Following up on Pam’s post, “Once Upon a Time We Put a Human on the Moon,” I have to say I agree with much of what she said. In the “olden days,” there were desks in rows, kids doing worksheets, very little choice in assignments, mostly the teacher as dictator, and teachers who taught as they had been taught. So the profession has continued to perpetuate itself, much as it ever was, and yet people cry foul–that the tests made us this way.
No, the tests didn’t.
No, accountability didn’t.
Our reluctance to reinvent the profession did. Our fear of change did. Our belief in the myths we grew up with as students did.
So we walk into classrooms and see much of what we saw 20 or 30 years ago in many classrooms. And sometimes, even in a classroom where the desks have been traded out for tables or there are beanbags or rug areas, we still see a very traditional teacher who has simply changed the seating–but not her practices.
But, in a few classrooms all over, there have always been teachers who dared to be different. Think Steven Levy, who describes his journey to develop his own curriculum in Starting from Scratch. Think the teacher you’ve always admired because of how she or he worked with kids and taught. Think Torey Hayden, a special educator who called it like it was in her books describing her classrooms and schools. Think anyone you know who has done amazing things with kids. But how many of those people can you say you’ve seen or worked with, or known in your school system?
And why is that? Instead of talking school reform, we need to talk teacher reform…we need to change how teachers are inducted into our profession, how we treat one another, and how we support those new to the profession or those who are struggling in their own classrooms. We know what kinds of educational experiences we want to provide-and we’re discovering more as our kids share with us what they’re doing at home to learn with digital tools we may or may not have. We have brain research that shows us how people learn. We have school and learning research that shows us how to support that learning. So why aren’t we all doing it?
The leaders in my system speak frankly about our pockets and pools of innovation–and how they are not pervasive or even, in some cases, growing. (See a parent page I made here where that is discussed somewhat.) I think back over my career and know how few times I have had a peer that I could really talk philosophically with and struggle over my practice and ask the hard questions and be asked hard questions. I have been blessed by having an especially strong central office group in the 90’s who helped me think reflectively and engaged me in conversations much akin to those I’ve found on twitter and in blogging and in the groups I have joined online. (@pammoran, @ann1622, @beckyfisher73, @lmccullough, and some others were among those questioners back in the early ’90’s.) I’ve had life experiences that changed what I believe about our brains that have impacted how I teach. I’ve been discriminated against and I’ve sworn never to make kids feel that way. I remember sitting in classes and hiding books behind my school books so I could entertain my own active brain. So I work hard to make my classroom a place kids want to be, where they learn what they need to pass the tests, but mostly they learn to learn, and learn about themselves.
BUT–why haven’t we got more teachers who are the exception to the rule? Why was I told, just last week, that “The few like you are still the few like you”?