Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Education Topic of Discussion: Everyone Talks Change, But Nobody Gives Details

As my school is already underway welcoming the 1100+ 6,7,and 8th grade students to another year of education I have had this topic on my mind. We are always welcomed back with several days of in-service welcoming new staff, listening to the admins tell us things that have happened over the summer, updates and changes to our professional development and duties as an educator, and some sort of speaker to get us ready for another year. All of that is just fine and dandy. It makes sense. They(admins) have a lot to tell us in a short amount of time and in addition to letting us know all about the things we are required to do they have their plates full of information and duties from the people above them.

Every year we are told that it is time for change. I know in the state of Iowa this seems more apparent than ever before. Each year we are given this message. This year the message was more urgent and really felt like this is it, we change and we change now. Many of you have already viewed the Shift Happens video directed at the state of Iowa and know that we have lost ground in education. While we remained balanced, many states have picked up the pace and passed us.

This video really brings to light the topic of education reform. I think that it speaks not to Iowa, but to the nation. Several times I have talked with other about the things that need to change. The problems that I see with this messages brought to us time and time again are:
  •  We as teachers don't really have the power to make the change. Yes, we can tweak a few things here and there in our classroom, but overall we are stuck in a system that refuses to budge and refuses to allow us to upgrade our teaching practices. We are being forced to align to standardized test scores(I don't care what test you use), common assessments among teachers, and downgrading the expectations of our students. These ingredients lead teachers down one path and that is to teach the same way or very close to teaching the same way which is not what education is all about. Yes, there are positives to having equity among staff to ensure quality education for all kids no matter who the teacher is, but we focus so much time on items that have no added benefit to students and that leaves us with little time to really focus on our students. As a teacher, we all have our own unique personalities and strengths. The way I teach is far from perfect, but it is my style. It works with who I am and how comfortable I feel in my shoes. It may not work for another teacher, but that does not make him/her good or bad. They teach their way and in the end students are exposed to a variety of elements that they will encounter in the real world.

  • We are told that we need to change, but whenever you question a paid speaker or facilitator "expert" very rarely can they give you an example or a specific idea. It is so general that you often walk away spinning your wheels and not going anywhere. They leave that for us to figure out. That is fine in some cases, but nothing is worse than listening to the same "expert" come again and again for training and you walk away each time with nothing gained. Why not pay me thousands of dollars to say you should teach differently. How? Well, take a look at your kids and adapt to their needs. That is the same message I hear over and over. I am capable of stating the obvious.
This post is not about trying to be negative. It is far from it. Actually, I think we are in a very interesting moment of education where I really think the tides are going shift in our direction. At some point in the near future we as teachers are going to have a chance to make some big changes and it will be up to us to prove to the community of people involved in education that we know what we are talking about. It will be our moment to gain some power in decision making. We can make this a great thing.

What I am interested in hearing from others is how you are all changing your ways? I know it is happening. Some of you have a lot of freedom. Some of you are already breaking the barrier and moving ahead and leaving the rest of us behind. I continue to push my boundaries and see what I can do, but I have a lot to learn. I would love to hear from the rest of you. Let us share our wisdom and connect to benefit all the students across the nation.

For me, I am working on tackling the soft skills that I read so much about in terms of employment and what companies are looking for in a new hire. I am working like mad on flattening my classroom and opening the eyes of my students to explore and learn from students all over the world. These are not very specific, but it will not be long before I have my lessons and projects up online to share and provide examples.
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