursday morning. We were fortunate to have over 100 professionals from our community come in to speak with our students. They were asked and did share things about their job like educational path to get where they are, salary and benefits. Some of our less intelligent but bolder teachers began to engage these people about teacher pay, benefits and their perceived lack of time to get all the things done that they have to do. In a winter like we are having right now, this was not a good thing to have brought up. Several employers were quick to question why if we were so short on time did our teachers not come into school at their regular time when late starts were necessary. After all we do get paid for those hours and those they were questioning are expected to be at their jobs on time when there is inclement weather. Then there was another comment made about teachers leaving early on Fridays. I quickly intervened and changed the subject thanking the business folks for their efforts on our students' behalf.
I can't imagine that this type of exchange is limited to the specific place and time but rather happens routinely across the nation.
Like most organizations we have employees who demand all of what the company can give to them but are not giving the company all they have each day. We have teachers who everyone knows are doing a substandard job and yet when confronted with that fact are defended by their co-workers/union representatives. Some believe this means once a teacher is past their probationary period they are untouchable. I would disagree with that train of thought and on several occasions had to change my approach from one of coaching for improvement to documenting for dismissal. I feel strongly that until we address those who are now terminally infected with the entitlement bug, our profession will see many of the same changes we are now seeing in manufacturing. More and more, technology is leading us to where secondary schools will undergo some very radical changes. Primary and middle schools play more than just an instructional roll in our society as they also provide a safe supervised place for young children. I refuse to say baby sit as I think that would be insulting what elementary teachers do, but elementary schools not only teach students but also supervise them and aid them in developing socially as well. For both of these to occur, the students need to be together in one location with a trained professional. Secondary schools, however, are really not needed for the same supervisory roll. Teens are often trusted to fend for themselves in very unstructured settings in the summer and do not require constant supervision from an adult to remain safe. As such teens can be taught using means which may not require direct contact with the teacher or fellow students. With current technologies instruction can occur via a computer either as the delivery tool via artificially intelligent software or using it as a communication device allowing a teacher to facilitate the instruction via teleconferencing, blogs, Moodle etc...
My point is this... If instruction can be done today using current technologies and not require that there be an instructor in direct contact with the student ,what will tomorrow's technology bring. This along with the fact that we struggle with a current system that can often be impersonal or ineffective due to members of the profession who feel entitled rather than invested, leaves me a very bleak outlook. What would prevent secondary education to follow the current trend in manufacturing of outsourcing to other countries where attitudes are different.
I live in Iowa and thus I am very familiar with the manufacturing industry. Iowa has been a leader in manufacturing products for the world market largely due to our traditional values and reputation of a strong work ethic. I have been an administrator now for seven years and involved myself in economic development efforts in each of the past four communities I have lived in. This includes my final years in the classroom as well. What I hear more and more often over the past seven years is complaints from industry about their employees attitudes and work ethics. One manufacturing plant manager I recently had a conversation with was extremely dismayed at the corporate decision to relocate production to Mexico. When questioned he did cite cost as a factor but indicated that it was not the wage difference that was the draw, but rather the fact that attendance rates and turnover in their plant here in the midwest were a huge problem. The company is moving not because they can pay lower wages as there will be little savings in that area as a whole, but rather they have manufacturing delays due to poor attendance of the workforce. I thought this was just an excuse, but during the career fair mentioned earlier, this is what I heard time and time again from the employers who attended. If this is the case in Iowa, where we continue to have a strong reputation as being hard workers, what is happening across the rest of the nation. What concerns me about this is I struggle with the same issues at the high school here where I currently serve as principal. I am in a constant battle with some employees, including teachers, who do not come to work on time or every time their nose runs in the morning they call in sick. This type of behavior is what is being modeled to our students. Regardless of what comes out of our mouths, we know that teens learn as much if not more from our behaviors. If this has and continues to lead industry to seek other labor sources why would people hesitate to utilize technology and do the same for education?
I can tell you what I see as an exploitable advantage over outsourcing education through technology and that is the personal attention a student will get in the classroom with an excellent teacher. I believe that the current system will change and some outsourcing may occur, but if we get back to why we all entered education in the first place and focus on what we can do for students, it will be very difficult to replace us with instruction from overseas or via technology.
Regardless of our skepticism, we will be in competition with educators from around the world for opportunity to educate students. If we can't improve our current systems, I would expect we will assume a more administrative roll using technology to serve a larger group of students who we may never meet face to face or possibly coordinating educational opportunities from an office at home communicating with instructors from around the world, parents and students who we never meet in person. I went into education because I love dealing with people. I am not sure I would thrive in that type of environment.
We must change our focus from, "what can I get from the profession" to "what can I give to my students, their parents and my community".


  1. My frustration would parallel yours in terms of the equal pay for unequal output and those that abuse the system. It does seem to me from the schools I have worked with(and it has been consistently the same) that those that arrive exactly on time and depart on time without doing anything extra along the way are also those that complain the loudest when they are asked to contribute in other manners as well. Many areas of government right now are talking furlogh days, but the clock punchers are those that would fight that the hardest - or a freeze to the salary, or extra duties, or a change to schedule, or new requirements for updating curriculum, etc. These individuals clearly do feel entitled to show up late, leave early and use the same worksheets that they used to get them 20+ years of tenure in the first place. Now that they have arrived at the summit, why do anything even remotely different? Plus, I hear a little voice in their head..."I'll probably slack off a little bit too - done my time in the past, now someone else should do it for me."

  2. Great conversation... In a society of excess entitlement is a huge cancer. The teaching profession suffers from this disease along with society...but there will always be the few who refuse and go the extra mile without compensation but reqardless of it. I wish there was an easy way to find these professionals and perhaps learn now to identify them in an interview. Some ideas... place a piece of paper in the hall and as you walk through the building see who picks it up and throws it away... I don't think it takes 20 years to see an entitled personality I think it shows up in two years of work. There is also times in a professionals life when giving all the extras is not possible. Support and a great example is important in this instance. I also feel that team building in coaching is the most important aspect for a winning team especially when the team is a group of teachers. So trying to be positive ...creating and environment where doing more is the norm and where everyone is entitled to do more is what the ultimate goal of teaching and education. That is what I want to be a part of and I feel am apart of. Thanks to the example of an administrtor.

  3. I had to laugh about the paper thing. I am constantly stooping to pick up stuff off of the floor in our school. When people enter our school, I want them to be impressed. I also think that when people see the principal doing the little things like that they might join in as well.
    I would agree that there are times in everyone's career where it is difficult to give all of the extras, but I think it is your duty to try to give all you can each day. We are in a profession where anything but your best can impact a child's life forever.

  4. I do feel that is all the little things that are done in education and as administrators and teachers that make the biggest marks and are noticed by students, staff, parents, and community. With that I will say that it is all the little things that are not done in the job of education that are probably noticed even more. I have been reading a book called "The Upside of Irrationality" by Dan Ariely. It discusses the idea of breaking through our negative patterns of thought (entitlement for example) and behavior to make better decisions. What does this have to do with outsourcing? Outsourcing will eventually bring a huge shift in the education of secondary level education. I believe that educational outsourcing could flip into insourcing with a different view and mind set.