This isn’t the job I signed up for!

In my line of work, I think a lot about resistance to change. Much has been written about resistance to change, all far better insights than I can provide here. I would particularly recommend an article titled “Change or Die” by Alan Deutchman.

I’d like to refine the thoughts of Deutchman a bit and consider specifically the resistance that I see exhibited in schools I work in (and all I have in the past). Perhaps it isn’t just stubbornness and perhaps it isn’t about how we are wired exactly that motivates teachers to resist change in schools, even when it’s clear that the changes would be beneficial to students. Certainly stubbornness, laziness, and foul attitudes may be at play, but I propose that sometimes it is about a teacher preserving the culture of the career they chose.

Consider the fact that until about ten years ago, almost all classrooms were essentially the same, and so was nearly every teaching job. At least, you could say, teaching Kindergarten was essentially the same everywhere, as was teaching high school physics. And this stability drew people to the profession because, I believe, it was transparent as to what the job consisted of and what was expected. People entered the profession and, for all intents and purposes, got what they expected.

Now things are changing. In some cases they are changing quite swiftly. The emergence of 1:1 digital learning and standards-based instruction are just two examples of fundamental changes in the day-to-day job a teacher does. Teachers have had to evolve. I am on the front lines of this change, and often the stress and consternation these (and many other) changes bring good teachers. I struggled to fully understand this. After all, I wondered, did they expect to do the exact same job for 40 years?

I’ve found that is exactly what some expected. And why wouldn’t they? The industry had hardly changed for over a hundred years. The evolution of technology in education, as well as accountability standards, testing, PLCs, greater attention to special education services and more complex discipline expectations has created a fundamental cultural shift in the way teachers and principals do business.  I was privileged to have one teacher with whom I was working share his honest unvarnished thoughts. Here is a paraphrase of what he shared:

I got into this because I was good at it [the content] and because I was good with kids. I didn’t want a stereotypical job in business or retail. I didn’t see any real long-term opportunities in the private sector for my skills, so I chose this. I chose it because I could be comfortable doing what I do from day-to-day with little variation. I chose this job because I understood it and I was good at it. Now everything is different. I have to know about data and statistics, I have to work on a computer for a big chunk of my day, and there is paperwork at every turn. I didn’t sign up for all that. In fact, I chose this job in order to NOT have to work with computers or paperwork, because I am not good with those things, and those things were not a regular part of this job when I chose it.

At this point this teacher is near tears. I finally understood. It isn’t about being stubborn. It isn’t fear of change. It is the mourning of the loss of a certain work culture many people have become accustomed to, and may well have chosen intentionally this career because of a work culture and expectation that is as they expected it to be. I think many people in education did honestly expect to do the same job, more or less, for 40 years, and that was the attraction.  The job has evolved so much in the past ten years or so, that people may wonder if it still the same job they may have pursued at the beginning of their career. And age isn’t even a deciding factor. I have heard similar concerns from teachers at the very beginning of their careers, who also explain that the job is much different than they thought it would be, and they felt quite unprepared.

Perhaps the preservice preparation programs in higher education need to do better at addressing this schism. Perhaps professional development should focus less on adding skills, and move to retraining teachers to redefine what they do. Maybe some of this is already done in some districts.

What I think really needs to happen is a truth and reconciliation process to help teachers and administrators who feel the job isn’t what they signed up for work through their fears and anxieties, while honing and refining the skills needed in today’s workplace. Perhaps teaching people flexibility and growth is more important than teaching them how to do what is now required in education. Instead of shaming laggards and resisters, we need to care for them. I think they are facing some extreme challenges in revising what they thought they would be doing in their career.

I’ve been thinking of starting a “I hate technology” support group. Its goal would be much like any other support group: to be able to grieve loss, build support structures, and work through feelings. After all, the loss of a job is a stressful thing. Perhaps by addressing the fears and anxiety and giving time to grieve, people can bury the old practice and embrace a new situation. I’m not sure who will attend or what they will get from it, but I’m willing to try. When I left the classroom, I left it behind completely. It was helpful. Perhaps others can make peace with their loss and move on as well. We shall see.

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