My district has undergone what many are deeming a teacher revolt in the past few months, bringing to the surface a lot of what I think are long-standing concerns among teachers. I'd like to preface my comments here by noting that unless noted, my thoughts are my own, not those of my district, nor of the Teacher Working Group of which I'm happy to be a part. That group is set up to bring teacher concerns directly to the school board and the superintendent without any middle men and I think is a great first step in acknowledging that there are serious concerns.
I'd also like to say that many of the things I write I believe are true of the county as a whole (and in some cases, education in the US as a whole), but many don't actually apply to me directly. I love the school I'm at, my principals are truly amazing, encouraging and willing to listen. Not that they have a lot of choice but to listen with me around...I have a big mouth.
I plan on writing up a few posts on this topic of the unrest that teachers I believe all over are feeling. I'd like to start though with what I think is the simplest fix of all, choice...
Choice is almost at the point of fitting on edubabble bingo cards at this point (or it may actually be). Many want parents to have choice of what school to go to, as teachers we are admonished and indeed docked points on evaluations for not offering students choice in their learning. A lot of that makes total sense as in our society, personal choice reigns supreme, even if the choice is over a meaningless sugary beverage.
The fact of the matter though is that most teachers either don't have choice or feel that they don't. On the former of those, in many circumstances what teachers do in their class is almost fully dictated by the "programs" that counties purchase. This may be a reading or math curriculum or an assessment system like Discovery Ed. Many of these programs are probably great, many are vetted by psychometricians, many have shown statistical gains for schools using them (I'll come back to statistics in another angry post). Teachers are told that these assessments will be given on certain days regardless of what else may be planned for that day. The programs range from guidelines to scripted where you are told exactly what to say in what amount of time. When I was a common core coach this past year, we were encouraged to stick to the script and indeed, to carry around a timer to make sure we were using time effectively.
The real killer is that there are tons of these programs/assessments/etc for teachers, especially in the lower grades. Their use is mandated by either the school or the district. What that means is that someone outside of the classroom has determined what is right for that teacher's class of 20-30 kids. That someone is typically many layers of bureaucracy and several years removed from actual teaching. In addition, they rarely get feedback or input from anyone outside of a core inner circle of like minded educators. A teacher is not allowed to deviate from the guidelines unless say, their literacy coach comes in and mandates that they spend 30 minutes of reading time with 2 students, 25 with another 4 and whatever is left for the rest of the students. God forbid the kids are at the water fountain for 2 minutes over their time back from recess, the teacher is in hot water then for losing instructional time. (true story btw)
On top of that, all of these mandates are often contradictory. Many departments/schools have very strict pacing guides. I was told at one point that I better be following it strictly, that someone should be able to walk in my room any day and know from the pacing guide exactly what I'd be teaching. Was that pacing guide adjusted for ACT testing, Discovery Ed testing, CRA practice or even more mundane things like school pictures, pep rallies, etc? Of course not...
At most schools teachers have little to no say in what they teach, in grade level at elementary, in subject (other than their certification) in other grades. Then, once they are in a class, they are told not just what to teach, which in the form of curriculum or standards is acceptable, though there are issues there, but more offensively how to teach. Ironically, very few of those telling them how to teach were effective classroom teachers at least in my experience.
Here is my proposal...Give every teacher their standards, ask them if they want/need a prepackaged program or assessment modules. If they say no and their students don't seem to be learning, then ask them to reconsider or at that point explain that something has to change. In other words, tell me what to teach but not how. Don't tell me I can't count zeros, don't tell me I have to use videos or PBL or for that matter that I should straight up lecture. You want me to differentiate for my students? Great, I do...I think that is my best attribute as a teacher. So do the same for teachers, give us choice, let us be the professionals that we are.
Disclaimer part 2: Again, this is a general statement, not aimed specifically at my own district, though the problems there bring this to mind.