In this blog, I will spend a lot of time proposing ways in which I would like to see public education reform, using my own home educator experiences as a testing ground to my hypotheses. But I want to be clear: it is primarily the priorities and methods we establish at the national level of public education that I call into question.
I’m a huge fan of teachers and principals themselves – as a daughter and wife of professional educators, I have spent my life in the rhythm of semester marks and summer breaks. Of course teachers and principals come in varying levels of effectiveness, just as employees do in any profession. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, as bad teachers have the potential to wreak an amazing amount of havoc on young minds. I’ve experienced bad teachers, and I know how dangerous they can be. But with those exceptions, I think people involved in education are, on the whole, pretty wonderful. They commit themselves to caring for our kids day in and day out, while working in difficult environments and being generally underfunded. From a national perspective, we don’t trust them to be the experts in their own fields, and continually create standardized materials and testing to make sure that everyone is teaching the same way.
I have heard elementary school teachers groan in frustration about the freedoms they are deprived in their own classrooms. I have watched them pull their hair at the incredible amount of class time given over to redundant standardized testing – state testing three times per year, plus literacy testing, phonics testing, math testing, etc., none of which is chosen by the teacher, nor oftentimes by the school. I had one teacher ask me how in the world she was expected to teach her kids any new material, when they spent all their time taking another test.
Then there is the class size. 28+ kids in one classroom, with needs as varied as they are. I sometimes feel pulled in half by teaching my own two kids, switching back and forth to help one or the other with a difficult math problem or writing exercise. It is a wonder that teachers work with groups so large. I do not fault the teachers or the schools for not effectively individualizing instruction in this kind of environment. But I do fault our country’s general attitude about education, because it is our unwillingness to monetarily prioritize our schools that keep class sizes so large. I’m sure there are other politics involved too, but when it comes down to it, isn’t it all about the money?
But even in the midst of these difficult working environments, there are rising stars. I watched one teacher manage her classroom’s volume with a simple set of windchimes. Instead of raising her voice at her kids, she simply touched the chimes. She treated her children with respect, and they in turn adored her. She was also willing to try unusual methods to meet the needs of my fast-learning son, c0-creating special research projects with me to keep him engaged and challenged.
And then there is Eva’s teacher last year who turned me on to the Lego WeDo Robotics kits. I loved watching the kids pull out their legos and laptops, excitedly making their working robots.
There are three science teachers at Wachter Middle School who after teaching their classes all day, lead an intrepid group of young science students through hours of preparation and exploration required for the Science Olympiad competition.
And finally, the principal at Eva’s former elementary school who works tirelessly in the name of literacy, processing and distributing thousands of books she received through a grant award.
I am in love with these people. So when I talk about my methods and their advantages over the public school, I speak fully aware of the freedoms I enjoy outside the larger institutional machinery that is public education. I am free to try new things, because I don’t have to worry about standardized tests, reduced funding, mandatory curriculum use, behavior problems, or unwieldy class sizes. I create my own path, and if it’s not working, I get to change it without checking the national benchmarks handbook. And I am also fully aware that some teachers are able to pull off project-based learning within the public classroom, even with its inherent challenges. I think that’s astounding. But we need to make it easier for people to do this.
So hoo-rah, my friends. May this blog bring only ideas for discussion and potential for positive change, with the happy awareness that we all work toward a better future for ourselves and our children.
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