19. Mastery and Relevance in the New Learning Infrastructure

Mary’s conversation with Barbara opened her eyes to something not discussed at the university. Because of their background and academic successes, teachers do not understand students who rebel.

It is dangerous to make assumptions based on macro-statistics or the culturally based conclusions drawn.

But it might be okay to play around with an idea or two.

One irrefutable statistic is that 77% of American teachers are women. No definitive research has been conducted about the social class in which most of them grow up.

However, evidence suggests they come from middle-class families that value education.

They gravitate toward teaching partially because it is compatible with family life aspirations. They succeed in higher education for the same reasons they succeeded in public school.

Women accept the values of a traditional American education and the systems that make them work. Women are expected to be compliant.

Women like Barbara and Mary did not socialize with students on the fringes. They did not share their scholastic and personal values.

In college, Barbara and Mary aligned themselves with others like themselves. Staying on the straight and narrow was safe for those who enjoyed working with children.

During the 1960s into the early 1980s, the federal government, under the Great Society program of 1965, sponsored projects such as: Teacher Corps, Competency Based Teacher Education, and Cooperative Urban Teacher Education.

Programs that attempted to attract young people from diverse cultural backgrounds into teaching.

The idea was that young adults from different segments of society would better engage recalcitrant public-school students.

Students from different cultures. With different perspectives on the value of school.

Those programs slowly died. And the standards movement began soon after issuance of the Nation at Risk Report in 1983.

Mary, Barbara, and other teachers in the district are now being asked to rethink their attitudes toward students they once dismissed. To modify their responses to the challenges they present.

Hard work with curriculum design and implementation. More difficult is the acceptance and nurturance of young people who need convincing.

Mary Chapman’s Story – Part 17

Barbara Morgan had taught eighth grade language arts for two years when I joined the faculty of Sheridan Middle School.

Like me, Barbara is married. She and her husband have two small children and live in a neighborhood a mile from the school.

Unlike my teacher education experience, Barbara’s preparation was a more traditional program out-of-state. When she was hired to join the Sheridan faculty, the district was close to the end of overhauling its entire academic program.

While exciting for Barbara, the new experience made her head spin.

A young superintendent had been hired by the district a few years before. He brought an innovative school improvement model.

A new kind of decision-making and action-taking system for developing and managing an academic program.  

Barbara heard older faculty members say they were wary of this idea. They were cautious because other whiz kid administrators with bright ideas had come and gone.

Those roller coaster experiences caused jaded veterans on the faculty to call the phenomenon “TYNT” — This year’s new thing.

When the new superintendent was hired most of the board members were also new. What intrigued them most was something the new superintendent called academic program governance.

With many components in the model, the central elements were: a policy, long-range plan, and descriptions of what students completing district programs would know and do.

The most convincing argument in favor of the proposed model were its two fundamental characteristics:

  • It is written like a permanent constitution that cannot be changed arbitrarily by just one person.
  • It requires a supporting set of practices and documents that guide curriculum management, instructional practice, and descriptions of student proficiency.

While the board seemed interested and supportive of this more stable form of academic management, one member had an agenda of his own.

Vernon (a pseudonym) was a businessman in his 40s, with three children enrolled in district schools. A civic leader, he also served on the board of the local chamber of commerce.

Vernon was a law school graduate who used his skills to build a successful real estate firm. Seven years later he joined the executive staff of a large property management company.

But Vernon had an unusual background. During his public-school years, he was frequently suspended. He graduated near the bottom of his high school class.

After three rocky years in the Marine Corps, he left with an honorable discharge and began attending a vocational technical school. During his first year in the VT school, Vernon became intrigued with housing construction.

He took every course on the building and repair of houses. He also studied courses in real estate. And made straight A’s.

After graduation, he worked three years in real estate and succeeded financially. Vernon and a partner started a company which did well. He enrolled in a few business courses at a local college.

Always the aggressive entrepreneur, Vernon took chances that landed him in court a few times. His infractions were never criminal, but rather behaviors that led to civil lawsuits.

He never lost a case.

By the time Vernon was in his late 20s he had amassed over three million dollars. He sold his part of the company and entered law school. A born problem solver, he sailed through the Law School Admissions Test and graduated near the top of his class. While in law school he met his future wife, also enrolled in the school.

Amy and Vernon were married soon after they graduated. Vernon’s studies concentrated on corporate law. Amy, much more the idealist, focused her attention on constitutional law.

Together they started another successful real estate firm and produced the three children now enrolled in district schools.

The topic of relevance was high on Vernon’s priority list. And he was not bashful about presenting his point-of-view or questions about anything new the district attempted.

That made board meetings interesting, especially when the new superintendent introduced a new kind of academic program.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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