in Education

The Vortex of Uncompetence

I had Monday and Tuesday this week off school. I had a cold, felt lousy, and felt my recently-self-diagnosed SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) kicking in. Just as I didn’t believe that children were born with personalities before we had Ben, I used to think that ‘disorders’ were ways to label avoidable abnormal behaviours. I don’t think that any more. :-o

In schools and businesses we pay very little attention to the fact that it is human beings involved in these institutions and who, as such, fluctuate, change, and are affected by external factors. As I’ve blogged about before, one disorder I suffer from is migraines. There’s no way that those who don’t suffer from these can know what they’re like, of the way fluorescent lighting affects the way I see and think sometimes, and the ‘fuzziness’ associated with it. Likewise, those who don’t suffer from something I’m labelling SAD for convenience can understand what it’s like for a usually energetic and enthusiastic person to completely lack all motivation. :-(

The stimulus for this post came from reading Dan Meyer’s blog post Wherever You Can Find It, signposted on Twitter by Darren Draper, who stated, “I’m telling you: 5 years ago, I was @ddmeyer. Absolutely no doubt about it” – linking to this comment in particular. The first part of it reads:

And maybe that kind of leadership is enough to staunch some of this new teacher blood, but it isn’t enough to staunch mine.

Because I came here to do a job, just a job. I wasn’t “called” here but I knew that job was essential to the future and polity of our country. That job was too hard. I failed. Then I learned. Then I started blogging. I torched a lot of terrible personality defects on the altar of better teaching. I sacrificed a lot of time to improve. Now I’m good at this job.

How many other professions would tie that kind of growth to zero extrinsic (and particularly financial) reward?

There is no promotion. There is no pay raise. There is no bonus. And lately, most obviously, there is nothing to compensate me for the time I spend elevating student achievement, time which other teachers spend throwing frisbees on the beaches of Santa Cruz with their wives.

As I commented on Dan’s blog, I’ve suffered burnout, depression and the effect it can have on the relationships with those around you whom you love. My advice to Dan and to all young teachers working all hours for the benefit of students is to beware of the Vortex of Uncompetence. It goes a little something like this:

If you can’t see the above clearly (it’s meant to be a little trippy), then here’s the stages:

  1. Identify deficiency – you feel as a teacher that there’s something not right with the system.
  2. Discover community – either in school, socially or online, you realise you’re not the only one to feel this way.
  3. Attempt to remedy situation – you decide to do something about it, working hard to make your lessons and the learning experiences of students, different.
  4. Face barriers – there are problems regarding student behaviour, assessment schemes, line manager comments, or you’ve not got enough time to do what you want to do.
  5. Work at solutions – you work harder and harder, trying to convince others, meanwhile attempting to be radically different.
  6. More barriers – becoming almost zealot-like, you meet a lot of resistance.
  7. BURNOUT – unable to take on the might of the educational system, your physical and/or mental health suffers, along with relationships with people who matter to you.

Some may wonder why I’ve included the ‘discovering community’ part in step two. It’s a case of wanting to be seen to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’. When you’ve committed to something, staked out your claim as a believer, you’ve got to act in a way that’s befitting. Sometimes, this can engender more problems than if you’d slowly tried chipping away at things over time – evolution, not revolution.

Why Vortex of Uncompetence? It’s a tongue-in-cheek term I’ve made up, probably after reading too much Dilbert. Teachers who go down this road are not incompetent – far from it. But then, they’re not competent in the ways expected for traditional teachers. They’re uncompetent: they refuse to be held to the standards set by the majority view in education. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex and, as a husband and father I can’t afford to be pulled into it again. I’m trying to position myself as a catalyst for fast-paced evolution. Almost everyone resists revolution – the status quo is just too comfortable… :-p

Do YOU recognise yourself or anyone else entering the Vortex of Uncompetence?

(the Vortex of Uncompetence is based on an original image by ClintJCL @ Flickr)

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22 Comments

    • Did you even *read* the end of the post, Chris?

      “Why Vortex of Uncompetence? It’s a tongue-in-cheek term I’ve made up, probably after reading too much Dilbert. Teachers who go down this road are not incompetent – far from it. But then, they’re not competent in the ways expected for traditional teachers. They’re uncompetent: they refuse to be held to the standards set by the majority view in education.”

      I suppose it’s a bit like Ralph on the Simpsons saying “Me fail English? That’s unpossible!” So yes, I just made it up, but I like the term. So there. :-p

  1. I AM the vortex! I’m about mid-career and have been wondering if that’s part of the problem.Teaching a new class has helped a little and being heavily invested in professional organizations outside of school has helped, but there are days when the thought of dealing with many of the adults on my campus makes me want to run back under the covers.

    • I know what you mean. I’m being pulled 3 ways at the moment – the History and ICT departments all just want me to do ‘little things’, but then I’ve got my whole-school role as E-Learning Staff Tutor. There just aren’t enough hours in the (school) day – it’s eating into family time…

  2. I AM the vortex! I'm about mid-career and have been wondering if that's part of the problem.Teaching a new class has helped a little and being heavily invested in professional organizations outside of school has helped, but there are days when the thought of dealing with many of the adults on my campus makes me want to run back under the covers.

  3. Did you even *read* the end of the post, Chris?"Why Vortex of Uncompetence? It’s a tongue-in-cheek term I’ve made up, probably after reading too much Dilbert. Teachers who go down this road are not incompetent – far from it. But then, they’re not competent in the ways expected for traditional teachers. They’re uncompetent: they refuse to be held to the standards set by the majority view in education."I suppose it's a bit like Ralph on the Simpsons saying "Me fail English? That's unpossible!" So yes, I just made it up, but I like the term. So there. :-p

  4. I know what you mean. I'm being pulled 3 ways at the moment – the History and ICT departments all just want me to do 'little things', but then I've got my whole-school role as E-Learning Staff Tutor. There just aren't enough hours in the (school) day – it's eating into family time…

  5. I have never linked lighting to migraines! Flickering 60HZ screens yes, I often turn off lights in a room, maybe sub consiously. I had a migraine yesterday on a course, the lightining was so bright and in your fae, it could well have been the trigger!
    Thanks for heads up! Here’s hoping you dont get another for a while!

  6. I have never linked lighting to migraines! Flickering 60HZ screens yes, I often turn off lights in a room, maybe sub consiously. I had a migraine yesterday on a course, the lightining was so bright and in your fae, it could well have been the trigger!Thanks for heads up! Here's hoping you dont get another for a while!

  7. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve done the ‘discover community’ bit, but I already feel to ‘burned out’ to join it! I shuffle around the fringes of the blogosphere reading stuff like this and thinking “yes – that’s it exactly”, and feeling utterly inadequate to the task of either joining in (look at all those dynamic professionals with their blogging and twittering and wiki-ing – I can’t keep up) or even getting the small tasks I must do done, so that I can devote a bit more practice to my teaching thought.

    I’m only writing this cos I’m off work sick myself today.

  8. It's only relatively recently that I've done the 'discover community' bit, but I already feel to 'burned out' to join it! I shuffle around the fringes of the blogosphere reading stuff like this and thinking "yes – that's it exactly", and feeling utterly inadequate to the task of either joining in (look at all those dynamic professionals with their blogging and twittering and wiki-ing – I can't keep up) or even getting the small tasks I must do done, so that I can devote a bit more practice to my teaching thought. I'm only writing this cos I'm off work sick myself today.