Shawn had an interesting post he titled Can O'Worm: Eat It, Salary Schedule. I disagree with nearly everything he posted (scroll down to the comments), but I appreciate his willingness to go out on a limb and say something that might not be entirely popular.
In that spirit, here's my can o' worms:
Teacher autonomy is vastly overrated.
Before you go crazy, I will say that we should have more autonomy in many areas. Our schedule, our textbooks, our budget, our ability to choose between equally good methods of teaching something.1
Here are three areas where we should NOT have autonomy.
1. Grades. You knew this was coming, seeing as how I'm assessment obsessed. It is 100% unequivocally NOT alright for an A in my class to mean something different than the teacher next door. Creating a clear definition of what a grade truly means is the essence of standards-based grading.
2. Pacing. Every same subject teacher should be teaching the same things at the same time. I'm not saying every day is exactly the same in every class, but on a topic/unit level, we should all be on the same pace. From a pedagogical standpoint, it makes collaboration and data analysis nearly impossible if I'm teaching about ancient Egypt while my neighbor is teaching about Greece. More importantly, there's a culture issue. Significant learning occurs...wait for it...outside of our classrooms. Maybe, just maybe, my students learn more in the hallways than at their desks. Having the same pacing creates a shared culture. Our kids should be able to talk about what they're learning, even incidentally. Even if it's to complain how bad Mr. Buell is at teaching.
Here's a not-entirely-imagined conversation:
Student 1: Mr. Buell SUX at teaching. I don't know get anything in his class. He just stood there and kept talking and talking about protons. WTF is a proton?
Student 2: Ms. W is kinda cool. A proton is that positive thingie in the nucleus......
There are strong teachers and there are weak teachers. Sometimes, our kids need to learn from someone else. Even if your school is entirely populated with master teachers, your style of teaching isn't going to be the perfect fit for every kid.
At our school, we have AVID and various remedial support classes. From everything those teachers tell me, it makes a HUGE difference when all the teachers of a subject are on the same track. Those of you who teach those classes, I'm sure you've run into the juggling act that is trying to help four different sets of kids learn four different things because their teachers can't agree on what to teach first.
3. Discipline. I'm known as a soft teacher. I break a lot of rules and let a lot of rules slide. My basic rule is that if you're learning and not hurting someone else's learning, pretty much anything goes. I've always been a "I should decide what is acceptable in my class" kind of teacher. You know what? I'm wrong. If I'm a hormonal 14-year old boy, I shouldn't have to learn 6 different sets of rules. I shouldn't have to learn that in my first period a raised hand means I just need to be quiet while in second period it means it means I need to turn and face the teacher and put my hands on my desk. My third period teacher marks us tardy if we're not in class while my fourth period requires that I have a paper and pencil out on my desk by the time the bell rings. It's ridiculous. If your school (like mine) has a lot of discipline problems, take a look at the varying levels of classroom norms a student has to negotiate throughout the day. Like with pacing, shared discipline creates a shared culture.
For me, number 3 is the hardest but I think most teachers generally have a problem with 1 and 2. I hate our rules. I feel like I'm fighting a flawed system by flouting the rules. I'm also undermining my fellow teachers and setting up my students to fail.2
If you're an English teacher and you're looking for a theme here, it's the idea of building a shared culture. If what I'm doing violates that shared culture, I shouldn't be allowed to do it. On the other hand, I should be allowed a whole bunch of autonomy within those confines.
As always, let me know what I'm wrong about and let me know what I forgot.
1: Notice the qualifier "equally good." If there's a better way and then there's my way, I don't get to choose my way.
2: That doesn't mean I won't work to change the rules. But until I do, we should all be following them.