On teacher standards

The argument over the Common Core State Standards from my more progressive friends states that kids shouldn’t be taught to be exactly the same, and, with the way Common Core looks like it might be implemented, that’s the direction we ought to fear most. I often reply in my mind, “Well, I hear you, but […]

The argument over the Common Core State Standards from my more progressive friends states that kids shouldn’t be taught to be exactly the same, and, with the way Common Core looks like it might be implemented, that’s the direction we ought to fear most. I often reply in my mind, “Well, I hear you, but can we look at standards as a baseline and not a complete mandate?”

Because, if so, then standards can really transform what happens in some classrooms much the way standards should regulate other industries. For Americans, we’ve sought a standard of health care as a right, for instance, where even people with pre-existing health conditions could still get treatment without outrageous hospital bills. In the automotive industry, we trust that automakers have created layers of triggers for driver safety beyond the safety belt.

They don’t all have to do it the same way, but they at least have a lower limit of what is acceptable and best practice.

In the same way, we in the teaching profession don’t always acknowledge it, but we have a set of best practices that teachers should follow. Rather than spit the cliche reformers like to use about union protection (doublespeak if I ever heard any), I’ll say that we as a collective teaching body have a general sense about the best teachers in our building. We might even have a keen sense for who the experts are in our district professional development sessions for instance, or general conversations about teaching. While we’re often reluctant to critique our colleagues’ work, part of owning the teaching profession means peer review of some nature.

Let’s face it: many of us might believe in whole collaboration, but we secretly know that our best work comes when we have private thinking and learning time, then come together with some fleshed out ideas for the general congregation. That’s how schools work now in a way since we more often than not teach by ourselves with closed doors. We’ve found ways to coat ourselves in a certain dialogue to keep outsiders from visiting our classrooms and injecting their unfounded opinions upon what we do.

Which is why I believe in teacher standards. But first, we ought to create them.

I know there are a billion frameworks, most notably from Charlotte Danielson and Robert Marzano. I also don’t have faith in people who sell their products to districts who muck up any effort to improve the teaching profession with real research. Akin to what we do with students, Campbell’s Law comes into effect when we continually hammer in the idea that teachers should follow (narrow) checklists and rubrics to prove their effectiveness. Standards ought to be developed with a mix of vetted research and peer review, not a set of arbitrary findings.

Teachers come in so many different forms that we have little way of defining a teacher except to say that they teach. However, the common understanding about what makes a great teacher behind our closed doors is the baseline by which we operate. How we executive on this should come from us.

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