Teachers as Expendables

I am currently reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin, of course I read that through the eyes of an educator and apply it to the world I know.  Here are some thoughts I jotted down as I was reading today.

Schools (and I am talking very generally here based on my experiences) need to stop treating teachers and students like they are nonessential.  When you treat people like they are expendable, they will begin to view themselves that way.  When people can sense they aren’t valued, they will start to act that way.

Unfortunately, schools around the country are devaluing both students and teachers on a regular basis.  When the secretary of education recommends that schools make public whether teachers are doing enough to raise students’ test scores, he is sending the message that teachers are expendable.  When students are expected to read at a certain level because they are seven years old, or taught from a standardized curriculum, by our actions, we tell them they aren’t unique or valuable.

We really shouldn’t be surprised, then, at the state of education.  When people feel like they aren’t valued they will see themselves that way.  They won’t rise to the occasion (very often), they won’t wow us with their innovation.  They will do what they must to get by.  This is happening too often in our schools.

Conversely, when you are in a place where you feel valued and important, you will act in a way that is valuable.  You rise to the occasion and work toward success with creativity and innovative ideas.  You become impassioned.

I know that most teachers work hard every day to make sure that each one of their students feels valued.  But when teachers are treated as if they are expendable, it is hard to muster the enthusiasm to help others believe that they are not.  What Arne Duncan doesn’t seem to understand is that the school system has to be a culture of value.  Everyone within a school must believe that they are an important part of the system, that it just wouldn’t be the same without them.  I’m not sure how he thinks that standardized curriculum, standardized testing, and more data is going to accomplish this goal.  I would think that anyone who has ever spent time with children would know that to get the best out of a child, they have to feel valued.  Good grief, I would think anyone who had any business sense at all would know that to get the best out of your employees you make them feel as if their unique gift is what keeps the place running.

I’m not sure that any of us will get the policy makers to wake up and pay attention to the way they are breaking down the education system by allowing teachers and students to feel expendable.  So what do we do? We stop believing that we are expendable (even at the subconscious level).  We start letting our colleagues know that they are valuable and appreciated for their unique gifts.  We start showing our students that despite what government policy might be mandating, that they are indeed valued.

If feel like you are nonessential, you probably are.  Change your view-point and show your administration, policy makers, parents, and students that you are not expendable.  You are valuable.  When you start to own that, others will too.

(Kudos to schools that are making this decision daily as a school. A few that come to mind at the moment are Van Meter and George Couros who holds an Identity Day at his school so everyone can reveal their value.)


  1. It is the same for students, teachers and in fact all walks of life, isn’t it? It’s essential to feel needed, validated and worthy. When we feel this way, we can achieve practically anything. When systems treat people in the opposite way, how do they think that we will react?

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