Guest Blogger: Rewarding Teachers for Doing More.

A few weeks back, I was digitally introduced to Ryan Niman, a high school social studies and English teacher in the Edmonds School District north of Seattle. 

Ryan’s a brilliant guy—and more importantly, he’s a brilliant writer. 

He’s also one of the new voices that the Center for Teaching Quality—my long-time mentors and blog benefactors—has landed for their soon-to-go-live TransformED blog, which will give several real-live, full-time classroom teachers a platform for talking about the realities of educational policy from perspective of practitioners.

I wanted to introduce y’all to Ryan because I love his voice—and I think you will too—so I asked him to write a guest post for the Radical. 

The following bit is his take on our struggles to recognize and reward teachers for bringing intangibles to the table in their schools. 

Check it out and tell him what you think—both of his point of view and his voice!


Rewarding Teachers for Doing More

By Ryan Niman

I spent my spring break as the stereotype of the overpaid teacher who gets tons of time off: lounging on a beach in Mexico. It felt like a long, long way from “Cribs: Teacher Edition” on The Daily Show.

While there I read Charles Kenny’s book Getting Better.

I won’t get into how I feel about his thesis (succinctly encapsulated in the subtitle: ‘Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More’), but suffice it to say that I was feeling very privileged about my position in the world.

Of course, the trip itself had more to do with the kindness of family than my outlandish public school teacher salary.

Furthermore, reality came crashing in upon my return.

In the month since Spring Break I’ve easily put in more hours outside my contract time than I had off during that week.

I’ve found out that next year I’ll be splitting my time between two buildings for the first time in my career. Class sizes are bigger, we have less money to spend on classroom supplies, and we continue to be told we have to do more with less.

And I do want to ‘do more.’

It is human nature to want to ‘do more’. I find that many colleagues, like myself, want to have a larger impact on our students, our schools, and the system.

Unfortunately, the overall system that we’re creating, with a focus on standardized tests, standardized curriculum, and standardized teachers, isn’t conducive to this ‘doing more’.

So we ‘do more’, for the time being, by doing things like setting up film festivals, bring guest speakers to school, taking students on field trips, running clubs and coaching, purchasing supplies out of our own pockets, advocating through politics, participating in online discussions, working with groups like CTQ .

You know: all the things that ‘do nothing’ within that ‘standardized’ framework to improve student test scores on those standardized tests or leave a numeric trail that proves we are good teachers.

It is a ‘do more’ system based on volunteerism and goodwill and it is not sustainable, either individually or systemically, in the long run.

Yet those are the things that get students interested in learning, might keep a student from dropping out, might help another student choose a career, get parents involved in their schools, so on and so forth.

And those are the things that most of us remember looking back at the ‘good’ teachers we had in school.

As we as a nation move forward with evolving the role and evaluation of teachers, we need to keep this in mind: good teachers are those teachers that aren’t only effective vis a vis standardized assessments, but also do a lot more on top of that.

If we want to increase the number of good teachers in our schools we need to create a system that supports our ‘do more’ activities instead of pushing them to the fringe.


Ryan Niman teaches English and Social Studies at Mountlake Terrace High School in the Edmonds School District, north of Seattle where he has co-chaired the English department for the past four years.

He is also Building Representative for the Edmonds Education Association and a member of the Edmonds District Technology Advisory Committee and Professional Excellence Committee, where he is planning technology levies and working on a new teacher evaluation system.

Back before the budgets started shrinking, Ryan spent one year working part-time as the district Secondary English Curriculum Coordinator.

Now, he moonlights in two roles with the Center for Teaching Quality: as a founding member of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Washington New Millennium Initiative and as a blogger with TransformED.

I hope you’ll continue to follow Ryan’s writing—here on the Radical, on TransformED when it launches in late-May or early-June and on Patch Edmonds

He’s definitely a new voice worth listening to.

2 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Rewarding Teachers for Doing More.

  1. Rcniman

    Paul –
    Thank you for the kind words. I’ll see what I can do.
    You bring up an interesting question. One which I don’t, in some ways, have the background to start to answer. I say that because I work in a school and district that has (in my 7+ years) been very decentralized. Furthermore, my school was in the middle of a Gates small schools grant and we were divided into five small schools. When I was hired it was truly a feeling of ‘anything goes’. That was only exacerbated by the fact that I was given a room that had no maps and I was sharing a single set of U.S. History books with two other teachers – both of which were upstairs.
    The whole situation led to a ton of ‘wide-open experimentation’ on my part but also a lot of frustration as I wished that someone would at least hand me a solid curriculum to start with.
    Later, when I worked part-time as a TOSA as the district English Curriculum Coordinator, I saw the scripted versus wide-open debate from another angle. We were attempting to implement a district-wide writing assessment in English classes that focused on analysis. Another coordinator and myself were meeting with a middle school English department and basically talking circles around the task. It was clear that many of the teachers were frustrated with it, while we (and a couple of teachers) saw it as a great opportunity for collaboration across the district. Finally, we had an ‘ah-ha’ moment when one of the teachers said something to the effect of “The problem is that we’re used to teaching literary devices, not analysis’. If it weren’t for some pushing from the outside, they might have stayed in the rut of literary devices (and maybe they did – the task was abandoned two years ago).
    So while those two events make me understand the value of a scripted curriculum, I also realize that much of what I get away with doing now is because I teach Humanities blocks in a school and district that otherwise doesn’t have ‘Humanities’ at the high school level. As literally the only Humanities 9 teacher in the district, I’ve created much of my favorite curriculum (units on ethics, government, and film, using in a vacuum. As long as I can justify what I’m doing with some vague connection to the state standards and am reasonably preparing my students for 10th grade, no one is going to second guess my decisions.
    There’s a balance in there somewhere. Thanks for getting me to think about it. Maybe you’ll see my first stab at an answer in the next week or two. If Bill will publish it, of course…
    Ryan Niman

  2. Paul Cancellieri

    Wow, Ryan.
    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the conflicting messages from the “powers that be”. We can’t be both innovative and simultaneously standardized. You make a great point and you do it with some nice writing. I am looking forward to reading more of your work on TLN.
    The question for me, though, is this: As a classroom teacher, what can I do to find the middle ground between scripted curricula and wide-open experimentation?

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