My first thought when I saw this week’s cover was “Great, another bashing of our schools with nothing tangible and no real-world perspective. Here we go AGAIN.” I personally have a passion for how our public schools educate our children. My interest was piqued.
Well, statistics are quoted; our spending and performance to other nations are compared. We get the stereotypical sob stories (granted many kids have a hard enough time just existing that we need to make school a safe and good place for them to be). Teachers, charter schools, unions, statistics, all the regular targets for an education diatribe are present.
And yet they still manage to miss the point. Totally miss the point.
We, the collective, are failing our kids. Our next generation is being sent out into the global economy created by us, totally unprepared to thrive in it. The world is changing virtually daily, largely due to technology advances, and we have not taught our kids HOW to learn. Sure, everyone needs to have a base set of skills, reading, math and reasoning being the highest of priorities for all. But when we know how to learn, then we are prepared to deal with the daily changes that so many jobs require. We then teach kids to think quickly and under pressure and to be successful at it. How else can we prepare the next generation, and those that follow, for the jobs and a world that does not yet exist, even within the wildest dreams of the most innovative among us?
I grew up in a blue-collar union family. I understand why unions have existed, but I think they may have outlived their usefulness. Years ago, prior to the many labor laws we now have, unions protected workers from unscrupulous corporations. However, too many now have turned into a means to protect jobs for those that otherwise would have been fired or demoted long ago. Now, place that into our education system. How is that serving our children? How is that serving our future?
The concept of tenure in our public education system is truly frightening. In no other industry would someone be granted that type of job security. With our future on the line, why educators have this benefit is beyond me. You work to keep your job, it’s that simple. You are paid accordingly.
Teachers are remarkable people. I have been fortunate in my life to know many that simply amaze me with not only their skills in the classroom, but their pure passion for what they do. With that skill and passion, the impact they have on their students is huge. I understand that there are great teachers that can’t always reach all their students all the time and bring them to reach the statistical goals that we have placed upon them. Test scores are a piece of the whole that can define good teacher performance. But like any other job there is more to it than that. How do they serve their students? Are they the enthusiastic ones or the tired ones? Do they handle parent communication well? How is the relationship with their peers? Their supervisors? Do they want to excel? Do they give of themselves in their classroom as much as they expect in return from their students? Again, like any other job.
Parents need to step up and parent their children AND let the teachers teach. Don’t be a helicopter. Find that fine line between being present and involved and sticking your nose in too much so that the teacher cannot teach. Hold your children responsible for their own education. Yes, teach responsibility. Take away the xBox and the iPhone when homework isn’t done, even if it makes you unpopular at the dinner table. Read with your children, help them with their homework and discuss current events. A teenager’s opinion on politics and government is an awesome thing. That untainted view of the world that our children can offer often leads me to reevaluate some things. It’s great when everyone is on friendly terms but your kids already have friends. What they need the most from you are rules and guidance. Yes, admittedly things are much more pleasant when things are friendly around the house, especially with teenagers. But there will be plenty of time to be friends once they finish growing up.
In every step along the way, we also need to give ownership of their education to the students themselves. We as a society will offer them mentors, good influences and bad (I think watching the occasional irresponsible adult mixed in with the good ones helps teens to decide that they don’t want to turn out that way). But when all is said and done, they have a responsibility to themselves. Teach them to own it.
Oh, and by the way, please stop making unqualified comparisons to performance of students in other countries. Unless we are prepared to fully change the American way into the Icelandic way (or the Swiss way or the French way, etc.) we will not have the same results. It is an entire culture that shapes educational performance, not simply a classroom experience. Learn from them, but we will not become them, and they will not become us. Diversity is a pretty cool thing, embrace it.
Where does all of this lead us? I’m not sure. Hopefully with some change. The trend of cross-training professionals into teacher positions is a spectacular start. The breadth of knowledge that can provide is certainly worth pursuing. Some educators will need a shift in thinking, a shift toward being a lifelong learner so they can take that into their classrooms. Parents need to step up and do their part, volunteer, bring your own skills to the schools, and get to know the educators around you.
Not every child is fortunate enough to have an Erin Gruwell or a Becki Pedersen or a Louanne Johnson or a Debra Heitmann in their school careers. But if we realign the goals of education to match the desired outcome, we will be better serving our children.
Since there were several pieces regarding education in this issue, below is a link that shows search results for “teacher”. Look for the stories dated September 2010.
TIME Magazine - Search Results