A recent conversation with a fellow teacher has caused me to interrupt my series on the Essential Qualities of an eLearning Coach. I will resume the series in my next post, but for right now my focus has shifted. I have been in education now for 21 years. I have seen many changes over that period of time. I have heard buzz words such as curriculum mapping, assertive discipline, dive into the data, drill down, rigor, differentiated instruction, standards, and engaging lessons. I have seen administrators jump on the band wagons of Lee Canter, Harry Wong, Phil Schlechty, Fred Jones, Ron Clark and various other educational leaders. Teachers seem to get pulled in one direction and then another from year to year. Projects are started, that never get completed, and soon they are forgotten only to find out that another band wagon is now being followed. Does this sound familiar?
Please understand that I am not bashing or knocking any of the leaders in the list above. Each of them has made some good contributions to education. I just find it humorous how quickly one philosophy is dropped and another is adopted. Especially when these philosophies determine and drive how educators should be doing things in the classroom. Plus, they seem to change every other year.
I have taught under at least 10 different administrators in my 21 years. Each of them has had a little different philosophy about things. One thing that they have all had in common was the pressure they felt from standardized test scores. This pressure gets passed down to the teachers and then on to the students. I remember one of my administrators specifically stating in a faculty meeting, "If it is not on the test, then it should not be going on in your room." The test mainly consists of English Language Arts and mathematics. So, if a student is not great in either one of those subject areas, then they are not smart and will never amount to anything in this World. Is that right? That is pretty much what is being expressed here. I don't really believe that is what administrators really believe, but the pressure for the school to do well has been blown completely out of proportion. Subjects such as science, art, music, social studies, physical education are all put on the back burner and have lost importance. That is such a shame, it should be criminal.
We need to stop standardizing things that are not standard. Humans are not standard, they never have and never will be. Each person is not going to be a great speaker, reader, or mathematician. Those are not the only skills a person needs to be successful in this life, but the pressure is on. Some school corporations have gone as far as having successful business managers and owners come in and tell how things should be run to help improve. Heck, these methods worked for business, why not the school too. I was at a conference in Indianapolis when the keynote told the following story. A manager of a food processing plant was explaining how to run a successful educational institution based on how he ran his plant. One brave teacher stood up and asked a question. He asked, "How do you handle when a shipment of berries come in and they are not up to your standards to put into your product?" The man replied that he would send them back. He stated he would never put inferior ingredients into his products. The teacher laughed under his breath and said that in public education we have to take what we get. We cannot send anyone back. The business owner then stopped his speech and sat down.
I believe the answer here is that there is not just one standard way to do education. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Every student that takes physical education is not going to be a star athlete. In the same way, every student in math class is not going to be Pythagoras. We need to teach all subjects and teach the whole child. Be the courageous teacher that stood up and brought things to reality. How many Einsteins have fallen through the cracks because we are teaching to the test? The time has come for standardized tests to stop dictating what education is supposed to do.