The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Interlude

It has been a busy summer yet, at the same time, it has also been a not-busy summer. I think I understand how Charles Dickens could write a story about times that were both the best and the worst.

I spend my days applying for jobs, scanning old photographs and posting them on Facebook, watching The X-Files, applying for jobs, reading, listening to music, doing housework, applying for jobs, being lazy, doing work around the yard, applying for jobs, and reading blogs. Nearly all of these activities take place in the office my wife and I have set up in the second bedroom of our house, which means I spend most of my days sitting at the computer, probably developing some terrible spinal disorder as a result. I try to get up and move around, too, but it only helps so much.

I wish that more educators updated their blogs in the summer, but most of them are like me. There’s not much education-y type stuff going on, and the stuff that is going on is often so frustrating that I hate to write about it lest I go off on a rant about the lack of justice in the world.

Things really aren’t all that bad. But it is awfully frustrating to read news articles about how lazy, greedy, unmotivated, unprofessional, and unwilling to change my colleagues and I are. One of the education blogs I follow is written by a semi-anonymous special education teacher in Washington, D.C. I have her blog linked on the side, and I highly recommend it. She has recently written a fabulous piece about the problems of the education reform debate. I hope that you will read it and comment on it there, here, or in both places. We need more people talking about education but, more importantly, we need people talking about education in productive tones.

My favourite part of her message is this:

I think my biggest problem with the debate is the assumption that teachers are against reform. We absolutely want the best for our kids. Do we want more testing? No, but not because we are lazy, we are scared for our jobs, or because we have low expectations for our kids. We don’t believe testing, as it has been implemented, improves the students’ education. In fact, in many ways, when working in the trenches, we watch how it is a determinate to actual student learning. We watch how children lose out on essential instructional time because of the amount of classroom time dedicated to test prep. We struggle knowing what best practices are and knowing they are out of our reach as we drill and kill for the test.

We want reform, but we’d like to have a straightforward conversation about how that is best done. Yet anytime one of us opens our mouth we’re immediately told that we have low expectations for our students- after that our arguments are cut off at the knees. We mention what we know are best practices- research-based practices that will give success but no one wants to hear it. We’re told that where we learned those best practices and theories- in graduate school- was a waste of time. The general public tells us that we only went back to school to get a raise in pay, that our masters degrees are worthless, and that we are simply working the system…

Too many reformers do not have a background in education, do not understand how children learn, and do not have a grasp on recent break throughs in best practices.  When someone comes to us with a true, improved teaching idea we celebrate. We sit through afternoon workshops we don’t get paid for in order to learn how to improve our teaching. We are always seeking how to improve our teaching. Yet what is brought to us by “reformers” is not helping our teaching.  We’d love it if it was different.

A friend has suggested that I apply to join my local state representative’s education advisory committee. I am interested, but first I want to know what Rep. Barickman will do with my advice. Will he listen to educators? Will our input make a difference? Or are we going to be treated like the problem, like so many others do?

I find myself repeatedly turning to what is probably my all-time favourite political movie: The American President. I don’t think I’ve linked it here before, but even if I have, I am going to again:

The relevant portion is this:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character…

Insert “education reformers” for “Bob Rumson” and you pretty much have the same thing going on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It is time we stop blaming and starting working.

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3 responses

  1. Doesn’t she mean testing is a *deterrent* to actual student learning?

    July 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

  2. Detriment, actually. This is what happens when teachers get angry and blog out of frustration.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:39 am

  3. Reading the snippet of this person’s blog, it suddenly came to me that the following is true:

    1. Teachers are in the classroom.
    2. Administrators, researchers, reformers, politicians, parents, and pundits are not in the classroom.
    3. Education is performed in the classroom.

    Who is in the best position to evaluate, change, and monitor the process of education?

    Teachers.

    Teachers need to take more power over education. They need to band together–re-unionize?–to assert themselves and insert themselves more actively not only in this debate but in the actions taken to improve education. Of all the stakeholders in education, teachers are the driving force. They are the ones who can determine best practices for each class of students because they are the ones who actually try things out and see what works. They are where the rubber hits the road.

    You need to lead the revolution, laddie, and set your people on the road to salvation!

    July 7, 2011 at 8:46 am

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