Confessions of a Teacher

It’s Time to Spill The Tea About Education…

Thanks, Laura. Let me be the second to spill some tea.
1. Very few teachers are purposefully ineffective and all teachers are sometimes ineffective. Same goes for administration, staff, parents, and students.
2. Teacher preparation programs are mediocre at best, negligent at worst. It is time to stop laughing that off or shrugging our shoulders. There is a movement to write to deans of education and calling them out on the lack of preparation we received to teach reading, writing, mathematics, management, and content via sound, evidence-based practices. Teacher preparation programs are where we can affect real change.
3. Teachers asking to be left alone, generating their own materials, and going by their gut are being selfish (looking in the mirror here). It creates a competitive culture where some students end up winners and other losers. Just because some superstar teachers may grow out of this system does not excuse all the experimentation done at students’ expense. If you’re ok with this then you better be ok with completely ineffectual teachers teaching your own children.
4. We must create a no-shame zone to safely admit what we don’t know. Our book club has become that space for some of us. We admit that going through school being asked to write and then, poof! — we are teachers assigning writing but not necessarily teaching writing. Those of us with more experience, and tenure, need to be brave, stand up and let people know how we struggle.
5. We need to learn how people learn — cognitive science — and stop chalking up academic struggles to character flaws. Cognitive science give us the tools to pinpoint what is getting in the way of learning and and cognitive psychology tells us how to make adjustments. It is unfair to label students, colleagues, and parents as uninterested loafs when they haven’t been presented information in the way that people learn.
6. Knowledge matters. Give them something to think about, talk about, write about. Not filling students’ days with fascinating information from history, literature, science, and mathematics anchors them to their own small worlds — worlds they already know creating the Matthew Effect where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Students who don’t receive knowledge in school must get it elsewhere, leaving it to families with means to fill in the gaps and students from families without fall further and further behind.
7. Don’t mistake fun with learning. Engagement can be quiet contemplation. While silence does not necessarily equal learning, neither does noise. Kids can be talking yet not learning. Let’s make sure they’re thinking, talking, writing, reading about the important things that will expand their world. “Students learn what they think about.” (Willingham). Give them lessons that make them think.
8. Assume good intentions and pick your fights. Educators, parents, and students — let’s let each other screw up from time to time. By all means address concerns but let’s start from a place that assumes good intentions and wait to blare sirens once a pattern of behavior is apparent. And when everyone is piling on, be brave to bring up a valid counterpoint to quiet the riot.
9. Everyone’s time and money are valuable and limited. We must honor them by regularly assessing the efficiency and efficacy of lessons, systems, procedures so we improve each year.
10. Students should not only be assessed, their opinions should be sought out. We should be asking for their feedback. Teachers should have a way to evaluate their superiors. Custodians, secretaries, food service, transportation should be asked how things are working from their perspectives. Parents should have a way to share their opinions. There should be exit interviews of staff. Technology makes this doable. So do it.
11. Education technology is the tail wagging the dog. Instead of presenting edtech to us, ask us what we need. What would do if it were easier, what we’d do if it were possible, what we’d do if there were more time. The fact that SchoolTool has not been made any more efficient and effective in all the years we’ve used it is an embarrassment to education. Ask us what takes too much time and search for solutions both grand and small. A tech department should serve educators not the other way around.
12. Administrators should ask staff to make 5 year plans. Where do we see ourselves? What else would we like to teach? Do? What training would we need? What experiences should we have? What books should we read? This would prevent last minute assignments we are unprepared for and up the level of professionalism by asking teachers to work towards goals.
I am speaking to myself here too — as a form of penance.
Who’s next to spill some tea?

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