It's times like this that I'm glad not to be in the classroom on a daily basis. It would be hard for any teacher to pretend to be calm, neutral and gracefully able to push the world out of the classroom in favor of the spelling list and converting fractions into decimals. Like all teachers, I've experienced days when the curriculum was--whether you chose it or not--about what was going on in the world, your town or your school.


The role of teacher-leader supports an individual's own self-image as an efficacious person. Teacher-leaders see themselves, first of all, as teachers. They are educators who want to continue to work as teachers rather than as managers. They also want to invest their know-how and energy beyond the classroom in ways they feel will help improve their school and its instructional effectiveness, their school/community relationships, and the profession at large.


Instead of providing the programs that students find most compelling, we're on a path to strip public education clean of richness, culture and (yes, I'm going to say it) fun. Over 125 people participated in our local Memorial Day service today-- and virtually all of them learned the essential skills of making music, public speaking and patriotic customs in a public school someplace. They still use these capacities to make their lives more enjoyable and meaningful, to take a day away from work, to think about honoring those who died to preserve democracy.


We used to believe, as public educators, that our product was our students--their eventual contribution as advanced scholars, civic-minded community members, and part of the labor force. All of that has changed. Our product now is publicly displayed test scores. Our data.


The Common Core is just another set of standards. We can raise and lower, tweak and replace standards until the cows come home, but until other things are in place (clean, safe classrooms, say--or books, supplies and experienced teachers), it's an exercise in blah-blah over reality. Most important: if we're going to dump everything we've been working on, let's put the rebuilding back in the hands of educators, not politicians.


Why are the papers and the policy-makers all over those protesting teachers in Detroit--while the white-collar crime in charter world goes virtually unnoticed?


Teachers are not always good at deciding who gets the spotlight and who is benched (or forced to stay home) when trying to present their best face to the public. Often, students rise to a special occasion. Can what's best for a difficult child also be good for his classmates, as they learn about getting along, performing and making music--a community activity? Could this be a teachable moment?


Who wants to read scholarly journal articles confirming teachers' conviction that they have lost control over what should be their work: instruction, curriculum, assessments, teacher evaluation and which qualifications should permit entry into profession? Not a lot of inspiration there.


What is a field trip's ultimate purpose? How will the students apply what they have learned? What are their takeaways? And--because these are the questions we hear most often in national policy discussion--was this content standards-based? Could it be delivered (and measured) more efficiently and effectively? Say, in a video or interactive computer game? I'm going to go ahead and answer that question: No.


I have seen any number of education organizations, with thoughtful and important goal statements on their websites, position teacher leadership as something they can somehow teach or imbue (kind of like grit, come to think of it). Yes, there is Stuff You Have to Know to become a teacher leader (teachers don't wade around in policy-making, traditionally). Yes, it helps to collaborate with others who have good ideas. But is there a formalized pathway to leadership? In a sense, it's an insult to excellent teachers everywhere, who have held their grade level cohort or department or buildings together through determination ...


The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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