The most recent barrier is the hesitancy of excellent teachers who emulate the practices they admired as students. Practices that now interfere with new ways to help students learn. New ways to make them contributing members of the 21st Century, with its multiple challenges and opportunities.
Overcoming these barriers will take time and effort. A brief recap of obstacles includes:
- inadequate preservice teacher education
- micromanagement of schools and the assembly line mentality
- social ravages caused by the pandemic
- narrow beliefs about what schools are for
- political attacks from special interest groups
- teacher self-perceptions that limit professional behaviors and outlooks
The sole barrier over which the district has control is teacher self-perception. Other more troublesome barriers exist for these reasons:
- University teacher education that avoids outside influences.
- Governmental entities shielded from effective criticisms.
- Aftereffects of the pandemic.
- Education’s purpose constricted long enough to be pervasive.
- Divisive political discourse.
The only way the district can move forward is to:
- modify teacher education locally
- ignore governmental micromanagement as much as possible
- use the pandemic as a learning experience and adjust accordingly
- unilaterally redefine education’s purpose
- temper the ill effects of divisive political discourse
Much to ask. Is it possible?
The new learning infrastructure depends on districts with the courage to do the right thing. To take positive action in building programs that work best for students and their communities.
With barriers addressed by the district, the next steps are challenges in building local curriculum, instructional processes, and assessment strategies. Involving the work of the curriculum council and—more specifically—subject area committees.
In the new learning infrastructure, councils and subject area committees are asked to build curriculum from the ground up. Using readily available resources that serve as informational tools. Where local educational decision-makers create curriculum, design instruction and assessments.
Why must the work be done from the “ground up?”
Public or church-related American schools have long depended on externally produced resources. “Readers” or textbooks, films, digital items, maps, full curricula, and other media produced by states or publishing firms. What was not available could be found in libraries and district resource centers. Now online.
Starting with the McGuffey Readers.
Based on moral and Christian teachings, the McGuffey Readers were significant in making American society more homogeneous. McGuffey materials supported poorly prepared early 19th Century teachers, who worked primarily with young students.
As public schools grew in enrollment and number, with better educated teachers, they needed more secular and sophisticated materials. Some states produced their own. A few, such as New York, even created standardized tests called the “Regents Exam.” Publications tailored to prepare students accordingly.
In mid-20th Century, most states turned textbook publishing over to corporations. Industries soon dominated public school curriculum.
After passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, school publishing companies prospered. Federal grants gave districts discretionary funds to build or support many improvements to the curriculum.
A multitude of associations and for-profit groups produced tangential materials to be used in tandem with governmentally funded projects. Those groups and entrepreneurs conducted workshops and other staff development programs.
They still do.
The secret of their success is formulaic. “Why develop a local curriculum when my company already has one? Why worry about creating good teaching strategies when my company has something guaranteed to excite students and cause them to learn? Why struggle with assessments when my company has good ones ready to go?”
Public-school teachers were and still are the market for these corporations. Administrators appreciate such resources. Evaluation of teacher performance is either included or made easier because adopted materials include expectations.
NCLB was the 2001 version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It emphasized the use of standards and high stakes tests. Easier for corporations to create and market their materials. By making sure everything was aligned with NCLB-designated student learning outcomes.
Easy for both publishing corporations and districts to replicate standards as if they were curriculum.
But not suitable as curriculum. Most were poorly written with inadequate attention given to logical scope and sequence through the grades. Difficult for teachers to incorporate into daily lesson plans.
Nevertheless, commercial enterprises streamlined convenience for teachers and administrators. These expensive materials were less costly than extensive staff development. Corporations were easier to hold accountable when politicians and special interest groups found fault with their content.
Textbooks are also created for higher education. But individual professors are allowed to choose resources based on their credibility as scholars. Most “civil service teachers” in public schools do not have that opportunity.
Pedagogical stars like Jackie figured out a way to work around the micromanaged system. They will not dream of limiting their classrooms to worksheets pulled off the shelf. And assessments guaranteed to be aligned with state standards alone.
Jackie was able to do on her own what other teachers could or would not. Making her exceptionally good at figuring out how to circumvent the barriers and challenges. To acknowledge them but with a professional flexibility from both intelligence and setting students’ classroom priorities.
Exceptional Priorities like these:
- Needs of students must supersede inflexible instructional methodology and unvarying allegiance to the inculcation of prescribed content.
- Student needs must cause unit and lesson plans to be intermixed with personalized learning important to all students now and in the future.
- Changes made by the pandemic are opportunities to try different and more effective teaching and learning strategies.
- Schools are for student learning that emphasizes deep thinking, self-assurance, creative problem solving, effective communication, quality human relationships, and a deep respect for others.
- General opinion, politicized or not, is an element of free speech. Teachers are as free as any other citizen to present points-of-view properly labeled as beliefs and not facts. Everything said or done in the classroom should be transparent. Open for review by parents, patrons and others who support the school.
- Teachers have the right and responsibility to perceive themselves as professional decision-makers. To work in partnership with all other educators and lay leaders in the district. To be transparent with and responsive to the public they serve.
Jackie is ready to write the proposal to initiate a retreat program. Using principles aligned with discerned priorities.
©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved