Thursday, July 25, 2013

What's Your Mission?

This morning in day 14 of our 15 day Summer Institute we started exploring our own ways to reform education. We examined the issue from a variety of perspectives. We looked at the rhetoric of the national agenda, from the fiery mission of angry teachers, and through the academic lens of teacher researchers. We asked a lot of questions and came up with some actual answers. 

Through the care of my colleague I was actually asked what I would do if I could change the entire system of education. The question was provocative, and led me to realize that I am thankful to not have to answer the question. I came up with more wondering than answering, and I realized that I only know how to change what I can control. Focusing on large scale reform feel futile because of what I know about what I don't know.

I don't know what would work best for every student, every teacher, and every school in the country, but I do know that a one size fits all approach will not work. I know that great teachers are highly trained, highly educated professionals, who devote their entire professional lives to becoming the most effective teachers and mentors they can be. I know that great teachers care deeply about doing good work, that we are not lazy, and that we go above and beyond the perceived duties of our jobs. I also know that test scores do not show the entire picture of a school, a student, or a teacher. I know that too much is being put on the plates of schools, that we are being expected to solve problems well beyond our reach, and that each new reform further ties our hands. I know that the stress created through reform last year was damaging to schools, teachers, and most importantly to children.

So, if I were in charge I would loosen the reigns. I would stop protecting those teachers who are just in it for the summers off and the early end of the work day, and support those great teachers who do great work. I would really examine the data comparing our students to students in the rest of the world. I would consider the populations we compare our students to, the methods others go to to get their results, and the effect of poverty, compulsory education with college and career readiness standards for all, and a pervasive practice of social promotion on our own test scores. I would act with the knowledge that teacher accountability, and high standards is only one small piece of the education reform puzzle. And I would openly and freely admit that as long as we continue to ignore the devastating consequences of poverty we will never be able to "fix" education. 

There are so many parts of this that are beyond my control as a classroom teacher, but I also know that I gave up part of the power of what I can control through this year's ed reform initiatives. This past year I was pulled out of my classroom for reform related meetings, trainings, and work sessions for 9 school days. In my classroom I spent the equivalent of 8 class periods focusing entirely on test preparation that was out of the context of authentic learning. I administered 690 minutes worth of high stakes testing in my classroom alone. That means that 22 hours of my 120 instructional hours was spent on educational reform. That is 18% of my student's class time being devoted to these tasks. 
That is unacceptable!

So, for this year I am on a mission. Here is my teacher mission statement:

I am a highly skilled, thoughtful and passionate professional who has been given the opportunity to change the lives of my students, but I only have 180 days to do that in. Every moment of those 7,200 is critical. I vow to make every one of those minutes count. I refuse to have that time wasted by anything that is not in the best interest of the students that I have the honor to teach. They deserve my attention, and my presence; for that there is no acceptable substitute!      

So, what is your mission?