Dear Educational Industrial Complex,
A minute of your time, please. My name is Keith Roeckle. Some of you know me. Some of you have heard of me. Most of you do not know who I am, and that’s fine. Allow me to introduce myself. I have taught the teenagers of these United States for ten years now. What have I taught them? Officially, music. Unofficially—time management, writing, e-mail etiquette, two-step thinking, entrepreneurship, discipline, comedy, patience, coping skills, how and when to be obnoxious, when to be reverent, how to board an airplane, research skills, and in one disastrous case—birth control. The list goes on.
I’m a smart cookie. I’m good at school—always was. I’ve accumulated a few degrees and like a ka-ba-jillion credits. I’m certified to teach music and be a school principal in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. I’m also the kind of person who learns things when needed. When a problem is put on my desk, I solve it. I keep busy, and I’m very productive.
I’ve helped rebuild three music programs, and one entire school. I’ve strived to be a positive influence on school culture everywhere I’ve worked. I’ve improved ensembles, started new ones, resurrected old traditions, started new traditions. I’ve served on committee after committee. I’ve helped, and I’ve gotten results.
Now for the dark part—apparently I “topped out” too early. Being picked for a Director of Bands job at age 23 was apparently the zenith of my career, since I have remained stagnant in that position for a decade. Despite my record of success, I have been passed over for the following jobs: department head, academic dean, supervisor of music, supervisor of performing arts, dean of students, coordinator of community programs, assistant principal, and as of today, “turnaround” assistant principal. And that doesn’t even count the ones I’ve gotten no responses from. I’ve been rejected by good public schools, great public schools, not-so-great public schools, great private schools, and questionable private schools. I leave myself scratching my head every time I get one of these “we’re sorry, but…” emails*. I don’t apply for jobs that I’m not qualified for. My CV is long and distinguished, and I almost always get selected for phone screening or a first round interview.
And there’s where the road ends. Abruptly. I’ve never proceeded beyond this first point when trying to “ascend the ladder”. I’m not unqualified, I interview well, I’m no longer young, and I have a record of educational experience that most could only dream of.
Which makes me ask you, Educational Industrial Complex…what in the wide, wide, world of fuck are you looking for? Because I don’t know.
You want a hard worker? Check.
You want someone who’s good at solving problems? Double-check.
You want someone with a record of success? See above.
Someone who has budget experience? Check
Someone who’s worked at a great school? Check.
How about someone who’s worked at a “challenging” school? Double-check.
Someone who works well with others? …OK, this one’s mixed, but mostly positive.
How about student data management and analysis? I did a whole research project on it.
Great classroom teacher? Check, check, check.
I suppose your ideal candidate would be a 25 year math teacher who started at a school where the kids had never seen numbers before, and now you have them all getting 5’s on the BC Calculus test, and who has advanced degrees from Columbia Teacher’s College and the University of Michigan, and who manages to spend their nights serving on the board of their local Kiwanis club and spends their summers with the remote tribes of Papua New Guinea, all while publishing their findings and accomplishments in peer-reviewed journals along the way.
Good luck with that.
Well, that isn’t me.
I have a theory, however. It won’t win me any awards, and it certainly won’t make any of you call me back, but here it is. Since I can’t figure out what you want…I’ll bet that you don’t know what you want either. I know you THINK you know what you want…but look a little harder. How much positive change has happened on your watch, oh all-great-and-powerful Educational Industrial Complex? Aside from some nice technology initiatives, there hasn’t been one great educational leap forward since the invention of long division. And you know it.
And why is that, exactly? Lack of funding? Aging facilities? Charter-izing? The erosion of the teaching profession? Sure, those are part of it. But those things all point to the same thing—a lack of leadership. The one and only bit of feedback I’ve gotten from a school (that shall remain nameless) was “I wasn’t a traditional candidate”. That feedback has the unique distinction of being both completely accurate and incredibly vague. But I can read between the lines. You want someone safe, who will cause the least amount of headache. I get it, I really do. …Unless you want to actually improve something. There can be no improvement without change. Think about it.
So, with that, I’m out. You go on hiring and promoting the same types of people, the “safest” candidates. With “traditional” backgrounds. Who teach “core” subjects. And then continue to wonder why you can’t get anything done, enact any meaningful change, or wonder why our education system continues on its nose-dive to the bottom of the western world.
I’ll be here when you want to do something about it. Until then, make sure your seatbelt is fastened and your tray table is up while you begin your final descent.
-Keith T. Roeckle