By Meg White
The premise of education reform in this country is that reformers are working hard to employ their solution, though the educators I talk to do not agree with what the reformers think is the problem. In order to come up with effective solutions, we must first agree on just what problems ail public education. And if we want to really get to the bottom of things, we should do something that hasn’t really yet been done: Ask the teachers.
I recently conducted a workshop for middle and high school teachers. The focus was effective teaching practices. During a discussion on how to employ these practices in their classroom, the teachers voiced the same concerns I hear in so many schools. They want to incorporate various practices, but the strain of high-stakes testing has shifted the focus of their instruction.
One teacher said that the pressure builds every day to cover content and move on and there’s no time for anything else. So I asked them what would help, and they told me. They want to learn more, talk more, and the time to plan with each other more. They want to rely on each other’s strengths to be better at what they do. They want faculty meetings to be about working together and discussing students and not policies they did not write or agree to. They want to be more effective by having the focus of their day be engaging students in learning — not drilling — for standardized tests, and fearing for their jobs because of assessment outcomes. I have talked to and listened to teachers who so desperately and frustratingly want simple things like common planning time, and professional development that is not centered on testing or Common Core State Standards.
The reformers left out a very important detail. They didn’t ask the teachers. I did. I heard teachers in different schools, in different districts, and in different parts of the state ask for the same things. Our teachers are passionate, compassionate, and well educated. They know education theory, practice, and pedagogy. Instead of deciding for them, we should ask them. Perhaps then reformers and policy makers can agree with teachers on the problems and work to come up with effective and appropriate solutions.
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