Thursday, May 09, 2014
As a retiring teacher, I’ve recently “reflected” deeply about my 40+ year career in education, what I’ve learned over the years, and what yet needs to be done by my future colleagues. As I pass the baton of my career to two nieces and a godchild who have decided to join this noble profession, I want them to know what it has taken to get here, what rewards the profession has had, and the challenges ahead of them.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with having a career that spanned from teaching Pre-K to teaching Master’s degree classes, and I’ve watched education morph frequently. Some of these changes were good, others were not, and some have come back again with a different acronym. These are my thoughts on where education has come from, and where it is currently heading and what future teachers will need to think about.
So to my fellow teachers remaining in the classroom, and to new teachers, I leave the following legacies:
1. The legacy of theories on student learning– From open spaced classrooms who were coming into their glory during my student teaching experience, to theories about Assertive Discipline now morphed and called PBIS, to Dimensions of Learning, Multiple Intelligences, Content Literacy, Problem and Project Based Learning, Inquiry Learning, and now Common Core, the path to understanding student learning has been far from boring or plain. Each theory has improved a piece of the educational process or has changed as the needs of students have changed.
I suspect learning theories will evolve even more as the nature of learning changes. Technology will enable the use of data mining, to morph learning, and aid both teachers and students. Although currently, teaching is heavily focused on the data mining and reporting, and it has seemingly taken over the classroom and the media, eventually the data will also enable individualized learning letting students have input into their learning path, and teachers will become guides on the sides. I challenge future teachers to make sure those paths are strong and correct.
2. The Political legacy – although I started my career with the attitude that I could never go on strike because it would leave children feeling that teachers have given up on them, my own feelings for the political process have morphed over the years. As I’ve watched older teachers being pushed out of the classroom by changing their grade level after 30 years in the same one, or by giving them the hardest students to handle, and having a colleague hounded by administration and demoted to an aide because she was unaware that her administrator was lying to the press when the teacher told the truth, my respect for the union and its place in education has grown. Watching the “language” disappear from the contracts over the years to whittle away at our sick leave and other benefits, has caused me to become more politically active in my older years.
But the hardest part has been watching as politicians have led the movement on bashing teachers by making education dollars the carrot that controls money hungry administrators. Although their “truisms” seem right (NCLB, RTTT), the funding machine has gotten into the hands of business leaders who don’t understand education. I remember one motivational speaker during the “education should be run like a business” phase who talked about how he had created a successful ice cream business, but was floored when a teacher asked him ” What do you do in your business when the blueberries come to the dock damaged?” He replied “We send them back.” The teacher then replied “We can’t send our blueberries back.” Nor do we want to send them back.
Although these business leaders thought they were doing right by creating foundations, the corporate wheel has taken over and is not allowing enough input from teachers or enough time for their ideas to be tested, researched and tried with real students. Somehow, all the new ideals (Common Core, PARCC, Teacher evaluations) are being rolled out without norm referencing and criterion testing.
Therefore,I challenge my colleagues to continue fighting politically for things that work, have been tried and tested, and for your own professionalism.
3. I pass on my technological legacy – while this is my true passion, it is also the legacy that has morphed the most during my tenure. From using typewriters in high school, to basic computers like the Commodore, DOS based computing, emails sent at 1200 baud, and Archie, Veronica and the World Wide Web, to the mobile web and the cloud today, technology will have the greatest impact on the educational process. Although all the early changes took lots of time and effort to figure out, the speed of changes today are so rapid that very few people can keep up. In fact, even the government has the vision of where technology can go, but ran across the major glitches with the Affordable Health Care Act. However, those same glitches can be avoided if Usability Studies in Human Computer Interaction theory are utilized before major rollouts like PARCC testing occur. But getting the politicians to slow down long enough to test the tests, and the evaluation system, as well as any future changes, will be your challenge.
My secret passions are really individualized and global learning. If the learning my students garnered during my Kidlink days using global projects in the 1990’s could have been spread more quickly, then 9/11 may have been avoided. But we were such a small but global entity in the 90’s passing on respect for global partners, celebrating similarities and differences, and making students aware of the global community. With today’s tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and mobile apps those global projects have so much more potential for creating awareness of and for other cultures. Your challenge will be to explore Social media tools, particularly online discussion tools, to enable your students to interact with their global peers. If my 4th grade students in 1998 were able to write a mystery story with students in Denmark and an author in New Hampshire, and have the story critiqued by students in South Africa and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and shared with global peers, imagine YOUR possibilities now!
In addition, the technology can now be harnessed through Learning Management Systems to enable Common Core to focus and direct skills to individual students, enabling students to progress at their own speed. If teachers can be involved in developing the online curriculums to match the common core, then students who have been exposed to the technology as infants will be able to plow through the skill at their own pace in that digital environment. Your challenge will be to make sure all students can develop their strengths, but also develop their weaknesses. You will also need to be sure that the whole child can be developed in spite of the technology.
4. Last but not least, I pass on my time and talent legacy – I wish I could bottle and pass on the 40 years of patience I’ve developed over the years while teaching thousands of kids and impacting others through the teachers I’ve taught or mentored. Although that is not possible, I can pass on my wish for you to be treated as professionals. If college professors can take sabbaticals every seven years, why can’t teachers do the same? I’ve left the classroom several times, each one for my own professional growth in the educational field, and have returned a stronger teacher (in my opinion, not necessarily that of my superior’s). But imagine if I could have left the classroom with the blessing of my district… If every teacher had a 6 month or year hiatus every seven years to grow professionally, interact with researchers in their field, and had time to analyze their own teaching, what could they bring back to their district and students? They would feel valued and respected, and further the educational field more efficiently. Students and other teachers would truly benefit from their experiences. Therefore, I challenge you to take on the political forces to change society’s view of teachers, and fight for the time for your own professional growth.
In conclusion, I challenge future teachers take all of the above philosophies and blend them to make new ones that will further education. I will be cheering from the sidelines, and hoping that teachers are included in the process and guiding these changes. Have confidence in yourselves….you know what needs to be done for students. And hopefully I’ll still be around to watch you pass your baton…. 🙂
A Retiring educator,