Just Asking

Several events or conversations recently have contributed to a growing sense of personal discouragement regarding the future of public education.  It’s made me uncomfortable.  On the one hand I hope this discomfort passes soon, but on the other, I’m wondering if it should propel me toward some sort of action.  The question is “What action?”

First, I read an inspiring and insightful book by Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.  Palmer insists that the only authentic way to teach is from the identity and integrity of the individual teacher.  No two “good” teachers necessarily look the same.  Quality teaching, according to Palmer, arises from deeply integrated values and cannot be imposed through external standards.

Student WritingThen I spent last Monday in a training session hosted by Pearson to instruct intervention specialists in our district about how to administer several Pearson assessments for literacy and math in K-8.  While I found the training informative, nothing was said about actual interventions, only about universal screenings, and more frequent (sometimes weekly) assessments based on poor performance.  It left me questioning whether assessment is now considered intervention.  What happens between those weekly assessments?

On Wednesday, I joined about 35 other educators at the Eighth Floor technology consortium for an all-day workshop on “Questioning 101.”  I’m a naturally curious person, so spending a day “pondering and wondering” about questions of import with Jamie McKenzie was refreshing.  I agree with Dr. McKenzie that teachers and students don’t spend enough datatime asking significant questions, and the current standards- and test-data-driven philosophy in education is largely responsible.  If the only thing that matters is the ability to memorize disconnected facts long enough to supply them on test day, what use is there for questions that matter?  Wondering how, why, and what if no longer have value.  Dr. McKenzie was an outspoken critic of NCLB from its inception and inspired me with his accounts of the tension he works within to ask probing questions that hold institutions accountable while also supporting educators in generating their own questions.

Saturday evening, my husband and I attended the wedding of a good friend who lost her husband in a plane crash three years ago.  It was a beautiful celebration of hope, even when all hope of finding joy in life had been lost.  In the midst of this wonderful celebration, I had a brief conversation with another friend.  She is a retired educator who now supervises teacher interns for a local university’s teacher education program.  The students she supervises are genuinely concerned for their futures in education, and she shares with them her honest misgivings.  “I tell them I’m worried, too,” she told me.  “I can’t tell any of them that things will be okay.  I wish I could.”

I’m left wondering how long public education can withstand the current onslaught of underfunding, privatization, and data-driven values.  I take my responsibility as an educator seriously and pour my energy into providing my students with authentic opportunities to understand ideas as well as to learn facts. Let's think I’m far from perfect, but I strive daily to activate deeper learning.  At least I have fair control over the environment of my own classroom.  This is what I wonder: Can one educator step outside her classroom and have any hope of impacting an institution?

I’m just asking.

2 thoughts on “Just Asking

  1. HI Janice,

    I love your question. My answer is yes. Yes. One teacher can make a difference, and I don’t mean Hollywood style. I mean with behavior, evidence, and passion.

    I don’t think I am too innocent minded – maybe too optimistic sometimes – but I think I usually get it. Still, I have hope in future of education.

    Actually thought a bit about your comments regarding teachers and what is teaching. I do think that much of what is good teaching is visceral. I also understand the need for standards and curriculum. Right now I feel the “system” is too heavy on standards. Some may argue that is because we have too many teachers that shouldn’t be teachers. I am not sure if I include myself in the “some” of my previous statement – still thinking about that.

    I take offence to the statement, ” I can always teach if I can’t find a real job or a job in my field.” This idea is what is going to be changing PDQ. Teaching is hard work, and it is getting harder all the time. Soon, only the best college graduates will survive it in the teaching profession. Actually, I think that is already happening.

    Now, all we need are salaries equal to professional athletes and our own reality shows, like Keeping up with the Educators or The Real Teachers of Tulsa County or Dancing with the Professors. (Come on . . . how long did you think I would going to stay serious!)

    Thanks for letting me rant a little,
    Lee Anne

    • I love your idea for reality shows! Sign me up.
      And I agree that there are too many teachers that shouldn’t be teachers, but I think it’s naive to assume, as many do, that those teachers only end up in public institutions. Meanwhile, privitazation just sucks the heart out of public education, and as public education goes, so goes the democracy.
      Thanks for your comments, Lee Anne. I’m in need of a little of your optimism today.

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