Taking a Few Giant Steps Back

Guest blogger Megan Orvis reflects on the importance of taking a few, giant steps back from our classrooms to get involved with policies and ideas that impact us every day.

As a teacher, I’ve recently tried to expand my horizons and read the multiple updates, blog posts and news reports that are sent to my in-box each week (if not each day).  Over the course of the past year and a half I have realized there is a great teaching world outside of my classroom walls.

While sometimes overwhelming it is amazing to read about what is going on in education policy and other teacher’s classrooms as well as joining the greater education conversation.  I encourage all teachers to follow something outside of their classroom, in the digital world.

A few weeks ago, while skimming the headlines and summaries of news reports, one of them caught my eye.  I noticed the name of a professor, Kevin Welner, from graduate school as the author of a blog, which was embedded in an article in The Washington Post.  I recalled that his class, which covered topics in education policy was interesting. However, my classmates and I always left with the feeling that the education world was on the verge of collapse after we left.  Even then, in the fall of 2004, we graduate students understood the futility of trying to use standardized tests to gauge learning.

Welner’s blog  addresses the response to the standardized testing craze by parents, students and teachers, and even though there is strong opposition to the testing it probably isn’t going to completely vanish any time soon.

The reasons Welner gives are reasonable.  Simply, there is not easy, one-size-fits-all fix for the parts of the system that are broken and no one is proposing much of anything to fill the testing/accountability void.

This is where the teacher leaders of the nation need to step up!  We need to start putting our constructive ideas on the table as to how we would fill the “accountability” void.  As I look around the school where I work, I see plenty of person accountability and do not buy into the idea that tests actually hold teachers accountable to doing their job nor are the tests truly holding students accountable.

The questions I keep coming back to are these:

  • What makes a “good” teacher?
  • How do you know if a teacher is doing his/her job?  Doing it effectively?
  • What makes a “good” school?
  • Who is holding students accountable?  Parents?

These questions indicate to me that perhaps it is more than just the testing that needs to change, though. 

Taking a few giant steps back from the classroom and school to gain perspective on the education system as a whole, shows that are many parts in need of change—not because they are broken, but because they need some tweaking. 

Among the list of parts that could use change or tweaking would be: time, salary, focus on the whole child and ability to or emphasis on collaboration. 

Time could be taken in a few ways; I believe there needs to be more time given to teachers to accomplish the job of grading, planning and collaborating to ensure accurate and timely feedback.  Jose Vilson discusses some options of what this could look like and why at Edutopia.

There needs to be education of the general public around why teaching salaries and the cost of education continues to rise and it is the responsibility of the general public, the taxpayers to fund the future.  The reality is at the rate the nation is going there won’t be many good or great teachers left as Bill Ferriter writes about North Carolina’s plan.  

And collaboration is about time but also creating an environment where collaboration can happen organically. Collaboration can lead to many things happening in the schools; perhaps the most important is a sense of camaraderie and not competition as Diane Ravitch writes about in her blog.  

Again, it is time for the teacher leaders to step up and use their voice to promote real change.  What are your solutions?  What can and should be addressed first?  Share your thoughts!

Megan Orvis is a social studies teacher at Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum, CO. Her goal is to teach students how geography and history are related to their lives and knowledge is power. She is the Student Council sponsor and co-vice president of the Eagle County Schools Education Association. 

Image By INboxFO.Com (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • EllenDaniel

    Addressing the Accountability Issue

    You’ve provided an excellent outline. Collaboration is really a key feature moving forward in an era of constant change. It’s impossible for an individual teacher to keep up with everything AND still be an effective teacher but when we all do a little, together we can do a lot. It does feel like there is a shift underway. Teacher Leadership needs to step in and communicate to parents and policy leaders about the enormous stresses placed on schools in the recent recession, the improving climate for funding and the absolute necessity of including “teacher voice” in meaningful discussions of how to move forward whether we discuss testing, accountability, resources, social justice or any of the other areas that affect student performance.