So we’ve reviewed the reasons I fell in love with teaching, the troubles I’ve seen over the years and now we are at the “solutions.” I use that term broadly because I believe there is no perfect solution to the current state of education in America. If I knew the solution, I’d be famous! (ha!) However, there are specific areas that I believe could serve as a good starting point towards rebuilding the educational system. Here they are:
– Lessen the weight given to standardized tests. We have become so fixated on preparing for, administering and analyzing the loads of standardized tests we give to students, that we have created a testing environment. With the pressure of the testing on students’ graduation requirements and teachers’ evaluations, we are creating an atmosphere where humans will lean towards cheating and lying. Assessing students is necessary and it is something that should be taking place; however, there must be a balance so that testing does not take priority over developing a well-rounded student.
– Provide random observations of teachers to maintain accountability. It’s not a matter of “ha, we caught you.” It’s more a matter of getting a genuine picture of what is happening in classrooms. Most people can paint a pretty picture when an administrator sets up a time when they will be coming in to observe, but what is happening when it’s only the teacher in that room? This is important. Is the teacher effective in teaching the content? What classroom management skills do they possess? It is also key to have multiple individuals providing feedback to the teacher, such as: administration, coworkers, academic coaches, students and other members of the school community. Multiple perspectives help to provide more authentic feedback for the teacher to grow from.
– Be open about the impact of home life on the school setting. We cannot constantly blame teachers for what’s happening in schools. Every day children are coming to school, whether it’s the 3-year-olds or the 21-year-olds, with a backstory. Something, good or bad, happened that morning…the evening before…at dinner time. Both “rich” schools and “poor” schools have children who have experienced something that week that is impacting their ability to focus on the task of learning. If we continue to ignore the significance of home life, we are fooling no one but ourselves. It is also key to have parents playing an active role in their child’s education. That role is not to blame teachers, nor their child – the role is to work with the teachers and their child. And being active doesn’t just mean showing up at school functions, it is also monitoring homework and genuinely inquiring about the school day on a regular basis.
– Allow teachers to develop creative lesson plans that make students thirsty for knowledge. Many districts are turning to scripted teacher manuals and outlined timeframes for what should be taught and when. This may be a helpful reference, but it should not dictate what is happening in the classroom. If Lesson 3.8 is more challenging for Class A, the teacher should be allowed to spend more time on that content. The teacher should also be allowed to pull from multiple resources to really get the concept across to the students. The Internet (love it, or hate it) has TONS of information – let teachers use a variety of resources to develop creative lesson plans that meet those specific students’ needs. (And to future teachers, don’t believe that after your first year you can “recycle” lesson plans – every year brings new and different students.)
– Permit (and encourage) students to grow in the area of schooling which they are individually passionate about. No matter how many times it is said, it seems to not sink in for those who make the decisions in the educational world – students are all different. Assessments and teaching styles must be adaptable to what individual students need. That does not mean lower the bar! That means finding ways to reshape the algebraic concept into fields that interest the students. Yes, it takes more work, but is the goal not to help students to learn? Once you catch their interest, they will be eager to discover more. I’ve seen this occur with even my most challenging students.
– Decrease the amount of required paperwork and specified professional development. Are teachers in schools to teach students, or are they in schools to complete paperwork? This is a question that seems to be appearing more and more. There is certain paperwork that should be maintained and there are some professional development meetings that are beneficial – however, how much of it is honestly a waste of time? Having tons of analyzed data (yet no time to implement changes from the analysis because you must teach the next concept on the calendar), conferencing with students as they set their new benchmark goals (while they are busy being concerned about something that’s tugging at their hearts), recording the results of multiple interventions (without mentioning the root of the problems in most cases because we can “only control what’s inside these walls”), being trained in the latest math strategy (each textbook version, or year, or month, or week), listening to the state’s latest requirements (which rarely pan out)…you get the point. How much of that is honestly helping the students? Some of it appears to be helpful when you read what is written on the nicely typed form, but is it really making an impact? If it does, why is our country still so far behind other countries? Making teachers complete all of this paperwork is not improving the quality of education, so let’s invest that time on tackling the real issues.
– Consistency in expectations and consequences. Schools have rules. So they should be followed. It truly is that simple (and yes, I know, there are those rare occurrences, but they should be just that, RARE!). We make excuses as to why we allow this bent rule, and that bent rule, and that bent rule…and eventually, there’s no point in having any rules. Young people, and I might even argue adults too, thrive on consistency. When expectations are clearly communicated and kept consistent, classrooms see success. Things begin to fall apart when teachers begin changing which school rules will apply in “their” classrooms and when consequences are constantly changing from one day to the next. If cursing at a teacher results in 1 hour in ISS today, then it should not be ignored the next week with no consequences. When we fail to maintain consistent expectations, we fail our students. We teach them that we do not mean what we say. We teach them that they do not need to adhere to someone in an authoritative role. We teach them that it is okay to not follow rules in life. And then a few years down the road, we are wondering why those young adults are violating laws and finding themselves incarcerated. One reason is because we set them up to fail by not teaching the valuable lesson of the correlation between expectations in society and consequences.
As I stated in the beginning, these are not the final solution. Schools throughout America are all a little different and one will need something different from the next. However, it is my professional belief that these basics would provide a pretty strong foundation across our nation. It is time for us to genuinely invest in our schools, not with money (and that’s coming from someone who worked in a very, very poor school), but instead with our time, our honesty, our hearts, our commonsense, our energy and our unique talents. After all, those schools are filled with the members of our future generations. They are OUR future.
Ahmeli…that society takes an active role in helping to reshape the educational system with the best interest of the students at heart.
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