Friday, September 16, 2011

Moving Beyond 'Blame the Teacher'

Moving Beyond 'Blame the Teacher'

The above article analogizes what is currently happening in education (blaming teachers, seeking to make them more replaceable, etc.) with US manufacturing in the 1970's and 80's.  I don't know much about the history of manufacturing, but if what the article says is true - that Japan began to overtake the US in manufacturing because the US could not get beyond the idea that low production performance was the fault of blue-collar workers - it sounds similar to the current state of affairs in education.  Yes, there might be some complacent blue-collar workers and some complacent teachers out there, but demoralizing them further certainly won't improve performance.  Seeking to improve the systems in place (top down, one size fits all....) seems, to me, the more effective place to start changing US public education for the better.

I see the dilemma, why pay teachers more or treat them better if they aren't doing a good job?  Why reward them for their poor performance?  But, without better pay and better incentives - without more autonomy and the chance to be rewarded for hard work - the profession will continue to attract people who expect to work 8am - 3pm with a 3 month summer break.

Yes, there are always the students... teachers always have the reward that their students will look back, years from now, and think about how their 10th grade math teacher really helped them to understand geometry.  But, on the day-to-day, there's no reward or recognition for making sure you get all of your papers graded or that you make sure all of your students really understood yesterday's lesson.  There's no reward for staying late after work to call your students' families.  Even test scores are shoddy measures of these types of activities that good teachers do in order to make sure their students show up and learn every day.  Which is why they don't happen in every classroom.  What can be done to encourage and recognize teachers who figure out what will motivate their students and then do it every day until their students show progress?  How can teachers really be made partners in public education, rather than cogs in the machine?

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