"As The New York Times reported in an article last year, teachers in Tennessee were responsible for addressing as many as 116 criteria in multiple domains, with no hint of their relative priority or effectiveness. This has corrupted lesson planning itself, as teachers (as I’ve been seeing) are feeling that they must submit elaborate, multipart, five- to seven-page technology-drenched lesson plans concocted to address the innumerable evaluation criteria. Sadly, most of these lessons still lack the elements most critical to success…The best lessons I’ve ever seen are simple, low-tech affairs that could be described in half a page.”
I heartily agree. I think one of the reasons I left teaching was how complicated everything felt.
As an American teacher in his first year working with 5th grade students in Finland, Tim Walker reflects on the lessons he would bring back to an American classroom.
I, like everybody in education these days it seems, am enamored with Finland. I think I’ll be following Tim Walker’s blog from now on!
Life is going to present to you a series of transformations. And the point of education should be to transform you. To teach you how to be transformed so you can ride the waves as they come. But today, the point of education is not education. It’s accreditation. The more accreditation you have, the more money you make. That’s the instrumental logic of neoliberalism. And this instrumental logic comes wrapped in an envelope of fear. And my Ivy League, my MIT students are the same. All I feel coming off of my students is fear. That if you slip up in school, if you get one bad grade, if you make one fucking mistake, the great train of wealth will leave you behind. And that’s the logic of accreditation. If you’re at Yale, you’re in the smartest 1% in the world. […] And the brightest students in the world are learning in fear. I feel it rolling off of you in waves. But you can’t learn when you’re afraid. You cannot be transformed when you are afraid.
If policemen and doctors would just do their jobs, we wouldn’t have any crime or any death.
Look, I know you cops like hanging out at Dunkin Donuts most of the day. I know you doctors like playing golf every afternoon. But if you want to keep your cushy jobs, you’re going to have to step up and show us some RESULTS to justify your pay.
If a police department has more than three crimes per month committed in its jurisdiction, funding for the department will be cut, and some police officers will have to be fired until the crime rate goes down. If a two or more patients under a doctor’s care die (for any reason) in a single year, fifty-percent of that doctor’s salary will be garnished by the government, and he will risk losing his medical license if the survival rates do not improve.
Now, I already hear you complaining. ‘I’m a police officer in a dangerous area. We risk our lives each day, and we can’t afford to lose funding or [person]power.’ Or, ‘I’m a doctor who specializes in treating cancer patients and the elderly. I work as hard as I can to keep them alive against incredible odds.’
Well, guess what? Nobody forced you to become a police officer or a doctor. Get with the program, or get out of the field.
What If We Spoke to Police Officers and Doctors the Way We Speak to Teachers?
So I’m co-teaching a college class this quarter, and after an hour and twenty minute lecture today, my co-instructor turned to me and said: “So teaching high school must be easier than this, right? Because I just can’t imagine doing this all day.”
Um, no. Teaching high school is not easier than this and you just figure out a way to do it all day. In fact, teaching high school is harder, because if you fail to be entertaining the students don’t just zone out and check Facebook, they start whispering and fidgeting and throwing Koosh balls and punching each other in the arm.
"Thursday’s ‘Evaluation Reform: Finding Solutions through Teachers’ at the American Institutes for Research was just the type of 30,000-foot-level Washington event that disenfranchised teachers seem to fear is changing the course of their profession. Researchers and think-tank leaders discussed findings and policy recommendations that could have major on-the-ground implications for teachers. There was a token teacher on the panel. The unions were painted unilaterally as obstructive. It all ended with wine and cheese."
Ha. Also, this hits a little close to home. I’ve absolutely been guilty of sipping wine and nibbling cheese after a fancy conference, talking about teachers in a group of people that doesn’t include teachers because teachers don’t have the time or money to be there. Keeping teachers at the table rather than on the menu might become my new dissertation mantra.
Middle school teacher Hillary Greene wonders why there is so little intellectual exchange among educators and what can be done about it.
As a fan of coffee and a fan of figuring out ways to make teaching more satisfying, I really like this simple suggestion. I do think small decisions about how to use physical spaces can change peoples’ routines for the better or worse and that easy steps around the workplace - like providing good, free coffee - make workers feel valued. When my husband switched law firms, one of the first things he told me was that they provided free soda for the staff - that somehow indicated to him that it was a different and better place than his previous firm.
Every few months, it seems, I meet another ed policy PhD student who used to be a teacher. And every single one seems a little bit scarred from it. When they talk about teaching, their faces get serious and their tone drops. They talk about how hard it was. They puzzle over what exactly went wrong.
There’s a whole subculture of us…people who have always been good in school but not so good at teaching it (or at least not as good as we wanted to be). We all carry a certain sense of regret - we all spent a couple of years feeling like failures, and that’s something you don’t forget.
K-12 teaching really is the hardest job I’ll ever do. Getting a doctorate is easier - I’ll never stop saying it.
"After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered."
I just thought this was a cool analogy.
“A school is often the community vault, containing priceless intangibles like people’s personal identities, family histories, and even one’s sense of security.”
I went to the same elementary school K-5. It was a five minute walk from my house. I knew exactly where I’d go to middle school and then exactly where I’d go to high school. I watched older kids participate in plays, sports, dances and I knew I’d get to do the exact same things on the exact same stages, courts, fields, and dance floors.
All of the schools I attended had been in the same place, serving the same community, doing the same kinds of things, for decades. I knew what teachers to cross my fingers I’d get and which ones to avoid. I knew what clubs to sign up for - what educator ran a life-changing program you just had to be a part of. I went to the same high school my father and grandfather attended. My history teacher had been one of my dad’s basketball coaches.
And I really think that a lot of the general well-being and security I feel as an adult stems from the stability I had as a kid.
I worry a lot about the upheaval city kids experience when it comes to their education - attending one school this year, another the next. Signing up for a charter lottery for middle school and applying to attend a high school across the city. Mass school closings, of course, add to the chaos. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think we could stand to slow down and try to make the world a little more predictable for Chicago’s kids.