I’ve been teaching now for over 20 years. I teach with love and rigor, have had a lot of success with helping students achieve greatness, but am often frustrated with the things that schools think are so important about education.
In my experience, these are the things for which most schools are serious:
- Testing – We have to measure everything to make sure the teachers are doing their job, that the kids are learning things, and that our scores look good.
- Paying Attention – No matter how boring the presentation, students need to just be quiet and listen to the instructor because (after all) teachers know everything and are facilitators of the knowledge.
- Stay In Your Designated Area – When you are at lunch you have to eat lunch and you can’t go to the library to get a book.
- Dress Code – We need to make sure the children are not wearing things that are comfortable or let them be individuals in the name of safety and modesty. We haven’t quite figured out how to keep them completely safe or modest so we are going to do our best understanding that it will always be a battle.
- Evaluations – Teachers are the only ones being evaluated. Administrators don’t get to be evaluated by the teaching staff because that would be doing things like any other job.
- Lesson Planning – It is important to make sure we write everything down that we are going to do for the entire lesson even if we get interrupted to administer district testing and go on field trips and go to sporting events. We need to plan very well so that we can make sure that the administrators know we have a plan. This plan, of course, should probably incorporate the fact that hour to hour and day to day the student needs might change. It should be possible to write lesson plans which will be adhered to 100% all the time.
I could go on.
Why is it that when our students reach the last day of the spring semester they are in a rapture of excitement because it is finally going to be over? What ever happened to allowing students to be curious? Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson was interviewed about the subject. I will let him speak here:
We spend so much time testing students in this country. Tests are not a bad thing, but they are all standardized and homogenized. We stifle creativity any chance we get. We find it, stamp it out, and continue forcing students into a small box that we can measure and analyze. This is producing a society of people who will only “work in their job description” and will only stick to the status quo.
Here are some suggestions:
- Testing – Tests should be on the fly. Teachers should give “tests” that are sometimes oral and sometimes in group settings where students are working together toward a common goal to demonstrate that they understand a skill or concept. After all, life doesn’t standardize its tests. Tests should never be used as a “gotcha” against teachers or school districts but as a road map to see where students are moving intellectually. Good tests are tests where students don’t know they are being tested.
- Paying Attention – Students should be allowed to be noisy, curious, and allowed to talk at their tables and socialize. If it were a working environment, the best work is done when there are momentary bursts of hard work toward the goal coupled with momentary bursts of levity and “goofing off”. It is how tension is released when put under stress to reach a goal or solve a problem. Also, if the lesson is fun and doesn’t feel like a “lesson” then it will be more fun for them. They have to have the freedom to explore.
- Stay In Your Designated Area – If a student is at lunch and wants to go to the library, then let them. Never stifle the need for curiosity with procedures. Keep them safe, but don’t use that to keep them from being curious. Always be on the lookout not for “trouble brewin'”, but for genuine desire to learn something new.
- Dress Code – Not everyone can afford to buy nice clothes for their kids. Sometimes a hoodie is all they can afford to keep their kid warm in winter. Sure, kids hide their earbuds inside their hoodie (and the concern is drugs being hidden there, too) but most just want to listen to their tunes or (amazingly) a podcast or two. I’m not suggesting kids be allowed to wear gang colors, but most kids just want to dress comfortably. Try to find a happy balance between allowing them to be individuals and keeping them safe. If your school is a place of love and acceptance, known in the community as a safe environment, then it will have less of those problems.
- Evaluations – Here’s an idea: Why can’t teachers evaluate administration and students evaluate teachers? If we are going to evaluate each other to make sure we are doing a great job, then why not let everyone be evaluated by everyone? Evaluations shouldn’t be unrealistic and micro-managing. From Marzano to Tulsa to whatever method a school uses for evaluations it seems that they are totally one-sided and unfair. If a teacher has taught with success for a long time, trust that teacher to do their job. They are experts. The bad teachers will weed themselves out if students are able to evaluate them.
- Lesson Planning – Lesson plans should be done after the fact most of the time. Have a general plan for what concept is to be taught, plan a lot of activities that allow students to be curious about the concept or skill, and then write up how it went afterward and what can be learned from the experience. It should be like a science experiment, allowing the teacher to be curious about what can happen if they do a certain activity or try a new way of approaching the learning. Students should be the discoverers of the concept. Education is not a machine with cogs and parts that can be replaced. It is rather a garden where several varieties of plants are being grown and nurtured. They should be allowed to spread out their roots and unfold their leaves to drink in the warmth.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that something has to change in education in this country if we are going to progress and stop the devolution of our societal woes. If we want innovation, cures for diseases, and better policies in our government, then we are going to have to end standardized testing, fund education completely and pay our educators a decent wage. Educators are some of the most hard-working people in any field but we are poorly paid, disrespected and often work in horribly toxic work environments because of our state government’s policies. Parents should rise up and demand better. They always talk a good game about how teachers are the best but then when it comes to paying for what is needed they hang their head.
As Americans, we should want better.