Saturday, May 09, 2015

#makeschooldifferent Challenge

Yesterday, I was tagged in a tweet that brought my attention to this very cool challenge.  Diana Neebe blogged her response and tagged me in her list of five educators, all of whom I love and respect immensely, and I am very much looking forward to hearing their thoughts on this.

The origin of this challenge is Scott McLeod's April 13 (2015) blog post.

So here goes my contribution:

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending that . . .

1. Standardized testing is ever going to give us any useful data beyond what we already KNOW about our students.  Testing only shows us who is good at taking tests.  Actually, let me revise that statement.  Poor performance on standardized tests is great for pointing out who comes to school hungry, overtired, stressed out, impoverished, neglected, or victimized by racism and classism inherent in our society's systems.  We need to stop using test scores to tell us what we already know, and then ignoring their message.  Rather, let's solve those societal problems and stop giving tests at all.

2. "The way we've always done things" and "BGUTI (better get used to it)" are good reasons to keep doing things that are ineffective, harmful to students, or both.  Students, parents, families, teachers, administrators, and everyone else involved in education deserves better.  Do you still have a VCR you use daily?  A record player?  A rotary dial phone?  In every other aspect of life, humanity has discovered, developed, or invented better ways of doing things.  And that's not just with regard to technology, though that's the easiest place to find contemporary metaphors.  Adults, think back to your own school days.  Do you remember all the things you learned from worksheets and workbooks?  How about lecture and note-taking?  I know that my own strongest and most positive memories are from the times I was actively involved in creating something: music, a poster for a project, a model.  Some of the memories weren't even all that positive, but they stuck.  Worksheets? Not so much.

3. All students learn in the same way, at the same rate.  If there is one thing that having a son with autism has taught me, it's that I was wrong a lot in the past in my assumptions about students who need to do things differently.  One famous quote that is often misattributed to Albert Einstein is about how if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.  While that is more about everyone having their own strengths, it also applies to how we learn and how quickly we learn.  If we could make our education system truly more individualized and personalized, we could eliminate a lot of the negativity surrounding education.  A potential subtitle for this point could be "We have to stop pretending that homework doesn't suck."  Don't even get me started on homework.  Kids that need extra practice are tortured by it, and are likely practicing concepts incorrectly. Kids who "got" the concepts in class and who sail through their homework probably don't even need to be doing it. The divides we see among students are widened because kids who need extra support are often in homes where there may be no one available to provide that support during homework time. And kids who have special interests or activities outside of school, the things they love because they're good at them or successful there when they aren't in school, often have to choose between homework and what they love and can succeed in.

4. Teaching is a profession anyone can do, especially when they drop out of something "better."  Too many people in our society view the career path of teachers as something we've settled on because we couldn't make it as anything else.  And society also seems to expect that all these all-but-failures they've somehow okayed to be in the classroom can get it together to completely transform their kids, despite all the factors working against us. So teachers are given no respect, but are expected to perform miracles. And despite all they are up against, most of them do.  But it's never enough.  And then people wonder why we can't keep good teachers, or why no one wants to enter the profession in the first place.  We need to change society's view of and value placed on teachers.

5. Education is about anyone other than the students themselves.  There's a lot of talk in this country today about our societal ills and how if parents would just do their jobs, if teachers would just do their jobs, etc. But when people "just do their jobs," young people are often given the short shrift.  By the time students are old enough to figure out that someone may not have done right by them, it's often too late to win them back to having a positive outlook about their own futures.  In the meantime, while we're racing to run off copies of a quiz, or grading piles of homework, students need us to stop and get to know them.  To ask why they're upset. To check in on how things went in that competition or performance they just had. To find out what they like about the book we're reading.  To validate what they didn't like about a project.  During August trainings, I've heard teachers (myself included) joke about how school would be so much fun if it weren't for the students showing up on the first day.  And I've heard some people say it who were NOT joking. I've heard complaints about the kind of students a teacher "has been given" as if they were talking about an STD they caught by accident.  I've known educators who simply do not like kids.  And I've asked, sometimes out loud, "Um, WHY did you go into teaching?"

I think all of my ideas point to a bigger picture of having our lenses all out of focus when it comes to accountability.  I am a professional.  I have two degrees. I have over two decades of experience in the classroom. And I have a very good track record. Allow me to do my job and be accountable to my most important stakeholders: my students. Honor that as a teacher, I make great sacrifices to do right by them every day, and even on weekends and holidays.

I am also a parent.  Please like my kid.  Get to know my kid.  Give him a chance to show you that he IS capable and that he CAN do and learn, even if he needs more time or different methods than other kids. Especially now as he enters adolescence, he is looking to everyone BUT his parents for validation that he and his very existence are not mistakes.

I've been absolutely blessed. Not every step of my path as an educator and parent have been easy or positive, but I have spent much of my time in both roles in relatively cushy situations. I am valued where I work. I am given the resources I need. My son is loved and appreciated and encouraged in his schools (past and present). I am well aware, however, that so many educators and parents experience the myths I've outlined above daily. And I've received my share of snide remarks about my choice of profession.

Finally, and partly in hopes of a post that is more positive to follow mine, I need to tag five educators to continue the conversation in their own spaces.  Who are five people whose views I would really love to hear on this? I choose Rushton Hurley, Julia Fallon, John MillerJon Samuelson, and Karen McKelvey.  These are all people I've spent time with in various situations, solving the world's problems over a drink or a meal or a ride to the airport, and each of them has made me better at what I do.

1 comment:

Scott McLeod said...

Thanks for participating, Diane. #2 is my favorite. Love your subtitle for #3! :)