To paraphrase an old adage: You can take the teacher out of the school, but you can’t take the school out of the teacher. In retirement I remain concerned about our students and their teachers.
I was troubled, then, by the strict party lines of the confirmation vote for Secretary of Education. Every Democratic senator voted against the nominee, while all but two Republicans voted in the affirmative, indicating the strength of party allegiance relative to the future of America’s schools.
However, I would rather look beyond the politics of education to propose three concepts requiring no party affiliation.
THERE IS NO SINGLE TEMPLATE FOR ALL SCHOOLS. Years ago a guest speaker at school surrounded himself with cardboard tombstones. Their “inscriptions” – behavioral objectives, whole language, back-to-basics, portfolio assessment, individualized instruction – represented educational bandwagons that had come and gone. Add vouchers, proficiency testing, No Child Left Behind, charter schools, and Common Core as currently-popular school buzzwords.
America lurches from trend to trend in a futile search for one “solution” to every problem for every student in every school. Each new template causes upheaval that diverts time, energy, resources, and funds.
Teachers already know there is no single method of teaching effective for all students, even within in the same class. My “visual” students had to see and read the lesson for the day, just as the “auditory” students needed to hear and say the same lesson, along with the “kinesthetic” students who had to put the lesson into motion – all in the same classroom within forty minutes.
Although legislators and testing companies insist that curriculum laws and high-stakes exams guarantee all kids in all schools will reach whatever goals happen to be popular at election time, such measures simply do not work. We cannot legislate or buy blueprints for successful schools.
THERE ARE TOO MANY LAYERS OF AUTHORITY. Layers of administration and authority develop during the pursuit of political goals for education. The federal government dictates policy with funding and curriculum strings attached, as do state governments. Local superintendents and boards of education form another level of authority along with building principals. On the shoulders of teachers and students rests this heavy burden, sapping energy vital to thriving classrooms.
The higher the authority, the greater the distance from students. Politicians and educational bureaucrats – who probably have not recently set foot into the public school classrooms where they themselves were educated – nonetheless enact regulations that may or may not lead to outcomes matching student needs now or in the future.
In the process, teachers may be regarded as little more than factory workers pushing buttons and welding pieces onto students gliding by on conveyor belts. If teachers cannot be trusted to make important educational decisions for their own students, how can these same educators even be trusted in the nation’s classrooms?
LET TEACHERS TEACH. I offer a daring proposition. Empower classroom teachers with the collaborative authority of determining goals and solutions for the students in their own schools. Permit classroom teachers to use test results in diagnosing their students’ learning needs rather than for comparisons to kids in European and Asian schools. Discontinue bureaucratic hoop-jumping to allow classroom teachers adequate time to prepare effective lessons for the students who daily populate their classrooms. Encourage classroom teachers to go “all out” for their own students, unfettered by testing pressures and legislated curriculum.
Unfortunately, we are light years away from any such sensible shift in the educational process. The newest example of top-down authority appears some one thousand pages into Ohio’s proposed budget in Sec. 3319.236: beginning in 2018 teachers must “complete an on-site work experience with a local business” to renew their five-year teaching licenses, in addition to already-required coursework.
Workforce Transformation Director Ryan Burgess: “businesses often can’t find qualified workers…externships are a way for teachers to…sense what skills jobs require…to help teachers discuss careers with students and prepare them to enter the workforce.”
Just when should teachers schedule these “work experiences”: before, after, or instead of planning lessons for their students; before, after, or instead of required coursework? Perhaps they should sacrifice weekend hours spent grading papers or time during school breaks planning for the next semester to job shadow at a local store – or maybe just forego the family vacation.
Classroom teachers will be responsible for future job placement at the behest of the State Board of Education. Its 19-person membership includes – among others – a lawyer, an engineer, a political fundraiser, a realtor, a member of Kasich’s administration, along with one active and two retired teachers. Perhaps this panel, as well as every legislator, should “complete an on-site work experience at a local school.”
In the spring of 2010 I had not yet shared my decision to retire, when I listened to a protracted discussion of how teachers should display the curricular benchmark being referenced each day: a laminated label, posted on the board, projected on a SmartBoard screen.
With the thought that a “higher” authority might require me to make a poster listing what I had always stated at the beginning of each period anyway, I knew it was time for this old-fashioned teacher to leave the newest buzzwords and bandwagons to others – along with the fervent hope that someday soon teachers will have the authority to devise lessons specifically for the students with whom they spend each and every day…