Shoe shining, flip-flops, the right answers and wrong problems: A “tongue”-in-cheek post

Sometimes, the shoe just doesn’t fit. Read the latest post from Megan Allen inspired by a trip through the Atlanta airport.

A special thanks to blogger and teacher leader extraordinaire Nancy Gardner for encouraging me to write about this!

I love serendipitous moments in life, where things just click and you see things a different way or much more clearly. I was just strolling through Terminal A of the Atlanta airport and chuckled as I walked past a shoe shining station, having one of those moments. Let me explain what I mean…

I was involved last night in a Zoom video conference with one of my classes that I’m currently facilitating at Mount Holyoke College, Teacherpreneurs and the Changing Role of Teachers. We were discussing the book Teaching 2030 with co-author Jennifer Barnett, a teacher leader and 23-year veteran teacher from Alabama.  The conversation branched into a great question about technology platforms used for English Language Learners, and this sparked an even greater discussion. Is there one solution that may work for the masses? Jennifer stated that the important thing is not finding the one platform that should be used with students, but to dig further and try to understand the individual students. To take the time to truly understand what each one needs. That it is not about finding that one solution, but about making sure we are asking the right questions. We must first fully understand a problem, taking the time to do so, in order to correctly identify potential solutions.

Which brings me back to the shoe shining station. So I had this random (and sick) thought as I walked by them in my summer duds. What would they say if I pranced on over there in my flip-flops? They qualified as shoes, right? I was worried about the scuffs from beach parking lots, the threads beginning to show through, the worn-look they were currently embracing. Could they be shined?

The thought really cracked me up, but then lead to an epiphany. It was a metaphor for our conversation last night. Great solution, but might not work in every case. Shoe shining offered a solution for non-shiny shoes, and flip-flops were shoes, and my flops were definitely not shiny. So it should work, right? Wrong. This shoe shining solution was not a good fit (boo, bad pun) for my exact “problem,” flip flops. My flip-flops qualified as shoes, but this just wouldn’t line up. It didn’t exactly work. Shining shoes was a great solution, but a one-size-fits-all (boo, bad pun again!) solution that may not work for all “shoes.” Just like our conversation about our English Language Learners, where there was not a one-size-fits-all best technology platform to help them. We can’t shoehorn a problem by stuffing it with one solution.

Let’s zoom the lens out a bit to see how this fits (I did it again!) within the larger realm of education reform. We are so quick to look at “fixing” problems in education with one-size-fits-all solutions. Problems as complex as the achievement gap have been offered a smorgasbord of solutions such as charters, vouchers, early childhood programs, social skill and character building, teacher quality reforms, the firing of “bad teachers,” educational software programs, wrap-around programs to support families, extended learning time, and probably even teacher ninja training. But the problems are complex, they are different for each and every child, and they require more thought and care than assuming that there is one solution. We must make sure we are asking the right questions in order to unravel complicated problems in education. We need to make sure that we don’t assume all shoes can be shined, that there is one “sole” solution will work for the masses.

Just ask Cinderella’s stepsisters: Sometimes, the shoe doesn’t fit.

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  • Michelle Lifson

    Hi Megan! I loved your

    Hi Megan! I loved your metaphor. I completely agree that a one-size-fits-all solution is impossible for students. Each student is unique and at a different level in their learning. With so much pressure for teachers to teach to the test, our students’ needs get lost in the process. In my ideal world we would have a 1:10 ratio MAX in our classrooms so we can do our best to support our learners in their growth. To me, this applies not only for ELL students, but also all students! Again, great metaphor, and funny puns! 

    As a side note, I am working with ELL students right now. As I mentioned, every student is at a different proficiency level. It has been exciting but also extremely challenging. My class is large right now, but soon I will be down to 9 or 10 students. Hopefully then I can give my learners the individual support that they need. I recently was TESOL certified through a course I took at Hampshire so that helped me prepare for this, as well as our class I took with you! See you next year hopefully!