Enabling the Machine


Over at Slate, Bryce Covert was critical of teachers at Chester Uplands who went to work without pay. Covert was not the only person in the world to make that criticism, and I’m not unsympathetic. Teachers are terrific team players, and that impulse sometimes leads us to enable the institutions in which we work.

At times, I find that a little infuriating. Here’s an example of how it sometimes works:

The administration fails to properly schedule teachers to cover a particular group of students. So teachers, on their own, give up some of their lunch period in order to cover the gap. Three months later, the teachers are irritated at their short lunch. “Why,” they complain, “doesn’t the office fix this problem?”

The answer is simple. The office doesn’t fix the problem because it doesn’t have a problem. The teachers with the short lunch have a problem, but the office’s problem is totally solved. And met needs do not motivate.

It is not an easy line to draw. Teachers are professionals, and our job is to see and address the problems around us, not mutter, “That’s not my job, man,” and move on.

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