Guest blogger: The urgency of now

Note to Readers:  As a guy who has often been driven by challenging thoughts, some of my favorite readers are those who push against my thinking. In recent weeks, that reader has been Nate Barton, the author behind A Drop of Reason.

What makes Nate an important member of my personal learning network is that he steps a bit further than I do when advocating for powerful change in schools—as he does here in the first Guest Blogger post ever on The Tempered Radical.

Take some time to welcome Nate to the conversation by responding to his thoughts in the comment section and by adding his blog to your feed:

The Urgency of Now

By Nate Barton

I have always considered myself to be an incredibly patient person. I can remember distinctly fishing with my mother off an old dock in the Florida Keys, listening to her lessons about the importance of patience in a good fisherman.

Little did I know that she was systematically planting that seed in my brain with the hopes that it might grow someday into a great oak of patience. To this day I can sit for hours on the edge of a dock simply waiting for that small plunk of my line being tugged down.

Occasionally, however, I wonder if I have ever been a patient person.

I remember spending my sophomore year of college railing against the idea that I needed to put in a certain amount of focused study time so that I might acquire a degree.  After all, I felt prepared for my profession long before my senior year. I had worked with children from the point where I was barely discernible from children myself. As far as I was concerned, I was ready to teach from the time that I decided that I wanted to teach.

With regards to the current state of education in America I find myself falling more and more into this same pattern of impatience.

Bill and I seem to disagree with regards to how change within the ‘system’ (our definition) might come. It would seem that I may be fostering an impatience that borders on social unrest–in fact, if you ask many of my closer colleagues about a revolution in education, they would have little difficulty directing you back to me—while Bill is far more willing to be patient and wait for change.

I wanted to highlight our differences so that others might shed some light on the virtues of his patience versus my apparent impatience. Interestingly, though, I find it a daunting task to point out our differences, as essentially I feel that we are standing on the same ground. Here are some examples:

‘…performance measures are never extended to teachers of tested subjects.  No one comes in my room and watches my students interact in meaningful conversations with one another.  No one ever sits down and challenges their thinking about a particular novel or piece of text to see if they can analyze an author’s purpose or notice elements of bias.

Instead, they count on the test to do those things—which I’d argue is simplistic at best.’

‘I think that our nation’s embrace of standardized testing has had the same impact on teaching and learning. We’ve stripped our classrooms of anything that doesn’t have a proven connection to increased scores.’

‘—the community is moving from a system of assessment that completely relied on the professional judgment of the classroom teacher to a system that is more ‘concrete’ and ‘defensible.’  By default, this decision implies that the decisions of teachers are insufficient as accurate measures of student learning.’

Frequently, I come away from a Bill Ferriter blog post with a sense of urgency…a sense of let’s do something…a sense of excitement because I realize I am not alone in my frustrations with what is.  I’ve left him comments on several occasions:

‘Why can’t we challenge the system that is drowning the optimism and creativity of both new and old teachers?’ Generally the reply is, ‘What can we do?’ or ‘Just wait a few years and maybe it will change.’ Even you [Bill] have suggested resilience will be important. This, for me, is a difficult pill to swallow.

I propose a revolution. Why must we sit idly by to wait for some disconnected bureaucrat to change the system that only we know so well? Revolution sounds dangerous but it needn’t be. I believe it begins as a conversation, a meeting of the minds. We’ll likely all begin at the same place. I just feel like there are so many terribly smart teachers who get steamrolled because of the same strongly held belief…

I am here for the children, not the money, not the accolades, not the political system that tells us every year around election time how important we are, but the kids. I’ve no doubt that if we were able to stand up, together, that we could be heard. Let the revolution begin.’

Today I read a Ferriter response to Matt Johnston, over at Going to the Mat, that seemed to highlight the primary difference in our thinking.  He wrote:

‘I also believe that teachers have felt disempowered for so long—in many ways, our work is blue collar in the sense that we do what we’re told and get written up if we don’t—-that we’ve given up on getting involved in the decision making process.’

I agree, Bill, that we have in many ways become affected by a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Education has taken our legs out from under us for so long that we no longer feel enabled to stand up to challenge the decision making process that directly effects our profession, our careers, and, most importantly our children.

Our difference lies in how to affect change in this mindset.

I would propose that change should be radical. Radical to the likes of a revolution—and while I do not have a clearly delineated plan for our revolution, I believe that if enough teachers put their heads together we could save our schools and put our country back on the cutting edge.

While Bill’s patience may be admirable, I believe the time for pragmatism is past.  We owe it to our students to act.

I would however like to thank him for this opportunity to speak out to a broader audience. I hope that I have done the Tempered Radical justice. If you are inclined, please take a look at other thoughts that I have about teaching and learning at A Drop of Reason.

Thanks again Bill.

(Image credit:  Classic Water Drop Shot by Randy Son Of Robert, licensed Creative Commons:  Attribution)

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