Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The relationship between education and politics is like the blind leading those with excellent vision.
I have seen no one sum it up better than in this quote by "Ms. Understood," although the rants of so many teachers on my bloglist, especially the epic ones of Mrs. Mimi, make me want to start a slow clap sometimes. It's amazing to me that so many teachers across the entire country have the same opinions and complaints and worries- and yet, somehow, no one asks the teachers what to do.

People want to believe that teachers are the problem. People want to believe that teaching methodologies must be wrong. People want to believe that teachers don't know what needs to be done.

Here's what I see: teachers who want the best for kids but often can't provide it because of a lack of resources, strict sanctions on how we spend our time, and a litany of responsibilities besides teaching. While I certainly agree there are some bad teachers, the overwhelming majority contributes significant amounts of their time, energy, and money to a classroom. But, although it breaks our hearts, we can't do it all for every child.

So people assume that teachers don't know what students need, even though we generally spend at least 30 hours a week with our students. Instead, let's ask politicians or economists or businesspeople or other "experts" who are no doubt incredible in their field but may not have set foot in an elementary school since they were 10. And they've never even met my students!

Before people get upset, I recognize that statisticians and CEO's can have some great ideas for education. I don't have a problem with involving those people in our brainstorming sessions and think-tanks. My problem is that, often, teachers aren't invited.

Just include us too! That's all I ask.

To all you who want to make sweeping prophecies about school solutions:
  • Go to schools that are working, and figure out why by asking the teachers what makes them able to be better teachers and what they see making the biggest difference for students. 
  • Talk directly to teachers, not just unions, to discuss reforms. Not all of us agree with the unions completely. I know quite a few teachers in the major union here who are in it for the support and liability just in case- but don't agree with all of their actions.
  • Spend a day or two with a highly qualified teacher in a generally low-performing school to see what the challenges are even when someone is succeeding, and brainstorm with those teachers for solutions. 
  • Substitute teach, and try it yourself. And not just in the suburbs or charter schools.
  • Spend days in classrooms of highly effective teachers in all kinds of schools with all sorts of styles, considering your plan. Would your plan strip these teachers of the very strategies and personality that make their lessons successful?
  • If you think that a common curriculum and required lesson plans are the answer, give at least 5 teachers the same lesson plan and observe the success of that lesson.
  • Visit charter schools and public schools and private schools, but not just the famous and infamous. There are great and poor examples of each type.
  • Try your plan in a small sample, such as a single school or corporation, before suggesting it to states and the country as a surefire solution to education.
 I am in agreement with some of the things in education right now. I do believe that ineffective teachers should be fired with more ease than is currently possible. I agree that many schools are not working and need significant change of some kind. I think it is unfair for states to have unequal standards. I believe that social promotion can go overboard. I agree that data can be used in a way to drive success for a school and also to discover when a student needs extra intervention.

I do not agree, though, with the current pattern of everyone but those who spend each day in a school deciding how to go about those issues and then drafting policy that we will have to follow. This doesn't happen in any other business.

As Mrs. Mimi put here,

Hess says that so many other organizations have accepted cut backs and laid off people due to our current economic distress.  And he's right, a lot of people have lost their jobs...people in my family and probably in yours too.  BUT (and there's always a but with me, isn't there), those people weren't blamed for the downfall of their business, portrayed as lazy by the media and villainized by the general public.  They were just quietly let go.  Why is this guy acting like what is happening to teachers is the same thing?

Teachers are not perfect, but we are being almost universally blamed for failing schools by people who don't spend 7 hours a day in them. It's like me trying to tell BP how to fix the oil spill. The fact that I have used gasoline before doesn't make me an oil expert, just as attending schools doesn't make someone an education expert.

Ask the people that have spent 4 years in school studying to become a teacher, required hours of professional development to remain a teacher, and countless hours of experience becoming a better teacher. Those are the experts.


Vagabond Teacher said...

I've been saying exactly the same thing you're saying forever...even since before I was a teacher!

I think the real problem is politicians looking for issues. Nobody will disagree with the idea that kids should be learning everything possible, and in order to make himself look proactive, the politician has to claim to be "fixing" something that is broken. They have to demonize something, why not schools. Who is responsible? Well, teachers, of course! Forget the fact that most of these politicians are products of public schools and think they themselves are pretty damned intelligent! They need an target that nobody can disagree with, and who wouldn't vote for someone who wants to create a better world for the kiddies?

It's a hot-button issue for me, but I wont' take up space on your blog ranting...I'm enjoying your posts, though!

ms.understood said...

I imagine it to be a lot like confiding a problem in your social life to a friend who's never had a similar experience.

Picture a teenage girl and boy sitting on a park bench. "I just can't take it anymore," she says. "My boyfriend doesn't respect me. He is so jealous."

This girl might have had any problem, but the advice given always starts the same way. "You know what you should do..." Usually, the friend could brainstorm several options. The problem is it is easy to say and tough to do. The girl would be wise to take his advice with a grain of salt.

I feel like there are way too many politicians with a bad case of the You-Know-What-You-Should-Dos. The problem is that we have no option to take their advice with a grain of salt. We are subject to every whim. I watch local access and see our state brainstorming what to do about problems in education. It is scarily similar to the scenario I described above.

luckeyfrog said...

ms. understood, you're so right. It IS one of those "easier-said-than-done" types of problems, and no one asks teachers to help them sort out practical solutions.

I also think, Vagabond Teacher, that the teacher unions are a big part of what has made teachers the target. I think most teachers are in the union for security, which I'm sure most Americans can understand. But the public sees union initiatives as synonymous with what teachers believe, even when that's not true.

Thanks for the comments! I'm glad to know I have some readers :) I enjoy both of your blogs, as well!

Sarah Cooley said...

You, my friend, are deserving of a slow clap yourself! Well said.

Not Quite Grown Up... said...

"Spend days in classrooms of highly effective teachers in all kinds of schools with all sorts of styles, considering your plan. Would your plan strip these teachers of the very strategies and personality that make their lessons successful?"

I think that is a fabulous point. So many new "initiatives" constrict the ways we can teach. For some teachers, mediocre teachers, maybe they need that support, those confines. Maybe they benefit from it. For many other teachers though, good teachers, they may be more effective without before stuck in these new initiatives. By being told I need to spend x hours per day on x subject, and follow this scripted curriculum during that time, I cannot do what I know to be pedagogically best for my students.

All your points are good, but this one in particular is really interesting to think about.