Addicted to Reform
I was reading Glen Brown’s piece by a teacher on his blog, one entitled “I am a teacher….but this isn’t teaching.” https://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2017/10/i-am-teacher-i-will-always-be-teacher-i.html
I was devastated by the personal and insightful agony of a conscientious teacher caught in a maddening Catch 22 of current testing and measuring catechism in our public school system. Why does anyone do this?
Believe me, the shortages have started. A new Tier 3 is being figured and implemented in Illinois. Start teaching, and you’ll work 60 years to attain a full pension under the law. If not, you can choose another Tier in which you’ll pay more into a possible pension than you’ll ever receive, and be punished severely for every year you cannot stagger on until age 67.
In the deep woods of northern Michigan and along the shores of Lake Huron, a person and retired teacher can escape the noise and panic of everyday life. No television. Just sweet fern and sand. No real radio, unless you go looking. And, if you do, there’s a bandwidth that provides Keillor’s Author’s Almanac and classical music all day. Otherwise, there’s wind in the pines and waves breaking on rocks. Not bad at all.
There’s a small high school in the little town a few miles away. In the last decades the population is being emptied by the draw of larger cities and towns along the east and west sides of Mackinac Bridge and, of course, the lure of Lansing, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere. Things get there later. New practices and newfangled educational reforms arrive a little tardy as well. And that’s where my friend Neal comes in.
Neal’s the kind of guy who stops working at what he’s doing to greet you. Last time I saw Neal, he was extending a deck over the sands reaching down to Lake Huron, creating a cantilevered step down and a larger space for a wood burning fire pit. Up there, believe it or not, they still teach shop class. And Neil was the school’s shop teacher. And here’s what I learned about Neal.
Neal never gave a test where a kid filled in a bubble with a pencil. He did something very different. Like the kind of different John Merrow in his new book Addicted to Reform: A 12 Step Program to Rescue Public Education would suggest.
Merrow had hoped that Obama’s tenure would have elevated a discussion about what we expect as we educated students to become adults and life long learners. Sadly, he witnessed the shifting emphasis on data-driven assessment and evaluation become an obstacle to “helping grow adults.”
“We’re the only country in the world to say let’s use test scores to judge teachers. Most countries use tests to see how kids are doing. We have a test and punish system.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education-reform-keeps-failing-students/
Back to my friend Neal.
In the summer, Neal would look for available land to purchase for a reasonable sum of money. After purchasing the land, Neal would meet his shop class and explain the task for the year. Building a house.
Excavation was handled by a local contractor, but the foundation and cement was handled by the students. And the decking. And the plumbing. And the carpentry. And the electrical. And the roofing. And the window treatments. And so on – so that every student in his class became familiar with various skills by doing as well as reading. And many of those who have not trekked to different cities and places are builders and workers in the local area. In the spring, the students would put their work up for sale and learn the basics of realty sales.
During the summer, Neal would look around for another piece of property for the following year’s shop class.
Merrow, during his interview on PBS, calls for a paradigm shift in our public education” “We think of school as a place where the teacher is the worker and the kid is a product. No. Students are the workers, and knowledge is the product, which means they must work on real projects to create knowledge.” We must measure, but measure what matters per child.
From Glen’s blog: “This is what education has become. It's a game; it's inauthentic; it's draining. They're putting out the fire that has blazed inside of me. They're destroying my soul and my passion. I don't know what to do now. I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I love teaching, but this isn't teaching."
And they’re dousing the fire inside our children. Stay in there and fight, please.