If you haven't figured it out, I'm telling you outright, the system is cracked. It's not necessarily broken, but it definitely has stress fractures. The world would be a better place if our administrators and legislators didn't just go with whatever trend speaks the loudest or is colored the brightest. We simply must stop buying whatever is being sold as the magical fix. Some people have read too much fantasy literature and viewed too many superhero movies.
Look. The signs are apparent. I can identify at least 22 ways you can know the educational system is cracked (and I haven't even considered transportation, nutrition, and other supplementary or support systems that work alongside the administration of the direct education in a school district). Someone with a vessel with that many cracks might throw it out, but here we are, trying like crazy to stick duct tape on it or shove our fingers into the cracks and pretend there are no leaks.
For now, I'll discuss just five that I've been looking at for decades.
- The school leaders (principals) are not in the building. That's not the principals' fault. The higher ups - the powers that be - are demanding more administrative time from the building leaders. They ignore the fact that the principal is the leader of one building (maybe two), and every building is different. Stop making every principal lead every building with the same mandates and systems. Superintendents and school boards must allow schools to develop their own styles and personalities. Start recognizing the unique qualities of the staff and students, and let them develop their strengths. Schools will flourish.
- "Trainers" use the word non-negotiable. Here's a red flag! When simple things become non-negotiable, I'm going to stop listening. If you can't recognize that your pet program might be altered and improved, you need a dose of humility. If you refuse to let people experiment and find solutions and improvements, you're not thinking right. Too often, the curriculum committee selects a program to adopt whole hog, with no consideration that a veteran teacher / master teacher / talented teacher could tweak it, pick out the bits that are flavorful, and throw out the parts that waste time. Simply put, that is unprofessional and disrespectful to the classroom teacher who is, as they say, the tip of the spear and the one who knows best what those students need.
- We're playing the blame game again. Another red flag! Here is where a teacher recognizes a need and the meeting leader or administrator asks, "Why is this a problem for you and what are you going to do to solve this issue?" It is backwards for the teacher to ask for help and the leader to throw it back on him with no thought. A decent leader would ask, "How can I help you solve this problem?" or "What can I get for you that will solve the issue?" Instead, when things are breaking down, we seem to fall back on the idea that if it's not my problem, it's your problem. If things go wrong, your problem is your fault. Maybe it's self-preservation and maybe it's fear, but the only way for it to be solved is for everyone involved to order a great big case of humility from Amazon (or better yet, a higher Source).
- Textbooks and software become the "curriculum". I've expanded on this concept before: textbook companies are money-suckers. They only want to sell their packages to anyone willing to bite on their hook. Most textbooks and online programs are written for the purpose of appealing to as many purchasing agents as possible in order to maximize profits for the company. Not only that, but there is almost a monopoly on the market these days as the big fish swallow the little fish in the business. Instead of adopting a textbook and creating some kind of plan for every teacher to be on the same page at the same time, why not slow down and develop teachers who can think for themselves and develop creative, thoughtful, meaningful, and effective lessons. I wonder why some kids hate school: could it be that they are tired of the textbook and automated software applications that have become so routine since the creation of the little red schoolhouse?
- Classrooms are devoid of autonomy. When you find two teachers with the same demeanor, the same strengths, and the same habits, and one becomes a master at her teaching craft, then and only then should you require the other to do things in the same exact manner with the same materials. Until then, as far as I'm concerned, every teacher is different. Come on! You've asked educators to differentiate based on the gender, creed, ethnicity, race, ability, and interests of kids (input); isn't it high time that we recognize that teachers have their own differences as well (output). Those differences should just be the strength of a teaching team! What are we afraid of - that one teacher may stand out for a while and put the others to shame? Are we afraid that one teacher might pull the wagon a little harder than the others? Are we afraid that a teacher might start thinking for herself? That's exactly the goal we seek to achieve for each of our pupils, so why stifle the conscientious teacher from exercising the same?
It is frustrating that teachers just go along with the leaders without a second thought as to what is best for the students in their classrooms. I've see way too many students staring at their shoes in boredom. I've heard far too many educators whining, complaining, and cursing in the teachers' lounge. There are a lot of well-meaning people inflicting the wrong approach upon too many others who also have only the best intentions to improve a system that may crumble altogether at some point.
Do we need to throw out the whole system and start over? Perhaps. Can the cracks be repaired before it's too late? I don't know if we have enough purposeful brains in one room to make it happen, but it has to be possible.