I believe that most of the blame for the current blight in public education lies with the teacher training institutions. Without a doubt, they turn out poorly educated, untrained teachers. Additionally, I take teacher unions to task for not pressuring the teacher training colleges to actually teach teachers how to teach. Representing strong, competent teachers would allow each union to bargain from strength, rather than having to bargain from weakness, so one might think that unions would realize the folly of protecting too many teachers who are ineffective, unscholarly, untrained, and some even ignorant. But of course, the dues keep rolling in, regardless.
Many people generalize and so criticize all teachers for the downfall of public education. I must defend the many skilled, hardworking, caring, motivated, and very frustrated teachers who are trying their best, and achieving results, against incredible odds. I frequently hear from such teachers and believe me, their hearts are heavy and their stress comes through, even in brief contacts.
Still, too many teachers do share the blame for the eroding public educational system. My first advice, therefore, is to remove your children from public education and do it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the longer it will take you to ‘unmold’ your child from the un-educational aspects of schooling — if a complete healing can even take place. It will also take time to make up for the academic lessons that did not get handled while the PC lessons towards progressiveness and collectivism were being stressed.
If you simply cannot remove your children from the schools at this time, do your ‘homework’ and find out which teachers are considered the best in your district, then insist that your children be placed in those classes. Demand. Do not accept ‘No’ for an answer. If you are unaware of which teachers are the best, ask those parents whose children have passed through the system. They will know which teachers to choose; which to refuse. There are also certain types of teachers to definitely avoid. These are the teachers I do fault for participating in the failure of the schools.
I fault teachers who were poor students, themselves; had no interest in books or scholarship; never aimed for excellence in any class, at any level during their own schooling; still have low reading, spelling and writing skills…but decided to major in education, anyway. (Love those summers off!)
I fault teachers who lack intellectual curiosity and rarely read; who never conduct research specifically focused on improving their teaching skills. Some teachers, after realizing that I do things differently in my room, ask to borrow books and materials. Weeks, even months later, most of those teachers return the books saying, “I don’t have time to read them right now, but maybe I’ll borrow them again someday.” (I won’t hold my breath.)
I fault teachers who continue to perform poorly, but never self-assess; never question the information they were taught in college. They fault the children; they fault the parents; but they never fault themselves. They continue to use ineffective teaching methods, and defective teaching materials and would not change for the world. They were ‘programmed’ to those roles during their faulty educations, and they would be lost without the old stand-bys to which they cling, even as public education crashes about their heads.
I fault teachers who refuse to raise their expectations to help a successful group of students continue great gains begun under a previous teacher. For example, a teacher may work to get nearly every student to automaticity with math facts. The class then moves on to the next teacher who, not only fails to expand competency with higher-level facts, but allows the previously learned skills to slip away from disuse. I have observed this same trend with penmanship, reading, spelling, and so on through the curriculum — one teacher is strong and consistent; the next is weak and careless.
I fault the teachers who teach the same way every year to every group — never modifying methods, tests, expectations, or their delivery. Such teachers fail to acknowledge that each class brings a unique combination of students, and not every group learns in exactly the same ways.
To further complicate instruction, we now have TV generations sitting in our classrooms — students who have spent hours as passive observers, rather than as active thinkers. Yes, today’s children are harder to teach, so we need to adjust our methods, accordingly. Each year I adapt for new group dynamics, and I become more active and theatrical in delivering each lesson. (If parents understood the damage that television and video games are doing to the minds of their children, the video equipment would be dumped in one mass movement to clear houses of ‘junk’.)
I fault the teachers who attend every workshop and in-service, then drag their students from one fad or gimmick to another, always hoping to find the one magic formula; a way to teach without working too hard; without investing too much of oneself. I especially fault the ones who buy into the illogical ‘group work’ and ‘collaborative learning’ ideas. The ‘construct knowledge’ idea is too asinine for discussion among intelligent persons.
Even my ‘learning disabled’ students see the foolishness of such fads! They arrive from classes where such trends are being used, and complain that “three kids sat while the rest of us did the work, but we all received the same grade. It is stupid!” When I tease them with, “Today we will do some group work; some collaborative learning; we will construct some knowledge. Please count off, form into groups, and teach each other to read,” the laughter can hardly be contained. Of all students, these kids best understand that they are in need of special instruction exactly because of the ‘disabilities’ that they ‘developed’ in classrooms where teachers had no idea of how to teach reading! These students are more astute than many teachers, realizing that a group of kids, who know nothing, will teach each other exactly — NOTHING! But fads carry the day in too many classrooms, often in response to direct orders from principals.
I fault the teachers who notice that other teachers are being successful with teaching, but remain too proud, too arrogant, too lazy…to go ask for help, ideas and instruction from those skilled and knowledgeable professionals. Such immature and incompetent teachers abdicate their responsibility to fully and effectively meet the needs of the students.
I fault the teachers who sat silently through the years, fearful of losing their jobs, as “progressive” ideas took over the schools. Had we all battled against ‘innovations’ in the beginning, we might have avoided their current death grip on the educational system. I remember too many meetings where my voice was the only one raised to question the ethics; to discuss the ludicrousness of fads, gimmicks, worthless materials; to confront the lack of scholarship and logic behind the multitude of inservices, district demands and federal takeovers. My voice in one district; a couple voices in another…all together too few to hold back the avalanche of progressivism and collectivism.
Finally, I fault those principals who taught the minimum years necessary (only four in many states) to qualify for administrative certification. Too many of these individuals lack the experience and the wisdom, to assess the direction in which education is moving. They have no concept of how and why education is failing in this country; no idea how to stop its descent towards its eventual collapse. The inept members of this group rant about falling test scores — then rid themselves of the very teachers who know how to teach. These inexperienced principals believe themselves competent to evaluate teachers who have taught twenty, thirty, forty years. What arrogance!
We used to say, “Those who can teach, do; those who can’t, administrate.” Now there are not enough administrative slots open to handle the numbers of unskilled teachers. Now those teachers cover their inadequacies by becoming ‘groupies’ to inexperienced principals, thereby ‘earning’ great evaluations. The students lose from every side. Administrators of this ilk fail to notice, or refuse to care, that fine teachers are being driven out of teaching by principals who — never taught long enough to become competent; or for whom competency would never have developed, no matter how long they stood in front of a class.
Homeschooling? Parochial schools? Private schools? Which is your preference for your children? Think fast; respond quickly! Time is passing; your children are growing! Once these years are gone, you cannot call them back and make better decisions.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.