When the study is choppy, inconsistent, dull, unconnected, and beyond reach, students don't engage, and worse, they often misbehave. They're frustrated. Students know when they are well taught and when the teaching is not meeting their needs.
Too many top-down directives and teaching programs teach content alone and forget these students. Often these programs which have been created by those distanced from the day-to-day teaching are programs that don't respond well to students' interests, needs, passions, and challenges. These programs, mostly not culturally proficient, look good on paper, are easy to measure and enforce, and often serve the program creators/managers better than the children they are meant to serve.
What's a teacher to do?
I'm not exactly sure why the top-down program directives in the teaching/learning landscape have grown exponentially, but they have. Sometimes I think it's because it's an easy job to research and create directives/programs for children and not have to worry about the actual implementation or effect of those programs. Some who are in these creative or management positions don't value the teacher or what he/she does. I've heard tell that some in these positions say that anyone can teach and it doesn't take much skill or intellect to teach elementary school. As someone who has devoted her life to this work, you can guess that comment doesn't sit well with me.
With the growth of top-down directives and an increasing consultant/management tier surrounding teachers, how is a teacher to teach well?
Last night this question discouraged me greatly. I've been instructed to do work that I feel is indignant to some children. I had to witness that indignity yesterday and it made me feel terrible. I know it's not right, and I know we can do better. I have spoken up and written notes to advocate for change in this area. I've advocated before, but I have little to no voice in this regard. Mostly my ideas and share are overlooked and undervalued. I've tried numerous avenues to make change in this regard, but have not had a lot of success. Basically I am on task with children most of the time, and others who have more power also have more time.
Some may say don't write about it. Instead meet and talk. I've tried this to no avail--the talks were filled with sayings such as "You can't be the tail that wags the dog." In other words, you're not the leader here--do as your told. I've mostly been an obedient individual throughout life. I generally am a rule follower and like to be part of the team, but when I see potential lost when it comes to teaching well, I am called to speak up. I don't want to be the silent bystander when I know we can do a better job by children.
I'm not alone in this quest, but people, in general, fear speaking up. Most say, see what is working and accept that--don't push so much. They like it peaceful and are willing to overlook the indignity with the thought that life isn't perfect and no one can solve all problems. For me, however, I see the indignity as action that continues cycles of struggle and injustice that have occurred in our world for a long time--cycles that continue an effect of lost potential and possibility.
What can I do? I need my job to support my family. Yet I also need to do well by my students. I cannot accept indignity and less for them. Managers just want to see scores and not hear the stories of these children and what they need.
It's been a long road for me, a teacher who wants to be creative, teach well, and work with colleagues to create and effect good teaching and learning. I have suffered from a lack of support and voice with regard to many managers (not all). I have been fortunate to have good support overall from students, families, and some colleagues. I know that if I didn't have this constant struggle and was able to do what I have researched and learned to be right and good for students, I could do so much more for my students. This struggle, however, zaps energy and effort--it's a constant weight upon my back. Recent teacher meetings have made me realize I'm not alone. There are others particularly at the elementary level who also feel little support or voice, but they fear losing their jobs if they speak up, and they see speaking up as negativity and they want to be positive.
So many teachers struggle in the field due to lack of voice or ownership of the work they do. Despite lots of efforts, still many educators are led by others rather than their own experience, knowledge, investment, and interest. I am not the only discouraged teacher out there.
I like the movement to greater distributive leadership, teacher voice, and collaborative teams when it is an authentic movement. Sometimes it's a movement in name only with little authentic investment, support, or result.
Back to the original issue. The next steps will be the following:
- I wrote the note that relayed the indignity, and now I'll listen to the response.
- I'll do the best I can by my students each and every day.
- I'll continue to speak honestly and look for ways to make promising change with others.
It's a tough time in America when it comes to voice and choice amongst the working man and woman--there's a lot of disregard out there, and it's discouraging. I need to look beyond and beneath this affect to continue to develop my craft to teach well. Onward.