Please allow me to offer a few thoughts, not only on some of the recent local comments that I have read and heard relative to this year’s budget, but also of the value we place on education and the professionals we entrust to do our most important work: Teach. While this post originates from a very local place, my thoughts and beliefs are quite universal. So, for those of you who live in my community, you can fill in the local blanks. For those of you outside, my guess is that you will be able to relate my thoughts to a local context of yours. Either way, as always, your comments are welcomed below.
The Meetings Begin
Over the next few weeks, citizens within my community will be attending town meetings and/or stuffing the boxes with their ballots. This year, like the last few, folks are voting during tough economic times. There is no doubt that the local economy, although it has shown signs of picking up as of late, is still on the minds of many local residents and while that is unfortunate on many levels, its particularly so this year as the contracts of more than 300 professionals lay in balance. Two local teacher’s unions have successfully bargained new collective bargaining agreements with their locally elected School Boards and now those agreements sit in the laps of the voters. Both local unions and their respective School Boards agreed to modest raises (~2% per year) for teachers and some give backs from the teachers in the area of health insurance. Like most collective bargaining agreements, the crux of the matter lies within salaries and benefits, and like all warrants and school budgets, there are some who agree and some who do not. Obviously, I believe the investment is worth it, but I realize many do not and frankly, I don’t find the argument about finances to be all that compelling. But…
Not All About the Tests
More than ever there has been chatter about the need to tie our local teachers’ salary to the performance of our students on state assessments. As an educator I find it insulting to think that my value, my very professional existence, could be measured by a single test composed primarily of questions that have very little relevance to my classroom. As a parent, I am unapologetic of my disdain of these tests. They take too much learning time away from my children and cause undue stress on their lives as the results are all too often used to rank and sort them into the purgatory-like levels of homogeneity. How could I support their use to rank and sort the teachers of my children? Besides, my children are infinitely more complex than a test score- I want Ben’s teacher fostering his sense of wonder and curiosity, Elisabeth’s teacher celebrating her off-the-charts social intelligence, and Emma’s teacher embracing her spunk and stick-to-it-of-ness. I have yet to see a standardized test measure any of those qualities in my children and until they do, I neither want them to play a role in determining the route Ben, Beth and Emma take through school, nor do I want them being used to pass judgment on the professionals who do. Teaching and learning is way too complex to be evaluated during three weeks of testing in October.
Families Should Help
And, oh by the way, part of the responsibility to educate my children falls on the shoulders of my wife and I, it is not the burden of the school’s alone. It is our responsibility to ensure our children have the support and love they need at home to take risks, explore passions, struggle with problems and, yes, do their homework. It’s is our role to help them prepare for tests, proofread their writing, practice their multiplications tables, read, read, read and read some more. It is our job to teach them that the internet is not full of weirdos and predators, that, in fact you can use the internet to learn, form collabortive networks, connect with similar minded people, share news with the world and explore far away lands. We believe our role is that of co-teachers and the burden to help our children grow into citizens is our responsibility as much as it is the school’s. So guess what, if we value those standardized test scores enough to evaluate our teachers, we, as a community, share the burden of those test scores. I’ve never seen a teacher stand up and ask for raise because her students did well on a standardized test because she knows what those tests measure, and it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what she are trying to teach them in her classroom. How dare we suggest that those tests are a true measure of the value of our teachers.
School Has Changed
But, teachers as strongly against test scores as I am, I have to tell you that I feel just as strongly that practices need to shift. School leaders, I have to tell you that you need to empower and trust teachers to make that shift. Community members, I have to tell you that school can not be like it was when we attended because we if we are preparing kids for today, they are always going to be a day late because tomorrow is where it’s at.
Our world is more nuanced and problem-based than simple worksheets and archaic text books. Students can no longer afford to be working in a vacuum, void of push back, peer collaboration, real-world problems with solutions and most of all, unlearning and relearning. To paraphrase Chris Lehmann, school can longer be about preparing kids for life, it has to be real life. Students need to be engaged in and solving real problems, they need to be learning with Africa, not about Africa, they need to co-produce with peers around the globe and they have to realize that it is as important to learn how they learn as it is learn what they learn. School and learning is shifting as is the role of teacher. The sage on the stage must be replaced by the guide on the side and that is not an easy shift to make, thus leadership and community members it is incumbent upon you to support teachers as the make that shift.
Many of the conversations I am having now start with the following words, “I’m a supporter of our schools…” Of course, the next word is “but” as the teachers and their union get rip apart. So, to my community I offer the following: it is real easy to support schools when times are good. But, a community that truly supports education is one that will support their school when times are tough because they know that education is a long term investment and regardless of today’s economic times our school does create tomorrow citizen’s.
Let’s invest in those schools and let’s invest in those citizens today.