I can’t imagine department meetings as fun as those of the social science department at my high school.

We had an administrator come to air the administration’s case for Small Learning Communities, a worthwhile educational structure that wears the guise of one of the many research-based almost-fads that pass as reform around here.

The cynicism comes via my master teacher, who aired her grievances freely and with a sarcastic, out-of-the-corner-of-her-mouth tone.

In reference to Small Learning Communities, she said this multiple times and loudly enough for the department to hear:

It’s only the fourth time we’ve tried this since I’ve been here.

New Administrator wilted. He heard what she said, too.

Though not wet behind the ears, New Adminstrator is at least uncalloused. He made his case, and I thought he was very well-spoken. The proposal — recently district-approved — seemed well-organized to me, but our veteran teachers lacked my wide-eyed optimism.

Lead Teacher was as skeptical as my master teacher, and would refer to Silent Sustained Reading during his particular tirade. He was in favor of SSR overall, noting that his students had been able to sustain concentration for longer periods of time when SSR was up at a full 30 minutes. He was not in favor of how it was used this year.

What follows is parphrased.

It seems like we implement great-new-ideas every year. SSR is one example, as is Advisory. But, every year, we start up a new great-new-idea and let the others fall by the wayside. We cut back just a little on the time we spend on the old ones, and eventually we cut back on all of what makes them worthwhile.

We cut SSR to 15 minutes this year, and we’re always interrupted by announcements halfway through. Next year, announcements and SSR are seperated, and SSR is up to 20 minutes. I guess this is better, but it’s still down from the half-hour we had it before.

We need to either improve it or get rid of it. Doing it halfway like this is worse than not doing it at all. It wastes time. I notice that we tend to keep the framework of these reforms with none of the follow-though, and therefore with none of the effectiveness.

My master teacher piped in:

I worry that we’ll have Small Learning Communities with all of the costs but none of the benefits of Small Learning Communities.

New Administrator wilted some more.

A third social science teacher vented for a full 20 minutes about how there was no Small Learning Community for athletes, who should be organized into leave-friendly afternoon physical education classes, and why they should all take classes together.

Nobody else cared. He coaches baseball, and likes the sound of his own voice. He rants all the time.

New Adminstrator didn’t wilt this time, though he was more visibly tired after this tirade; I have a feeling New Adminstrator is used to nonsense.


  1. It’s only the fourth time we’ve tried this since I’ve been here.

    Really, that can be considered a mantra for nearly all educational reform. It’s all been tried before. As soon as everyone who remembers how badly initiative X went retire, those that are left want to start initiative X again.

    (Note the “nearly”, though.)

  2. dkzody

    I have taught in an SLC for 18 years, and with the great team I have, it’s the only way to teach. We are working hard to get Fresno High to go this direction, and we have the stats to prove it works, but some people do not like to be team players. Now I have to say your master teacher is very UNLIKE me.

  3. SLC is a great way to teach, but only as long as you have that great team. Administrators have to commit to it, and teachers have to believe in it.

    Those are two huge obstacles, and even then they’re not quite enough to take out Dyer’s “nearly.” There’s always hope that they’ll work. Usually, it stays as hope.

  4. Your one master teacher’s concern seems spot on to me. So many good ideas get put into place the wrong way and then done by halves until they’re useless and given up on and replaced by the next thing. Change takes real commitment and that’s what’s too often lacking in schools.

  5. As always, this lacks not just in schools. Commitment is a rare trait to find anywhere.

    If there could be one administrator who is in charge of spearheading all of these reforms, and does this job well, I think schools would be much improved. Assuming, of course, that this administrator does he job exceptionally well.

    There’s another rare trait.

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    […] Besides, this is one of the largest districts in California, and I’d believe they would at least entertain interviewing for some positions even if I didn’t know for a fact that my high school plans on looking for an extra social science teacher to fill out the new Small Learning Communities. […]

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