Thursday, January 05, 2006

How do we change?

Often, we as educators wonder how to do things better. We evaluate our methods, our content, and our assessment; but when we recognize flaws in the system as a whole, from the local school board to the federal government, how do we effectively evaluate, and possibly change, an entity that is rooted so deep into the firmament, that, seemingly, not even an act of god could uproot it?
I spent yet another day of potential teaching sitting in a meeting to map out the curriculum. Now, I definitely needed to do some planning for the remaining weeks of the semester and the school year, but something about these central office mandated days the stifle my planning motivation. As we discussed what literary targets to teach, and when to assess student learning, I found myself wondering when, or how, to improve student learning beyond the WASL.
With NCLB and the movements towards heavy implications for standardized tests, that as far as I know, test the very basic skills we want our students to know, when will we start to teach them skills they need for college? One out of three students entering college need remedial instruction in English. These students lack the tools they need to write beyond a timed a prompt, to read beyond a sample excerpt.
We must realize that as our society progresses, a college degree is quickly, if it isn't already, becoming what the high school diploma became twenty years ago--necessary. With this understanding, we as an education community must begin to shift our focus, starting in the earliest grade level, towards preparing our students for success beyond the WASL or whatever version of a standardized graduation test you have.
The difficulty, I suppose, is that from year to year, from town to town, and from teacher to teacher, continuity is often rejected. Teachers are, or at least would like to be, independent contractors. Sure, like contractors that build houses who all have the same end in mind, a finished product, but with vastly different ideas about how to accomplish this, teachers all have individual ideas on how to create the finished product of an educated student. We can agree on some basics, but in large part, we wish to put our own stamp of creativity or influence on the outcome.
In doing so, we run the risk of failing our students. By the time a student arrives in her senior year of English, I expect certain mastered skills because I know what she will need to find success at the next level. I am committed to preparing her for that. Sure, I sound arrogant, I know, but we all need to have that sense when we teach. We must understand that we really are only assembly line workers in a student's education life. The Kindergarten teacher has his responsibility, if he fails, the first grade teacher recieves an incomplete product. And ultimately, the college professor recieves a student who cannot write a complete sentence or think for herself. As colleagues, we must be committed to each other.
What we balk at are outsiders--"the suits"--telling us how to do it. In large part, we feel left out of the process, our investment in a college education demeaned. And so we hide out in our rooms, railing against the establishment, unable to move beyond this slight. We get together only to point out where "the suits" have gone wrong. We become increasingly solitary.
I think the system as a whole is broken, like social security for my generation--a great idea that I've already invested in, but won't reap the benefits from. I wonder how to fix this giant mess. When I get overwhelmed with an at home project, sometimes I just stop, put it aside, and replan. I get that same sense sometimes when I stand in front of a class of 9th graders who don't know that the word "is" is a verb.


At 12:27 PM , Blogger D. Smith said...

Here's a formula I was introduced to in a graduate class where we studied educational reform:

(L + BP + SV + 1st Success) > RC

(Leadership + Burning Platform + Shared Vision + 1st Success) > Resistance to Change

We have the Burning Platform, but what about the other pieces? Until teachers, administrators, parents, politicians, and other outsiders can create a Shared Vision together, change will be incremental at best.

At 7:34 PM , Blogger Janet said...

The assembly line example is a great analogy. I think there is another piece of the puzzle though. Teachers I feel work best when parents are working along side of them. Teachers can only do so much if there is not any follow through at home.


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