Why Do We Accept the Negative Aspects of Education?

As we round the bend toward the end of a challenging school year, we educators hear so much about the negative effects of remote and hybrid learning on students and families this year. Is there anything positive that has come from it? Yes.

At the very least, we have qualitative and quantitative data available to help us address the issues inherent in our education system. With such data, we can change priorities and eliminate policies that do not work.

After this year and the final quarter of last year, it is not enough to say, “This is the way it has always been done.” We need to add to that statement, “This is the way we are going to do it from now on.”

Follow the Data

In previous posts about the hidden curriculum and questioning everything, I emphasized the opportunity to reimagine educating our youth. We can learn much from our recent history. What worked? What didn’t?

What Can We Learn from Project Management Practices?

In project management, reviewing what worked and what didn’t is called a postmortem. The team reviews the project’s progression, changes process and procedure to support continuous improvement, and builds new processes and procedures to function more effectively next time. Although schools are not businesses, project management principles are so logical and methodical that I highly encourage adopting those that would work for education.

Teachers are born project managers, in my opinion. We adjust each lesson and unit to “meet the students where they are,” within the guidelines set forth by administration, the district, and departments of education – for example, state standards and Common Core considerations. We know that each new group of students will require accommodations and modifications to what we have planned. What worked in the past might not in the present. As we approach a new unit, we ask ourselves, “How will this group of students manage this unit? What can I add or take away to ensure success? What type of instruction will work best?” Let’s extend that process to the entire education community.

Since teachers do strive to “meet the students where they are,” I argue teachers have adjusted their instruction for pandemic teaching, whether it be hybrid, fully-remote, or another method. What was “tried-and-true” in the past (with adjustments, of course) was put aside for methods we thought might work. This school year was one long, complicated, and exhausting experiment for all concerned. Next year should not be. What did we learn?

Teachers Need More Support. How Can We Get the Support We Need?

Teachers need more time for effective and timely professional development, and more just-in-time support. If there is anything we can learn from corporate personnel development, the delivery of PD and JIT support should be among those lessons.

How can we support that? We need to hire more teachers and instructional coaches. We need more co-teacher arrangements and more constructive feedback from observers. Our PD, which sucks up precious time, needs to be worth it and needs to address our current predicament. We also need more time, a commodity that always seems to run out just when we need it most.

How Can We Finally Address Inequity?

Teachers have not only struggled with new and complicated technology to benefit their students, many had to struggle to help students who were unfamiliar with the technology too or could not access that technology.

Many districts implemented several solutions for students who do not have tech at home with help from corporations, but it wasn’t enough. For example, Internet providers made Wi-Fi free for those who needed it, and students in need were provided personal hotspot devices. Devices that did not normally leave school made their way home, too.

Still, many, many students were technology deprived. The problems exacerbated what was already a significant disparity in education. What did we learn?

School Districts Need Equal Funding. How Can We Achieve That Goal?

School districts need equal funding. Period, full stop. Every student in this country should be funded at the same rate, no matter where they reside. Every student should have the same technology, resources, etc. The minimum threshold for funding should be equal to the richest district in the country, not the poorest. We need to redefine what FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) means to specify that each student is equally funded.

How Can We Regain Students’ Interest?

Each year, some seniors in high school suffer from senioritis. They want out. They’re done with school. They need to move on with their lives. They’re planning to decorate their dorm rooms in October, as soon as they have asked for the recommendation letter. Some already have jobs to go to once they have that diploma in hand.

This year, senioritis has infected some students at every grade level. The symptoms are recognizable: disinterest in content; a belief that nothing they are doing in school matters; disengagement; and even rudeness. The students stop saying good morning, or decline to acknowledge teachers and staff in the hallway. They go into their shells and their friend pods. “Just get through the year,” they seem to say.

The hardest part of teaching those with senioritis must be facing the hostility from some students. It’s a bit mind-boggling.

This is boring. What’s the point? How is this going to help me with the job waiting for me, because I’m not going to college and I don’t need to know about theme, characterization, setting, etc.? How is this going to help me, because I’m going to major in business and no one in business cares about literature? (That’s not even close to true, but they don’t believe me.) This is supposed to be an easy year.

You’re “harshing my mellow.” Kids probably don’t use that phrase, but it was the first to come to mind.

Despite my valiant efforts to answer the question, “Why do we have to learn this?” some students have not responded the way I hoped they would. I’ll keep trying.

On a yearly basis, I wonder why some students are so anxious to get out of school. My senior year was full of so many challenging and intellectual experiences that I did not want it to end. I felt like I was finally hitting my stride that year, so I can’t relate to the anxiety and, yes, the anger I sense coming from them.

This year, I’m still perplexed, but also more understanding. The fact is that some students cannot imagine having an experience like mine, and this year of pandemic teaching has only heightened their dislike of, and disdain for, schooling.

What can we learn from what is happening this year? These questions might help us ground our investigation.

  1. Why do some students dislike school? Specifically, what happens to students along the way that leads to them disliking it?
  2. How curious and risk-taking are children when they start school, and how does the curiosity and likelihood to take risks diminish for some as the years go by?
  3. What messages are we sending year-on-year, by way of standardized tests, grades, and competition? How do those messages reflect our values related to learning? How do these messages affect the students?
  4. Why are so many kids afraid to be wrong? What messages are we sending to students about being wrong? What messages should we send to students about being wrong? How do we change evaluation systems to reflect the value of learning from mistakes and taking risks?
  5. What aspects of the curriculum should change to reignite curiosity and the need to know something in some students?
  6. Does personalizing learning, as it has been implemented, actually work?
  7. Are we listening to students? Are we really trying to meet them where they are?
  8. How large should classes be? Are we doing our students a disservice with large class sizes? (Y’all know the answer to that one.)
  9. How many classes should students take in a given semester/marking period/trimester? Are there too many classes on a student’s schedule? Have students run out of bandwidth because their schedule is so heavy?

It is my contention that students are telling us what they need, even when they seem to have “checked out.” That act alone speaks volumes. This year, some students are telling us not to accept the negative aspects of education anymore. They are telling us to re-imagine education.

How Can We Change the Way Society Treats Teachers?

To be fully effective, we need to be taken seriously. Teachers are dedicated professionals. Many do not consider this just a job, but a vocation.

Unfortunately, some of these dedicated teachers now find themselves at the end of their teaching journey and are moving onto other fields because the state of our educational system is in dire need of repair. They are exhausted, emotionally and physically.

This year has been brutal for teachers in so many ways. I shake my head daily as I read about how teachers are being treated. It needs to stop. It is not enough to preface the criticism with, “We all know teachers want to be back in the classroom.” People don’t hear that part; they hear everything that comes after it.

I have been fortunate thus far, supported by an administration that accentuates the positive and works tirelessly to get resources to its students and staff as its default position. Many teachers, however, have not had the same experience. Many of them are saying, “This is not what I signed up for.”

When I signed up for this position, I knew I might have to take a bullet or sustain other life-threatening wounds to save my students. I signed up willingly, and without hesitation. I have had desks tossed in my direction, watched students punch holes into my classroom walls, broken up fights, been cursed and laughed at. I’m still teaching.

What I did not anticipate was being fearful that I would bring a virus home to my family that could kill them. That responsibility is way above my pay grade. So, if folks want to be upset with me or any of my colleagues for not wanting to risk their loved ones’ lives, so be it. It’s terrible, however, that society is demonizing teachers for loving their families and wanting to protect them.

How Can We Finally Feel Safe?

Follow the data, if you would like to understand why teachers are still concerned about going back to full classrooms. You will notice that surges happen just when everyone thought it was safe. It’s the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen, in which the character opens the door while a chorus of other characters cries to keep it closed, over and over again.

The Bottom Line

Instead of accepting the negative aspects of education, we need to start actively listening to all stakeholders involved to effect change. Others need to start actively listening to all of us, too. Everyone needs to do better. All of us deserve it.

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