This is my first official post on the Cooperative Catalyst and I really wanted it to be something mindblowing. You know, the newbie’s gotta make a big entrance. Yet, as I sat down to hash out what I wanted to write I realized that my thoughts were scattered all over the place. Originally, I wanted to write about how, when it comes down to it, educating children is about teaching them to think. I am halfway through Neil Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity before which I read The Shallows by Nicolas Carr. Basically, my brain hasn’t done this much deep thinking in years. I mean truly deep thinking. It’s like I can feel my brain creaking under the pressure. It feels wonderful.
However, I just spent 2 hours last night discussing education and where it needs to go with (in my opinion) some of the most passionate and forward-thinking educators here in Philadelphia. It’s an overwhelming time to be an educator. In talking with my friend and fellow Philadelphia teacher, Ann Leaness, we agreed that it’s hard to know who to trust these days. It seems everyone has an ulterior motive. In reflecting on Will Richardson’s post, The Wrong Conversations, I realized that maybe all of the outcry is a distraction and that teaching kids is really the conversation we should be focused on. The Education Nation fiasco and the Waiting for Superman documentary uproar have taken an emotional toll on me. I feel beaten down, abused, angry, frustrated and lost. I also feel like I have to do something, but I’m not quite sure what.
What I do know is that what the media says will fix education (and I include Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates and others in that group as their sound bytes are what feeds the media) is completely irrelevant. The fact that teacher tenure was even discussed at NBC’s Teacher Town Hall this past Sunday sickened me. As Chris Lehmann said last night during our 2 hour discussion, we need to talk more about pedagogy, more about how kids learn and more about what we believe the purpose of education is. Until we have figured those simple things out, the other stuff is pointless.
Here’s what the media says will work to ‘fix’ education:
Pay-for-performance will retain good teachers.
Creating more charter schools is the only way to ensure better schools.
Accountability and firing ‘bad’ teachers will fix the system.
Get rid of tenure and get rid of ‘bad’ teachers.
Do whatever it takes to raise test scores.
Throwing money at education will solve all of its problems.
Students need longer school days to close the achievement gap.
Increase STEM education to get ahead of China and stay ‘competitive.’
The problem with these solutions? None of them have students at the center. None of them even mention pedagogy at all.
Here’s what really works:
Organized, focused, passionate and caring leadership will retain good teachers.
Good schools are those in which there is a common vision and instruction is centered around inquiry and critical thinking.
When teachers work as a team to raise a child and provide rich learning experiences, there will be no room for ineffective teaching.
Provide teachers with professional support along with support for their students and they will be more effective and happier.
Schools should do whatever it takes to ensure that every child leaves their care capable of thinking for him or herself, engaging in discussion and asking questions about everything they see, read and hear.
Money is great when it is carefully invested with students and learning in mind, but money a good school does not make.
Parents need to be educated as well. Teach the whole child and educate the family. The achievement gap starts before children reach school.
Model the cooperation and collaboration that is now an essential skill for success in this world by reaching out to countries whose students are surpassing us and finding out what’s working.
Ask ourselves: why educate? What is the purpose of school?
My goal right now is to be the best teacher I can be for my students, to provide them with essential critical thinking skills and open up the classroom walls to the world. I will speak out when I need to and I will stay in the conversation. When it gets to the point of emotional stress, I will avoid the negativity and realize that I am not alone and that I am making a difference. My advice? Steer clear of the complainers, the whiners, the naysayers, the curmudgeons and I will focus on what works, not what needs fixing. As many people have stated on this blog, we have to put down our differences and work together if we are ever to achieve what we know is a quality education for all students.