Monday, November 8, 2010

Teachers and Reform

A black and white icon of a teacher in front o...Image via Wikipedia
As a 22 year veteran of public education I have lived the tension between my union, the district, teachers and reform. I have seen the status quo, Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, and now Race to the Top. 

As an educator  I have served as a classroom teacher, categorical program advisor, intervention coordinator and administrator. As a teacher I encountered what all teachers encounter; students, parents and administrative bureaucracy. Now, each of these have an effect on each and every classroom. They also are a constant source of complaints and excuses from educators. I can not tell you how many times I have heard, "These kids," "These parents," and "These administrators." Usually some expression of exasperation related to how impossible it seems to be a successful educator under the present conditions. Personally, I learned that in public education I have no control over which children live in the area I teach, the parents that give birth to them and raise them (or not), and in my present position I have little to no influence with or over the district I work for.  So, I just do the best I can from where we are at. In that sense I find teacher evaluations a tenuous task if it does not take into consideration how little control a teacher has of outside influences that directly affect outcomes. Besides the fact that districts are famous for changing programs every seven years,which means teachers must relearn their material, which may take years to master, on an ongoing basis. Then the outcomes are changed randomly with the change of political leadership (currently and oxymoron).  The Kiss (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle is never applied to educational leadership.

I also question the idea that we just need to fire all the bad teachers. Although I do agree that some should go, I ask who would take their place? If there is an imagined line of "good" teachers waiting to take over classrooms, it is only in someones imagination, not reality. The reality is that even among good teachers not many are highly affective. In a conversation I had last week with a colleague (who I am humbled by his effectiveness) we came to an interesting perspective. I come from a church background and there is a portion of the Bible that describes some (valuable and good) leaders and being "apt" to teach, meaning they were not gifted at teaching but were able to get the point across. Many teachers are "apt" to teach, but few are gifted with a natural talent for helping others learn.

One truth that is often overlooked is that high performing students usually come from good, stable families. As I wrote earlier, teachers have no control over who enrolls at there school and little to no control over which students they get. As an aside, teaching gifted students is really an unfair benefit for a teacher to be judged by or comparison against with other teachers. Gifted and high achieving students usually already get how to learn and have learned it before you teach it.

Where is my union on all this? ...

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