Lefty Parent

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Thoughts on Teachers Wanting a Voice

March 6th, 2010 at 13:27

Primary SourcesTeacher magazine published the results of a survey of 40,090 K-12 teachers, possibly the largest national survey of teachers ever completed and including the opinions of teachers in every grade and every state. The survey, “Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s School,” was conducted by Harris Interactive and paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Scholastic Inc. You can download the full report at: www.scholastic.com/primarysources/pdfs/100646_ScholasticGates.pdf.

Here are some of the results I found most interesting…

1. A majority of teachers value non-monetary rewards, such as time to collaborate with other teachers and a supportive school leadership, over higher salaries.

From my experience as a student, and as a parent with kids who were students, there are three key aspects that define a school or any other educational setting: content, process and governance. With conventional instructional schools most of the focus (at least from a parent’s point of view) is usually on the content of the instruction; what subjects and what knowledge within those subject areas is being taught. To a lesser extent, the process (the pedagogical methodology) can at times be the focus, for example all the discussion around scripted learning programs like “Open Court”, or about taking into account “kinesthetic” versus “auditory” learners.

The third aspect, governance, usually gets short shrift. Most parents I think presume schools have a hierarchical “chain of command” where students are told what to do by teachers, who get their marching orders from principals, and so up the “chain”. In other community organizations (including parent-teacher associations) people expect there to be more of a democratic model of governance, with committees and boards, etc. facilitating group decision-making by various “stakeholders” in those organizations.

But this first report finding that I am highlighting speaks to the aspects of process and governance, indicating that teachers are seeking more of a role in how their schools are run. As my mom always used to say, “The teachers should run the schools!” She was not a teacher herself, but had a husband (my dad) and many friends who were.

So why do most schools at least appear to reflect the “command and control” governance of say the military over the more democratic governance of most community organizations and our political process? That’s a whole discussion in itself that books have been written about… but let’s move on.

2. A majority of teachers support tougher academic standards, even national standards, but would also support differentiating instruction so kids are taught according to their abilities.

Our public schools are so OSFA (one size fits all). Statewide programs are developed to try and teach every kid the same thing, the same way and the same age in classes compartmentalized into four separate and generally distinct subjects… mainly English, math, science and social studies.

That regimentation puts an extra burden on teachers to redirect a diverse group of students with a diverse set of interests back to “the program”, rather than facilitating them really exploring their interests. If a kid wants to plunge into algebra for a few hours, the teacher, rather than facilitating this great self-directed deep learning, has to be the one to tell the kid to stop and open his or her history book.

So differentiating instruction and taking into account abilities would tend to go against the OSFA principle and put the teacher more in the mentor/facilitator role rather than the more onerous (I would imagine) traffic cop/drill sergeant.

3. A majority of teachers are not opposed to standardized tests, but want to see their students and their own performance as teachers judged on multiple measures rather that the results of one test.

It has been a staple of dystopian sci-fi stories to dehumanize people through excessive regimentation and reducing them to just numbers and statistics. Isn’t reducing the evaluation of a human being’s progress, whether adult teacher or youth student, to a single number also a dehumanizing experience?

Is it even an effective measure of someone’s capabilities or progress? More and more people inside and outside the education community are realizing that evaluation based on one measure is not a robust methodology and also leads to teaching to the test. I am heartened to see teachers pushing for (or at least yearning for) multiple measures.

What the hell!… aren’t we in the 21st Century! Mass production is long gone in favor of niche marketing. Why are schools still so 19th Century in the way they operate and judge success?

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