Saturday, February 2, 2013

It's NOT the Teachers

I heard on the radio that someone is pushing for a bar exam for educators. My first thought was, "Where does that guy live that he can turn away so many willing people for that job?" Then I thought, "Start paying teachers like lawyers and you'll have a much different type of person trying for the job."

The problem is that we already have really good teachers who are hamstrung by one thing after another.  A really good teacher can respond to what is happening in the classroom and adapt to it, but teachers, for the most part, lack this latitude. Our system has gotten so concerned with WHAT children are being taught that any kind of HOW is lost. Our system has come to rely more and more on individual, isolated bits of data leaving our learners without any sort of framework to set these pinpricks of information into.

Think about what you remember about the Civil War, for example, and which pieces of it stick with you in your daily life. Is it particular dates? A particular battle? The political climate of the time? Personally, I'm not sure which of these is most important, but what I hope my own children remember about the Civil War is that it was approximately a century before the Civil Rights movement, that Dickens had not been dead long, that people had been suffering the pangs of industrialization, that Europe had been in tumult for at least ten years, and that it happened in the United States. I hope they are still curious enough as adults to find out more about the Civil War and that they know how to find that information.

I have the latitude to focus on the minutiae that capture the attention of a particular child. If one of them is most concerned with period costumes, we can look at how clothes changed through time and why people were able to dress particular ways and how different classes managed to be clothed. Later, what that child might remember is how Napoleon dressed and how that differed from or influenced the attire of the Southern gentry. That is a framework that facts about the Civil War can then be worked into. It also means that child might fail a generalized tests on the dates of that war.

That's one plank of my soapbox about the failures of the institutional school system. I have not even touched on the social elements that cripple a teacher's classroom "performance". Go ahead- make it even harder to become a teacher. Set this elite cadre of bar examined "professionals" into the real world of the classroom without paying them a decent salary. Tell them what to teach, for how many minutes, on what day. Make sure they know that their pittance of a salary is dependent on a test that they have no part in writing. Let them know that what they actually see in their real classrooms has no bearing whatsoever on the material the children will be tested on. Then, people those desks with real children from a real area with the wide spectrum of needs, deficiencies, and gifts. Somehow, I do not think even the most tested teachers will show any better than the current batch, who are for the most part doing all they can with what they've got.

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