Some observations and comments from the Bullpen this week regarding what I've witnessed in recent travels substitute teaching, and speaking with many in the field of education.
First, not surprisingly, I'm biased when it comes to educators. I believe teaching is the greatest profession in the world. I also believe it's one of the most criticized, underappreciated professions in the world, and I believe it's one of the most, if not the most, important professions in the world.
This is, in no way, shape, or form, a knock on any or all jobs /careers/ professions. I believe every job/profession is important, but who teaches people in other jobs/professions most of the skills to acquire their jobs? I believe teachers lay the groundwork (reading, writing, arithmetic, morals, values, responsibility, work ethic, and more.) That being said, allow me to proceed with my observations and comments.
J. Paul Lombardo
Over the years, education has undergone numerous changes in teaching philosophies, technique, methodologies, priorities, expectations, goals, standards, curricula and more. Many of these changes have been necessary and good changes. Some have been "throwbacks" of ideas/techniques believed and used successfully 30/40/50 years ago, which have been "recycled," but by today's educational hierarchy (meaning it's "their" idea, so it must be good). Some changes were/are necessary due to changes in demographics of communities, and some because education needs to be reviewed/revised constantly, to make sure children are receiving as much as they can to succeed. This is a given, and though some may not like it, it must be done. I think, though, my biggest observation regarding the most recent changes in what's happening in schools today, is that what's being done seems to be preventing teachers from doing what they do best ... teach.
As much as change is necessary, (and I'm probably a person who detests change the most, but I realize it's necessary in some cases and places) any changes implemented in any area/field/situation should be for the hopeful improvement of the status quo. From my observations, the recent changes in education have turned many creative, wonderful, imaginative, dedicated educators into frustrated, over-meetinged, fearful, discouraged teachers by what they're being asked to do and how they're being told to do it.
I'm all for accountability. I've preached it, I live it. I believe in responsibility. That, too, has been a huge component of how I've lived and worked. I believe in hard work and discipline, and again, my life has been lived based on these philosophies. Does that mean I never made mistakes, absolutely not. Life, learning and education involve trial, error, tweaking, retrying, re-evaluating, etc., but today, educators are being told they must try (the way they are being told to try), but they better not make any errors.
There are many variables to consider when evaluating successes and/or failures in classrooms. The first belief must be that not every child learns the same, or absorbs the same amounts of information in the same ways as might other students. Another consideration must be that not every child tests the same as other students. A third variable that must be considered is that each child comes to school from different outside settings, each with different sets of circumstances, different backgrounds, different records of academic successes/failures, and with completely different sets of baggage. With all this in mind, why is it that someone expects every child to end up at the same place, with the same knowledge, with the same rate of success as every other child? It's not possible, nor probable, that this can happen. It would be like expecting every fifth-grade child in the country to run a foot race and each of them tie for first place, then every sixth-grade child race and all finish tied for first, etc. It's extremely idealistic, but highly unrealistic.
I fear what I'm seeing and hearing is burning out the best of teachers. It's already squelched wonderful ideas that used to be implemented in classrooms. It's almost completely extinguished special projects, field trips, extra activities, all situations where learning could, and does take place, just maybe not in ways that some educational "experts" think it should take place.
As children are different, the way they learn/achieve is different. So it is with teachers. There are teachers with different philosophies, styles, techniques, methods, etc., and children need to be introduced to all these different styles and different personalities, as they will encounter many or all of them in their world, after formal education is done. My observations, though, are that teachers today are being transformed into robots, all with the same rigidity of, ironically, the standardized tests which attempt to make every child the same.
It saddens me to see highly motivated educators frustratingly talking to themselves walking down corridors and highly imaginative (and some way too young) teachers counting down the years to retirement, some of them sounding like their retirement might be in another field.
I know change is necessary. I know we have to do as much as we can to help every child be the best that they can be. I know we need to be accountable for what we do, and that's important in any field of life, not just education. I don't think the way to accomplish this is to point a figurative gun at someone's head, though, or brainwash educators into becoming "Stepford" teachers.
It seems education has gone to the extreme edges of cliffs, and educators are being told to hang on for dear life, jump, fall, or be pushed off. It's tough to do any job well in that setting. Give the creativity and flexibility of teaching back to the educators. Let them teach!