Sunday, March 4, 2012

Teaching Mediocrity

from avitable.com
Mediocrity is starting to creep into the world of education and specifically into the practice of teaching. I am afraid that it might always have been there and I am just now becoming increasingly aware of it. While many might want to place the full blame on teachers, I think there might be plenty of blame to go around. There are a handful of people that are responsible for the prevalence of mediocrity in the profession of teaching.

Media perpetuates it
This is obvious in the fact that they are fixated on stories that paint teachers in a negative light rather than focusing on the great things happening on a daily basis. In a recent session at a local technology conference there were reporters from NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox and they all admitted they don’t even have education reporters on staff. What does that say about their priorities? This is sad because they have some real power to sway public opinion about teachers and the current trends in education.

Administrators allow it
Most administrators encourage mediocre teaching more through their inaction rather than their actions. Lots of people feel as though teacher tenure is a problem and keeps poor teachers around. However, a tenured teacher can be let go if the administrator goes through the legwork to do so. Unfortunately, many do not put in the work to do this and the cycle of poor teaching is just reinforced. In most cases, teachers keep their heads down until their reach tenure because one they get it; they know administrators won’t do anything to remove them. In some cases, the administrators have not been properly trained on what “good teaching” looks like and therefore are not good judges of it. Sadly some administrators were not good teachers themselves and therefore don’t even know what a good teacher looks like. (I think they wear a tieJ) Another area is the lack of administrator presence in most schools beyond the front office. Are administrators in classrooms observing, teaching or interacting with kids on a regular basis? If not, they cannot hope to have an understanding of the quality of teaching or learning happening in their schools.

Unions protect it
In many states teacher unions have been slammed and in some cases dismembered. Now, I value the intent of a union to protect the rights of its members as well as its role in collective bargaining. There are many things teacher unions do in favor of teachers. With all that being said though, they are guilty of protecting mediocre teachers in many ways. Again, I am not suggesting we need to toss out teachers due to low standardized test scores as some have suggested. However, there are things being done in schools by teachers that should be immediate grounds for removal and not be blocked by a union. In many other blue collar unions, they uphold the highest standard of their profession and certainly don’t protect those that fail to live up to that standard.

In addition, unions often create combative and adversarial situations between its members and policy makers and administrations. This leads to change being near impossible and again continues the cycle of the status quo on many fronts.

Parents are oblivious to it
As a parent and a teacher, I have a unique perspective of being on both sides of the education fence. Most parents, though, are not aware of the education their kids are receiving beyond the infrequent notes or emails that come home. They assume since school worked for them, it should be the same and often do not question much of what happens. There are too many examples of things going on in schools without parent’s knowledge. Parents need to take a more active role and schools need to be more transparent and welcome parents into the schools. Also, parents should not have to “settle” for mediocre teaching for their kids.

Kids deal with it
Students are obviously the ones that hurt from the prevalence of mediocrity in our profession. On a daily basis they go through classes taught by a spectrum of teachers. In many cases, they have fabulous teachers that care for them and are outstanding in what they do. Yet, they still have a handful of teachers that in most people’s opinion should not be teaching. Their response is often just to complain amongst themselves and just deal with it. This is also reinforced at home when a parent simply says, “that’s school…just deal with it and hope for a better teacher next year.” I am not saying kids need to rebel against their teachers, but they certainly need to exercise their voice and demand the best. In most cases, kids know what good teaching is and what is not.

Policy makers force it
From policy that ignores what is best for kids, to policy makers with no education experience, the world of educational policy is doomed to continued mediocrity. In the face of common sense and sound research, our educational policies do nothing to lift up the profession of teaching. Instead, it ranks and files teachers and students with little regard to what life is truly like in a classroom and what their policies mean for kids or teachers. The few attempts to lift up our profession are often superficial with no real intent to change but are more often a political agenda in an election year.

Teachers ignore it
Teachers are probably the biggest problem within our own profession. We don’t want to confront our fellow teachers when we see opportunities for growth within them.  Instead, we just shut our doors and do good by our own kids. Heaven forbid if we made a suggestion or offered criticism without fear of personally offending someone. We don’t share our good lessons because we are afraid somebody else will get credit for our hard work. In some cases we are being ranked against our colleagues and we would not want anyone having an advantage. When our own teachers are lifted up and recognized we shun them out of jealousy and envy. If we have a mediocre administrator we do nothing but complain in our lounges or behind closed doors because we fear repercussions for speaking out. Many of our teachers instruct in the exact same manner they were taught when they were in school 10, 15, or 25 years ago. If we are non-tenured we take what is given to us and do exactly what we are told for fear of losing our job. We want our students to be lifelong learners and yet we fail to model this on a daily basis. In reality, many of us are just as afraid of failure as our own students. This is not totally our faults as our administrations, policy makers and in some cases the media have made it clear that failure is not an option for teachers in any way.

Teaching is what I do, and I strive for excellence in that every single day. I would be lying if I said there were not days when some of these factors get to me. Yet, I will keep teaching. I will keep pushing my fellow teachers even if they get upset with me. I will keep celebrating my fellow teachers even if it makes others jealous. I will keep challenging my administration even if it gets me into trouble. I will keep trying to get a seat at the table with the policy makers even if they repeatedly ignore me. I will keep looking at ways to make sure every student I have is given nothing but the best that I have to offer. Bottom line, I will keep teaching and keep striving to be better than mediocre and demand nothing short of that from those around me…