Monday, July 13, 2009

Commitments and committees

It's July, the time when a teacher's thoughts turn to - committee assignments?
Last year the basic committees at my school, a high-maintenance class, and a few commitments outside of my own classroom walls filled the work well to overflowing. Day to day workload was so heavy that I could barely keep my head above water. And when a respected friend reminded me that “People who tread water eventually drown,” I knew had to rethink my priorities. How could I get my job done, manage my time well enough that I could successfully add to the success of each committee that had me on the roster, and not break down in tears at the piles of work my desk each day?

Decisions like these are both personal and professional. How much is my time worth? My boss had asked me to help write a grant, then unceremoniously dropped me from the grant writing group, then placed me back on the committee rolls. I acquiesced and participated until she merged our group with another that required major meeting time outside of the school year. I couldn't follow through and make the summer dates, so I decided to drop off the committee rather than make a half-hearted contribution.

In public schools like mine, committee time is unpaid – uncompensated in cash or otherwise. Teachers spend generous amounts of time working beyond the contract every day and every week and every weekend. After I’ve planned my lessons, taught my students, assessed their learning and then restarted the cycle, how much additional volunteer time is really necessary? I'm still on two small and very specific project committees that actually value my talents and connections. I’m fully trained in conflict resolution and remain on the crisis response team. Frankly, that should be enough to make any principal happy.
But wait. The plot thickens. Teachers in a nearby charter school invited me to join their network as a board member. We share a philosophy of teaching by active learning and a mutual love for their exciting and specialized curriculum. Here's an opportunity to use my skills and my knowledge to make a difference for kids – but kids outside my school and classroom.
That's where the conflict comes in. By dropping off a school committee but joining a board for a different school, the boss may sense a conflict of interest. True or not, the perception may be that I care more for the charter than I do for my own highly-needy school community.
I respect and like my principal. In my building, however, cliques exist, bullies run rampant, and I'm at the bottom of the professional pecking order. My word doesn't carry much weight, and neither does my work. Last year a coworker told me to “…just go with the flow.” I didn’t remind her that only dead fish go with the flow, and dead fish also stink.
On the charter board, I'm a respected outsider rather than a low-on-the-totem insider. At board meetings, I can swim upstream along with the other members rather than fight the current alone. Because of this status, I can make a real difference. My work outside the classroom will have a significant impact on students.
I think I just made my decision.

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Blogger Earth Muffin said...

Good decision! I think the charter board would be a welcome a refreshing change for you.

I'm trying so hard to get in a positive mindset for the upcoming year...but it's proving a challenge. Fortunately there's still some summer left to enjoy before I'm back to the grindstone.

7/13/2009 8:12 AM  
Blogger Shari said...

I just went through this regarding my volunteer commitments. There are too many ways to spend time and after a while I decided I had to prioritize. It's never easy, but it is required once in a while.

7/13/2009 8:44 AM  
Blogger Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Atta girl. Ignore the scoffers and naysayers and the rest--follow your instincts and you'll KNOW what the best use of time is!

7/13/2009 9:14 AM  
Blogger Flea said...

You go, girl. Work where you can make a difference and use your skills. And not stink.

7/13/2009 4:04 PM  

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