More often, these days, the government holds school districts to standards, but it is the administration of those districts, in the attempt or even guise of addressing those standards, who press down hard on their teachers to do things in specific ways. I can talk until I am blue in the face about how teachers are expected to adapt to the needs of individual learning styles, but it seems that certain administrators will never get that teachers also have individual teaching styles. One does well with just chalk and a chalkboard, while another achieves excellent results with technology.
At the risk of being repetitive, let's get to the next few ways that one can tell that the educational system is cracked (in no particular order).
- Every class must record grades for the same assignments. Here is one that's ripped from the latest news, and it just does not make very much sense. Someone gets an "innovative and original" idea that every class must be conducted in the same way; somehow, if every student gets the same instruction in the same manner, day in and day out, and if every teacher records grades for the same exact assignments, then miraculously, test scores will sharply increase. I mean, really, how does all of that connect with logic? It's an incredible leap of faith to believe that this is all connected with success, and indeed, the only thing it accomplishes is headaches, heartaches, and stress for the teachers. It's one more item on the list that makes teachers want to quit or retire early. Sadly, many teachers shrink into a state of indenture or start making things up. Dictating carbon copy grade books is not the solution to a school district's woes.
- Teachers are not empowered to make professional decisions. Sometimes it feels like I'm stuck in a loop, but these points really are different. Yes, they all go together, but yes also, they are different. We recognize that it is often the scientist who tries something new or something different from her peers who becomes the one who discovers a breakthrough, whether in medicine, energy conservation, or quantum physics. Then, we fail to recognize that the innovative teacher - the creative thinker and vivacious presenter - who touches the lives of students. These days, we have to use words like maverick or rogue to introduce the educator who makes inroads with a difficult class. Why aren't professional decisions being left to the professionals who directly involve themselves with students? Those people who climbed the educational ladders to rise above the workforce are the ones who need binoculars to see what's happening so far below them. Do I tell the ants how to do their jobs? No, they know best how to do what they need to do, and just because I am so far above them in the food chain does not give me special knowledge that should mandate their methods.
- Data, not student needs, determines direction. I cannot be the type of teacher who hangs his hat on data points. When students become red, yellow, and green dots on a wall, the system is cracking. There are too many other factors that weigh in on the needs of individual students, and no amount of raising expectations is going to help the whole student. They come to me in different emotional states, at different academic levels and different levels of maturity (not to mention different personalities), and they must be related to with all of these in mind. To reduce three-dimensional humans to a two-dimensional line graph is harshly wrong, and if you believe that every classroom has the same personality, maturity, and ability, you might have left your common sense on the pillow at home. The same administrators who say, We don't want you to teach to the test, are the same ones who say, Teach to the data that's based on the last test in order to prepare for the next test. This singular, test-centric posture places the emphasis in the wrong location.
- Students are shuffled in all directions. Hey! Here's another one that based on logic (said no logical human ever). Let's take those kids who have issues with attention deficit, lump them in with students who have a lack of interest, along with kids who have legitimate academic stagnation, and make them walk all over the school to get to special classes (based on the data, of course). Let's take those kids who need extra personal attention and motivation, and have them spend a half-hour every day roaming the halls to get to a class for the learning disabilities, then another classroom where they will work on a "differentiated" computer program, then another classroom to address their speech issues, another to offer them sensory stimulations, another to address social skills, and another to... Well, you get the idea. The radical idea that we can focus these particular kids by constantly shifting their focus to yet another adult face in another location is counterproductive! But that's how you can tell the system is cracked - when they system creators won't listen to any other ideas that aren't theirs.
- Teachers must be "on the same page". There was a principal several years ago who told me that our four fourth grade classrooms should be on the same lesson at the same time every day. She even informed me that she wanted to observe the introduction to the lesson in one room, then go to another for the meat of the lesson, see the conclusion to the very same lesson in a third room, and watch students in the last classroom working through an independent assignment for the skill just taught. Do you realize how treacherous that really is? Yell it to the cheap seats: all classes are not the same! How is any teacher to deal with the needs for reteaching and expanding the lesson when he is tied so stringently to the whipping post that is a pacing guide? You want the schools in your district to stand out among others in the area, and yet, you insist that your classrooms all look alike. If we were all clones in every way, not one of us would stand out among the others.
Still, some teachers were so used to the tight rubber band that they actually missed its pull. They yearned for the script to be returned to them. They lunged for any opportunity to be told how to stand and how to breathe - when to smile and what words to say. They, like the American slaves, were unprepared for freedom, and the new, free system was unprepared to teach them how to be free. These teachers flailed like fish on the beach. They thought they couldn't walk without someone having a leash around their necks. They didn't know how to blaze their own trails, how to make things special, how to rise above the norms.
As a result, a new rubber band was hitched to the engine, and the pulling began again. Regardless of a history that demonstrated the band would break with these tensions, it's being stretched to its limit, once again. Hopefully, no one will get hurt when it snaps.