Friday, February 25, 2011
Yesterday, I asked you for your ideas on how to improve the educational system in the U.S. I am a little nervous to post my ideas because of this recent case in Pennsylvania, but here are my ideas, anyway....In my opinion (...as far as I know, even though I am a teacher, I still have freedom of speech....).....nothing will change in education until......
* PARENTS GET INVOLVED!
* STOP CHANGING PROGRAMS EVERY YEAR!
* GET RID OF USELESS MEETINGS AND STOP WASTING TIME!
* DEAL WITH THE UNDERLYING PROBLEMS THAT ARE SOCIETAL BASED!
* GET RID OF BAD TEACHERS!
* USE ELECTIVE PROGRAMS TO ENHANCE LEARNING!!
* NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND IS SCRAPPED!
* END SOCIAL PROMOTION!
* REVAMP SPECIAL EDUCATION!
* LENGTH THE SCHOOL YEAR!
For a more detailed description of each of the ideas above, read more below!
1. PARENTS GET INVOLVED! I am putting this as number one because, although most teachers do and will continue to do all they can for kids, even when their parents aren't involved, we will never be a substitute. Parenting classes, for those with kids who are struggling, attending conferences and volunteering (in some way) at your child's school should be MANDATORY. Yes, there have been a number of cases where kids succeed despite their parents and even whole schools that do amazing things with high risk kids, but those teachers spend tons of hours above and beyond what they are paid, to encourage, mentor and basically be substitute parents.
2. WE STOP CHANGING READING/MATH/LANGUAGE ARTS (etc.) PROGRAMS EVERY YEAR! There is no way to really do well with, learn the in's and out's of and track students progress when we are constantly having to learn a different program, plus it's a waste of money. You would be APPALLED to see the amount of text books that are DISCARDED each year because a new program has been started and so the old books are just collecting dust or tossed. Over the past 21 years I can remember using 4 math, 5 reading and 3 language arts programs, yet social studies books are so old the maps still show THE U.S.S.R! I would think you would want to start a program in kindergarten or first grade and (unless it is proven to be totally useless and lacking in information related to the standards) follow it through with a group all the way to 5th grade. It also helps to have all the materials available and training completed if you are going to require teachers to successfully implement said program.
3. WE GET RID OF USELESS MEETINGS and OUR TIME IS NOT BEING WASTED! I get more out of eating lunch with my other grade level teachers then from the three, hour long, mandatory meetings that I am REQUIRED to attend each month.
How about giving us time to REALLY "collaborate." Requiring us to discuss the latest data, when it's last year's student data (Yes, in 5th grade we are given the results from last year's 5th graders instead of the students we have now.), or to share a piece of student work (Most of the time I pull this out of my butt because Tommy won't turn in any work, in the first place.) or to discuss a chapter in a book that not all of us have, when what we need from our collaboration time is a forum to discuss how to get Tommy to be successful or to plan our next unit together or even time to hash out the newest "program" that we are being required to implement.
There is SO MUCH PAPERWORK that is a total waste of time. I spend the vast majority of my prep time compiling lists, lessons, standards (Why do I have to write them over again when they are written in the text books?), plans for differentiation, best practices and graphs, that we are all required to turn in to a folder in the office when, we all know, "the powers that be" will never even look at them. Shouldn't my prep time be put to better use by say....oh, I don't know....prepping for the lessons I need to actually teach.
I also think, most teachers, differentiated way before the buzz word became popular. Isn't part of teaching finding new ways to get the kids to learn the information. The kids aren't getting "IT" one way, so you try something different, or you SUPPLEMENT the program (eeekkk....some programs frown on this.....NOTE: No publisher wants to consider that their "baby" they created for the entire U.S. population could possible be missing anything because, after all, they are the "professional" with the masters degree in curriculum development.) you are using with some drill and practice, or you use a different learning style. Too many administrators have gone to micromanaging their schools. Everything is so spelled out that there isn't time, nor room for creative teaching ideas. How can teachers help those who just don't get "IT" when they are required to be on chapter 7, lesson 8 on February 7. Most of those OUT of the classroom (administrators and politicians) have totally lost touch with what goes on IN the classroom.
4. WE DEAL WITH THE UNDERLYING PROBLEMS THAT ARE SOCIETAL BASED: As URBAN TEACHER puts it, "The schools I've worked in all attempt to educate students who: sell drugs in the bathroom, have mothers who promote the use of their children for prostitution, lack places to sleep, never had a parent, are already addicted to alcohol and come to school drunk on a daily basis, have witnessed murder, lack the ability to fluently speak or write in any language, meet strangers off Craigslist in order to feel loved, and are regularly stabbed on the street. In any given three-minute class change, I probably witness upwards of a thirty violations of the...discipline code. At the same time, the system, as it exists, provides these students with a lunch hungry students regularly refuse, a building that's falling a part, the least experienced teachers it has to offer, very few support systems principals can't offer themselves, class sizes the richest among us would scoff at for their children, a dearth of technology, and incompetent administrators who wouldn't know their ass from their elbow when it comes to pedagogical practice."
5. WE NEED TO GET RID OF THE BAD TEACHERS....instead of basing a "good" teacher on how well their kids choose to perform on a standardized test (what if the kid is sick, death in the family...any number of other reasons for not performing well)...how about starting with something easy like making it easier to get rid of those teachers who: spend all day outside playing, watching movies every day, playing/shopping on the computer while their kids read/write and create a hostile working environment. I bet 20% of BAD teachers could be eliminated using parameters such as these. Second, 30% could be eliminated by having the evaluation process changed. I think, having the principal "pop" in randomly, 5-6 times throughout the year (or even randomly taping my lessons) would give a much better, overall, picture of my abilities, then getting stressed out about one lesson, on one particular day. Another 20%, who are ready to retire, could have their contracts bought out or allow them to use the rest of their sick leave and end the year early. I have 4 1/2 months of sick leave accrued and when I retire I will lose whatever I don't use. 10% are probably abusive in some way and just haven't been caught yet. Then the last 20% are not being mentored well enough and have no idea how to improve. I lay the blame for this on the administration and the superintendent.
6. WE NEED TO USE ELECTIVE PROGRAMS TO ENHANCE LEARNING! ART, MUSIC, DRAMA, GLEE, COMPUTERS, WOOD SHOP, HOME ECONOMICS, SPORTS etc....will help those kids who are just not interested or good in the text book area. How about an elective where kids get to dissect owl pellets, visit a veterinarian clinic, build a model rocket, use a pottery wheel, act in a play and play the drums all in the same week. Kids need to be exposed to the world around them. They need to have other avenues opened to them to see that even though they are not "book smart" they are talented in other areas. I think it's just as important to know what you don't like and aren't good at, as it is to know what you do like and are good at. Wouldn't this get kids excited about math, art and science?
7. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND IS SCRAPPED! This idea came from schools in Texas where teachers were teaching "to the test" and what do you know (...SARCASM...)....the kids did great. How can you expect a kid that just arrived in the U.S. to be on grade level in three years. That's just ridiculous!!! I do think, however, that some kids are being left behind that shouldn't be.
8. WE STOP PASSING AND GRADUATING KIDS, JUST BECAUSE! We need to put an END to SOCIAL PROMOTION! If you don't know the required information, if you have missed more then X amount of days, if you aren't doing the assignments then, IN MY OPINION, you shouldn't have the option of moving forward (I know there are certain kids in special education, that have special circumstances....I am not talking about those children.). As an example, I have a boy in my room that has been absent 18 days, so far, does 0% of his work and is failing in almost every subject. However, it is pointless for me to try and retain him because the school doesn't see it as a valid reason and the mother has the final say in that happening.
9. WE NEED TO STRUCTURE SPECIAL EDUCATION DIFFERENTLY! I don't know all the in's and out's of this one, but I do know it needs to be changed and I can tell you what isn't working. The length of time this process takes is ridiculous. I understand that you want to give a child plenty of time to grow and to try other strategies first, but when all the testing shows a clear deficiency, why do we have to prolong things, just to fulfill some random wait time. I know so many teachers that will "fudge" dates just to speed up this process. On the other hand, there are students in special education who are not making gains and are losing valuable learning time. We have students in Gifted (Yes, this is considered special education because they get special classes for having a high IQ too.) who would be better served by having the classroom teacher expand their assignments, then by having them miss class time to just read or play games. Since I have to differentiate (see # 3) for the lower ones, why can't I just do this for the higher ones also. Some of the evaluators are so useless. They see a student once of twice and think they have more knowledge of what's going on then 6 teachers that see the same student every day. I cringe when I think of all the students, over my 21 years, that have fallen through the cracks because of being put in special education when they shouldn't be there or not getting the help they so desperately need because they miss the cut off score by 1 point.
10. LENGTH THE SCHOOL YEAR! Yes, a teacher saying make me work more! To compete with other countries like Japan, who has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we need our kids to be learning more and since I don't have a magic button to put more hours in the day (although, I also think we could extent the school day from 6 and 1/2 hours to say 7 and 1/2 hours), we need to have the kids attend school on more days. My idea: I started with 365 days in a year and subtracted the weekends (105 days), all of July (21 more days) and holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mondays...20 more days) and we are down to 219 available days. I also took a week off in the spring and one in the fall (10 more days) and that brings us down to 209 days. Right now we go to school 180 days a year. This would give us 29 more days of school. That's almost an entire month, folks.
So these are my ideas....what do you think?