Archive for the ‘Education Reform’ Category

Methaphors

     I recently read a Chinese proverb that went something like, “Teachers open the doors, but students have to walk through.” Well, I’ve been opening a lot of doors lately, but too many students have been staying put. In fact, they don’t even know the doors are open because they aren’t paying attention enough to hear my invitation. It seems that I can open doors but I can’t open ears.
     Well, here’s another metaphor: “Teachers prepare the meal, but the students have to be hungry.”
     The problem is that even if I prepare a meal worthy of a 5-star restaurant, many of my students won’t eat it because they just aren’t hungry.
     Someone might say that I need to prepare a different menu and give the students more appealing options. But as my mom would say when I was a kid, “Not every meal is going to be your favorite.” And she also didn’t buy a bunch of junk food for our family to eat. It wasn’t good for us, and we couldn’t afford much of it, anyway.
     When mealtime came around, we sat down and ate because we were hungry. If we didn’t like the food, we ate it anyway, because we were told to. She knew what was good for us. And once in a while we got a special snack or dessert because she knew it was o.k. to give us a little junk to make things fun.
     As we got older, we got to make more choices for ourselves. And by then Mom had taught us how to choose wisely.
     Teachers should provide healthy lessons. Hungry students should eat them up. Not every lesson will be their favorite, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for them. And once in a while, there should be some special treats to make things fun.
     I don’t think this metaphor is any better than the first one, which could be used to make the same points. It’s just another way of looking at the issue. For that matter we could combine the two metaphors: Teachers open the doors through which students may choose to pass and receive a wholesome, satisfying meal in a warm and safe shelter. And on and on…
     But the real question is, “Why aren’t the students hungry?” Or maybe the real question is, “Why don’t the students believe it’s better to go through the door?” Or perhaps it’s, “Why would the students rather stay out in the cold?”
     Maybe they don’t see any value in what’s being offered for free, which is a treasure in disguise.
     Ooh, another metaphor…
Advertisements

Don Quixote?

The Indy Star printed my recent letter to the editor today.  You can view it at http://blogs.indystar.com/letters/2012/10/20/an-imperfect-method-for-evaluating-teachers/

Or, you can read it here:

I am writing out of concern over the new evaluation systems being put into place in our school system, and all over the state. Among teachers like me there is a lot of misunderstanding about why these changes are being made. Exactly what changes are required by new state laws? Is the RISE rubric necessary? Why?

I was honored to have Tony Bennett visit my band class last year. Indeed, I have been a supporter of his, especially on the issue of teacher certification; the reforms he advocated are sensible and helpful. However, he has not made a convincing argument explaining how this new evaluation system would improve the quality of education. Instead, my fellow teachers and I are being required to devote a great deal of time and energy to paperwork in preparation for evaluations, as are our administrators. That time would be better spent preparing lessons or running our school. Furthermore, our school system already had a rigorous evaluation system in place. Surely, the new student achievement requirements could have been incorporated into our current system to achieve the desired outcomes and satisfy the legal requirements.

Of more basic concern is the philosophy behind the new law mandating that teachers’ pay be determined by student accomplishment. Because teachers have no control over students’ lives outside of school, we cannot expect teachers to ensure success even if students make no effort to succeed in school. To define the quality of a teacher based largely on student outcomes is to deny the responsibility of the student or the student’s family in the process.

I am convinced that most educational problems can best be solved at the local level. Therefore, most control should be at the local level.

Also, while our schools can always do better, the pendulum of public opinion has swung decidedly against teachers without any regard for the responsibility of students and parents. If we want to see real change, we must stop blaming schools and teachers as the sole source of our educational problems when in truth our schools reflect society as much as they mold it.

————

When I showed this letter to a colleague last week, she called me Don Quixote and said I am tilting at windmills.  I believe she was saying that I am fighting a hopeless battle.  But out of curiosity, I looked up the reference:  it actually means “attacking imaginary enemies.”  (Tilting means jousting, by the way, and Don Quixote thought the windmills were giants.)

Well, wait a minute…  While the battle may be futile, are the enemies imaginary?  My goal is to point out that efforts to improve our educational system will be unsuccessful until our society holds parents and students as accountable as teachers and schools.  If there is a hopeless battle being waged, it is by those who seek reform without including parents and students in the equation.