There has been so much clamoring recently over reform in the education system that it makes my head spin trying to take in the entire conversation and try to understand what exactly is being said. Let me break down from the perspective of a classroom teacher what education reform looks like.
First, with movies like “Bad Teacher”, “Waiting for Superman”, etc., being a good teacher in today’s harsh climate is difficult. I am one of those teachers who tries to spend as much time as possible with each of my 150+ students teaching them to love reading and write passionately. I will be the first to admit that there are many “rotten apples” in teaching. I work with these teachers every day and I often cringe or find myself enraged over their words and deeds. I also work with many teachers who strive daily to be a positive role model and influence in the lives of students while also dealing with all the politics and policies that are thrown our way on an almost daily basis.
Second, the national push towards standardizing everything from tests to curriculum is worrisome. When President Bush began pushing his “No Child Left Behind” policies, many of us applauded the concept because it is true that every child can learn and be successful. Conversely, given the constraints on what we can or cannot teach, the bias of textbook publishers, the top-down leadership styles, crowded classrooms, and the crushing cuts in education, many good and passionate teachers are leaving education entirely. Some of the best teachers I know have been shown the door because they didn’t have enough “tenure” while other teachers are left who should have been fired long ago.
Third, there is a lot of public misconception about the teaching profession and that misconception lies squarely on the teaching profession itself. For years we have let our unions fight our battles. These battles, originally over working conditions and pay, have now made their way into curriculum. For example, I have worked for the past six months with a dedicated team of teachers to completely revise the way in which we teach English/Language Arts. To say that we have reinvented the wheel would be an apt idiom to apply. When I began teaching, my curriculum was based around the stories and novels that were considered “canonical”. The new approach is the opposite. We have identified skills that our students need to know in order to be successful and used those skills to design interactive, engaging and yes, even fun teaching strategies that we believe will completely reverse the downward or stagnant trends in our schools. We faced almost insurmountable obstacles placed by our union in which teachers were able to take part in this process. The decisions were not based upon who was best for the job but who was best for the union.
Fourth, parental involvement – one of the most and possibly THE most important piece of education – is missing in so many schools. My own school cannot even keep a working PTA because we can’t get parents to help out. I’m not bashing parents, don’t get me wrong. In this tough economic climate, many of our families are losing their homes or both parents are working day and night and have no time for things like parent conferences and contributing to the work of the PTA. This is by no means the fault of the parents, however it does have an impact on schools and students alike.