Education reform is something just about everyone agrees is needed, but the hard work is done in the field by teachers, administrators, and support staff. Here are some things that improve education and support positive reform by simply eliminating them. There is some research to support each of these, though some are just common sense.
- Complaining about all of the initiatives that have come and gone. Sure, many of them are similar. That’s because people are resistant to change, and the same general concept keeps coming back around. It usually means that at the heart of it, there is something very genuine. Ask instead, what of this new strategy have I seen before? What successes did I see? How might MY experience be important to helping it succeed?
- Assigning homework and grading it. What exactly are you grading? Chances are, you are grading the parent’s ability or willingness to help the student do the homework, or you are grading the student’s organization, or you are grading the student’s home environment. That is just poor practice. Send it home for enrichment, practice, or fun, but don’t expect it back.
- Pretending that education technology will eventually go away so the tried and true can rule the day. Yes, the current best practices will evolve into something else, but nothing is going to devolve. Get used to it. Times are changing faster than they used to.
- Treating student’s lives as a drama that unfolds every day in school. We all hate when we think of this going on when we visit the hospital or other place where people get to see us up close. It’s not Glee, Freaks and Geeks, or iCarly. These are real kids with real lives and it should never be fodder for condescending conversation or gossip.
- Using the union as a weapon. I am a proud union member, and stand by the union 95%, but the part I can’t stand is when there is an honest-to-goodness effort to improve student learning or student life, and the first thing the union wants to know is if it will be compensated. Sure, that is necessary, but let’s not make that appear as the first and only concern. Let’s listen first, react second. Or better yet, let’s as a union get to that best idea first. We train people who interview not to discuss money on the first interview, and I think unions can also use the same advice. Save that discussion for later.
- Using the horse to water analogy. They are kids, not CEO’s. They are not self-starters yet, and they may not be for a while. Don’t live by the idea that they have to ask for help or show initiative before we lift a finger to help. Our profession is as much about determining where students need help than helping them. Own that.
- Stereotyping students and families. Student uses drugs? She may still become mayor some day. Parents are incarcerated? That boy may become part of Seal Team 6. Dirty clothes and teeth? The kid might still be a movie star. Sassy and disrespectful? By age 30, might be an awesome parent. Deal with the behavior, but love the student. Don’t assume that they are on any sort of path. Paths change, what they really need is a fair shake, not a bad break.
- Waiting for administration to do something. Get involved. Form a committee, build plans, pester administration. Administrators are often gatekeepers who determine action by the level of passion. If people ask for something with a shout rather than a “meh,” it may make a difference. Yes, that is your job.
- Complaining about parents. I know, many of them either don’t care enough, or care way too much. And guess what? They all love their kids. They all want what’s best, even if you disagree with the methods. If they are belligerent, find other ways to communicate. If you disagree, so be it. But don’t expect any of the energy you spend being upset at the quality of parenting “these days” is going to change anything.
- Underestimating the power of what we do. It is SO easy to mail it in and assume that little of it matters. Don’t buy it. You never know which day will be the day that matters most to a student. Not one of us got into teaching to become wealthy or to have a cushy job (and if I am wrong about that, I assume you are probably not enjoying this post), but we did become educators because we hoped to impact students. We do. Trouble is, the impact is often invisible. It is there. If you are patient and attend to it well, you will eventually see the impact. Go get it!