I happened to have a conversation with a stranger this past weekend at a friend’s get-together. She is a middle-aged woman. When I told her I was a teacher, she smiled.
“How long have you been teaching? she asked.
“Six years,” I said.
“Oh, wow,” she said surprised. “That’s a long time.”
It is? I thought.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“Most of the time,” I said. “It’s very hard work, but I do like it.”
“You like the kids, I mean?” she asked.
“The kids? Oh sure! Adolescents can be trying, but they’re great!”
“That’s wonderful,” she said. “Some of my friends who are teachers are just so unhappy with it; with the board, I mean…”
“Well, I can understand that. There are a lot of problems with NYC public schools, but I don’t think it’s the kids.”
“What is it then?” she asked.
I thought about it. There were so many answers to that question, but this is what I came up with.
“Two things come to mind. First, the schools are very outdated. We are still trying to get every kid to learn the same arbitrary things at the same arbitrary time in lock step, as if they were factory workers on a conveyor belt and learning were as simple as fastening one metal piece to another and passing it to the right. Research shows that humans really learn through experience, yet it is very hard to find a classroom where there are authentic experiences for kids to learn from. On top of that, kids today are also experiencing the world in new ways through technology and internet connectivity, but we mostly shut off those modes of experience in classrooms. We have to update our classrooms and pedagogy to capitalize on what we know about how the human brain works and how kids today are interacting with the world that will soon be theirs.”
“The second problem is the way decisions are made within the education field. Teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s learning, and we are the ones who make a million decisions daily inside our classrooms. Yet we are given next to no input into the larger-scale decisions designed to impact our teaching and our children’s learning. In fact, the people making those decisions–politicians, policy makers–usually have little or no actual teaching experience, yet they operate under the assumption that they know what’s best for us, our students, and our classrooms. Why? Where is the logic in that? There is a huge disconnect between the board of education at the city, state and national level, and classroom teachers, which is keeping education reforms from bearing any fruit for actual students.”
I was glad that what I was saying seemed to make sense to her. She explained that her teenage son had a lot of trouble in NYC public schools. This year she had finally made the decision to send her son to a boarding school for kids who had failed in traditional school settings. So far it was going well. Luckily, she had the financial means to do this.
What will happen to all the other kids who are failing in/being failed by our outdated school system? Does anyone really believe that all the government funding being pumped into testing and data systems is going to give failing kids a better chance?