Scott McRhee

Scott is usually a lot more subtle than this, but he overplayed his hand this round, and tipped the table to his low regard for classroom teachers. I encourage my readers (and his, to the extent that we overlap) not to forget this. Fair to say I’ve succumbed to his kind of contempt in the past but it became obvious to me, not long after, that I had a) underestimated my colleagues, b) overestimated myself, and c) seriously overestimated the effectiveness of contempt as a precondition of reform.

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I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.

18 Comments

  1. WAIT A MINUTE.

    Why do the videos I posted on my site somehow mean that I personally am contemptuous of teachers? I said no such thing in my post. All I did was say that students generally have the right to express themselves off-campus, gave some examples of students criticizing their teachers via online video, and asked the following questions:

    1) Do you know what your students are saying at home about your school?
    2) Is this something that educators should care about or just ignore?

    Nowhere in what I said did I express ‘low regard for teachers.’ Nowhere in my post is there anything from me that slams classroom teachers. Why is this any different from the other videos I posted in March 2008 of students capturing their angry teachers in the classroom with their cell phones?

    Look, I’m interested in things like the following:

    1. How students who generally have little to no power in schools take back some power at home or in other settings
    2. How students express themselves, both positively and negatively, with the new technological affordances that they now have at their disposal
    3. Legal and ethical implications of off-campus and/or technogy-mediated student and educator speech
    4. Parent and educator supervision issues related to uses of technology by youth

    And so on…

    I also like to sometimes throw out things for discussion before I weigh in. So a post like this – where I post something but let the conversation develop without my initial input – is not uncommon.

    Dan, I’ve been a strong supporter of you in a number of different contexts. I know that I push pretty hard for schools to change their practice, but I try hard not to single out teachers versus other groups (e.g., administrators, policymakers, parents). I’m not sure where the anger at me is coming from – hey, if I say something stupid, by all means call me on it – but I don’t feel it’s warranted for this post.

  2. @Scott maybe because you frequently use phrases like “teach who ___”/”Teachers who don’t ___” should be fired?

  3. But in the post you referenced above, I didn’t say ‘teachers.’ I said ‘educators.’ That’s an all-inclusive term.

    I also explained my reasoning in the comments, several times. For example:

    “instead of advocating for the analog, I’d rather take every penny we have in public schools that is available for paper maps and globes and use it to buy and/or create advanced software, computers for kids, training for teachers, subsidized online access at home, and whatever else we need because the latter get us closer to the authentic work that current and future geographers do. If that’s not our goal as educators, it should be, and while paper maps and globes can be useful starting points, they’re insufficient to emulate real-life geography. The list of example careers listed by the American Association of Geographers (AAG) sure don’t look like analog jobs to me: http://bit.ly/2kwGOm

    I say regularly on my blog that I feel for teachers because they’re stuck in dysfunctional systems and/or work for administrators that aren’t doing what they should. That’s why my center, CASTLE, exists – to help administrators so that they can create better learning environments for students and better working environments for staff, school environments that also do what they need to for the future needs of children and society. Why are you ignoring all of those posts?

    I also ask regularly on my blog and in my workshops whether administrators (or teachers, or librarians, or education professors, or whomever) should get to keep their jobs if they’re not preparing students for the next few decades rather than the last few. We need folks in the system who are cognizant of the shifts that are occurring and are doing something about them.

    I emphatically believe that we should do our absolute very best to help / train / cajole / whatever all of the folks in the system, but at some point we have to ask whether some of them need to get out of the way for others who will do what needs to be done. Otherwise we’re stuck with individuals who are getting in the way of desperately-needed progress. I don’t think that makes me anti-teacher any more than it does anti-administrator, anti-professor, or anti-anyone else.

  4. @Scott
    If you actually think that what you’re doing, I’d suggest that you go back and re-examine your postings. You post 3 or 4 times as often criticizing people for not having the skills or using technology as you do advocating more training, required training, or anything related to actually getting the improvements implemented. “The beating will continue until moral improves!”
    You are out of touch with the reality on the ground. Our system is so dysfunctional that when my district received a $350,000 technology grant, I asked how much was budgeted for training and software: answer $0! Oh, and the district will not reimburse for outside training or courses either.

  5. Bill, I’m out of touch because I

    1) agree with Collins & Porras that one must be willing to name the problem before one can solve it so I describe the system as it is – one in which VERY FEW people (teachers, admins, education profs, policymakers, etc.) are doing what they should be; and

    2) don’t advocate as often as you would like for more training, reallocation of financial resources, teacher support, etc.?

    I’m not quite sure what to say. I have whole categories on my blog dedicated to effective leadership and vision; professional development; law, policy, and ethics; technology integration; and so on. I have blog series like ‘Leadership Day’ and ‘What teachers need from administrators’ and ‘Reconciling standards-based accountability with 21st century skills.’ I plead for effective staff development for both teachers and administrators (see, e.g., http://bit.ly/cVH7BY & http://bit.ly/97JUyt & http://bit.ly/c1Blty). I host discussions on whether or not edubloggers are too harsh on educators (http://bit.ly/czb5VJ). I tweet out resources every single day that I think will be helpful to administrators, teachers, and policymakers.

    What else would you like me to do? Speak less passionately about the things I’m passionate about? Stop identifying the disconnects between where schools and universities are and where they need to be? Provide fewer learning and systemic transition resources to educators?

  6. One more thought: I realize that my tone / approach / etc. aren’t for everybody, and that’s okay by me. I don’t think anyone should strive to please everyone; you just end up pleasing no one. I believe that most of my readers understand what I’m trying to do and what I’m all about. And when misunderstandings arise, I do the best that I can to clear them up. But I’m going to keep advocating passionately about things that need passionate advocacy. If I lose you or others along the way, so be it. It is what it is and I’d rather lose some and keep many than the other way around. So far it seems to be working for most of my readers…?

  7. @Scott
    It’s not as if teachers don’t receive enough negativity and threats from administration, the media, and government. Did you ever consider that joining in that pile-on is not the best way to recruit or retain the motivated, best and brightest? When those of us who are out making changes, and trying to do what’s best for our students look for new ideas and innovations, we’re trying to improve things. Getting criticized for what we may or may not be doing is not exactly positive motivation. That’s like the classroom teacher yelling at a student coming in after school for help. The ones who are not trying to improve their instruction and use new technology have a darn near zero-percent chance of ever seeing your blog. My superintendent and head principal both don’t even read email. You have a habit of shooting at the choir as much as preaching.

  8. Thanks for taking the time, Scott. Here’s the thing. When you ask, “Is this something that educators should care about or just ignore?” and sample thirteen videos that are resolutely hostile towards teachers, you’re effectively asking, “Do you care that your students hate you or are you just going to ignore that?” which is offensive enough to make me wonder if those kids aren’t proxies for your own opinion about teachers.

    Your frustration with teachers over at least the last year has been growing, palpable, and is far disproportionate to the power teachers actually wield over their own circumstances.

    It isn’t the tone of your writing that bothers me, though. It’s the impression I get from your writing (like Rhee’s speaking) that the answers are obvious and that all failure can be traced back to a lack of willpower to “do what needs to be done.”

    As if “what needs to be done” is obvious or even known to any one of us. Just one example:

    There are countless impediments between teachers and good technology use. We’ll disagree on how much of the blame for those impediments you pile on teachers themselves. One impediment you fully ignore, though, is all the really, really bad educational technology teachers have to evaluate and discard. Because you don’t differentiate “technology.” Technology, to you, doesn’t differ in quality or accessibility or price. Technology is analogous to a cash register or AutoCAD or a Bloomberg terminal. But the only technology that has been that widely endorsed by management, that has been vetted for quality that rigorously, that has been priced that reasonably, that can be that ubiquitously accessed is a) e-mail software and b) attendance software.

    You want to hassle teachers for not using either of those two, be my guest, without condition. But as long as teachers are the second-to-last link in this long causal chain, I encourage you to balance the help / train / cajole categories more appropriately. (DetentionSlip proves there’s an audience for self-righteous cajoling, after all.) I’m sure your best work is ahead of you, Scott, but I’m encouraging you to rebalance the scales in favor of humility in the face of a problem that goes way beyond easy answers.

  9. Bill and Dan: Thank you for the feedback, both of you.

    What you probably don’t see enough from my blogging is my very real, very palpable, very concrete, and – according to those I work with, very helpful – roll-up-my-sleeves work that I do every single week with practicing educators. We’ve done nearly 200 days of training in the past 2 years (and, yes, I’m exhausted from it). We’ve helped change the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of educators worldwide. We’ve nearly single-handedly helped Iowa move into a situation where as many as 1/4 of all districts will have some sort of 1:1 laptop initiative next year. We host free conferences where educators can learn from each other about best teaching, learning, assessment, and technology practices. We work with national and state leadership policymakers, leadership associations, and other groups on effective support structures and policies. We create free electronic resources and blogs and other information channels to try and help move educators and schools forward. And so forth…

    In other words, like you, I too am working at the ground level WITH practicing educators and professors to give them the skills and understanding (and, to the extent that we can as a university-based center, the support) to do what needs to be done. It’s not simple. It’s incredibly complex and difficult work. And, yes, Dan, I understand the lack of appropriate vision and support within districts, and the challenges that puts on classroom teachers. Most administrators haven’t a clue about 1) what it means to prepare students for the next few decades, or 2) how to create and support the various systems that will do that effectively. We’re trying, but there are many more principals and superintendents than there are of us. We’re working at it. It would be nice if there were other places with an explicit focus on the leadership side of all of this. But there aren’t.

    All of this aside, the problem still remains HUGE. The felt need by educators to do more than tweak the current system isn’t there in most places. So we need to call it what it is, put forth a larger and better vision, and then work to enable and support “the big shift.” That’s what I’m trying to do. If the way I’m currently operating isn’t working for the two of you (and/or others), I appreciate the feedback and will think on ways to make our day-to-day helping work more evident.

    Have a great weekend. I appreciate the conversation.

  10. Keishla Ceaser-Jones

    October 23, 2010 - 6:24 pm -

    Wow.

    Very heated but interesting exchange.

    I think the most interesting aspect of this entire issue goes back to POWER. Scott mentioned that students don’t feel as if they have POWER in the classroom, and that the teachers (I am deducing) are the blame for that.

    And in some respects, I can agree with that. However, I think we can all agree that as a whole, TEACHERS have little to know POWER in the system of education, but we take the brunt of the BLAME for the PROBLEMS.

    Scott says teachers are not preparing students for the world they live in. And he’s right…but look at the standards. They are enormous. And no one is willing to agree what to cut, so we keep piling it on. And it’s up to teachers to sift through all the muck to get enough done so the student can jump through the hoops of standardized testing.

    I think the debate about education does need a dose of civility and reality. This blog post gave a little of both.

  11. Keishla, I think teachers are pretty powerless too, at least regarding the bigger picture and contexts within which they work. However, within the classroom walls, they hold all the power, typically…

  12. I was going to find some positive statements of students about their teachers. Unfortunately, the videos returned by the search “I love my teacher” were not fit for sharing.

    To answer the questions posed by Scott’s post:
    “1) Do you know what your students are saying at home about your school?”
    I have the luxury of teaching (real) adults, so they just tell me to my face.

    “2) Is this something that educators should care about or just ignore?”
    I only worry about it if the criticism is valid and not something I was aware of.

    I’m new to Scott’s blog, so I can only give my initial impression. It seems that Scott believes that students are not engaged because there are too few glowing screens in front of them. (This is, of course, being perpetuated by the chalkboard unions.) I will be reading more of his blog to see if my impression is wrong.

    I personally don’t think that a computer will make a bad teacher any better or a disengaged student more involved. My motto for teaching with technology is: “The Pharisees didn’t understand Jesus due to a lack of PowerPoint.”

  13. I’ve been interested in this conversation, too. Thanks for having it.

    This comment is more of an aside than something that contributes directly to the intense conversation the rest of you are having. :-)

    When I first saw the Youtube videos I was stunned. But, when I went to Youtube directly, I was pleased to see many videos posted by students who wanted to show their “crazy” and “cool” and “best ever” MATH teachers (most were math teachers it seemed). Seeing all these teachers from around the country putting forth their best efforts was fun.
    And it was a relief to see its not all bad.

  14. Dan, I left a comment on Scott’s, blog regarding these videos about leaving out a context for us readers to use while watching these videos. On your blog, you have recently been examining Math problems that use pseudocontext to explore or apply Math concepts, etc., etc.

    I have found that through the invention of such technologies like the Internet, blogging, YouTube, Facebook, and many others, that when authors fail to describe their purpose of sharing whatever they are sharing. This leaves readers/viewers to create their own context and often it is contrary to the author’s true purpose of sharing their thoughts or creations on this public medium.

    Sometimes, like art, the creator intends for the viewer to create their own context. But if this not the creator/author’s intent, then they should frame their gift to the world or give us a lens through which to view their gift, that provides a context.

    Perhaps this may be why some Math book publishers, create pseudocontextual problems. In Math, is creating pseudocontext for an application of a Math concept just as bad as sharing a bunch of videos with no context at all?

    Perhaps our delivery as teachers would be better if we either provided more or less context.

  15. Love when it our boy DM takes the gloves off:

    ‘As if “what needs to be done” is obvious or even known to any one of us.’ Just perfect.

    Some of the frustration captured and unwisely paraded on Scott’s website is so far beyond anything that’s actually helpful. It’s Season 4 of the Wire-level disappointing.

    Like many commenters, I speak from experience. It is a rite of passage for teachers to go through bouts of cynicism and self-righteousness. In the beginning, some colleagues and I just tried to “out-work” everyone- sometimes staying at school as late as midnight, turning teaching into competitive performance art. You weren’t cool if you left before seven-thirty.

    It was ridiculous Rheeian logic: through sheer self-discipline (and grading every piece of classwork), the achievement gap will be no more. I am math teacher. I am strong. I eat achievement gap.

    What’s sad is the testing data only confirmed our naivete. Our kids’ scores went way up! Anecdotal longitudinal observations- that is, following up with our students into the next school years- suggested that those precious gains were quickly lost. My former algebra students were unable to solve simple systems of equations. A devastating blow to the ego of the super-teacher. You realize, slowly and painfully, that this is a process.

    If Scott’s goal was to genuinely answer these two (very good) questions he mentions in his first comment, than the post was a radical failure. Outliers are outliers. Talk to, and seek data from, more moderate and statistically normal sources.

    The answers to what makes a good teacher are challenging, painful, but most of all: complicated. Trying to answer it by appealing to the visceral- really, like you’re trying to win a campaign- is irresponsible.