I was reading reviews yesterday, written by students, about a school at which I used to work. One of them jumped out at me. I’ve read and reread the review, reflected on my experience at the school, and come to realize the true issue.
First of all, a little background about the school. It was brought into being to be an innovative school, dedicated to educating students in a different way than the other schools in the district. It succeeded – in a big way. For several years, it was allowed to conduct its delivery of instruction in different ways than the rest of the high schools in the district.
Here is a snippet of the review that jumped out at me. “It has strayed from its original intent and purpose, opting to settle on becoming an average school.”
I thought about my experiences at the school. It is far from average. Full of educators who have life experiences that enhance the student experience, are dedicated to finding new and engaging ways to make a difference in their students lives, and an employability skills standard that gives students a real feel for what will make them successful after high school, this place was and is inspiring. Still, I have to admit that I did see a trend toward “average” while I was there. However, I do not believe the school opted to “settle on becoming an average school”, I believe the district has begun imposing its standards and conditions upon this exceptional school and is slowly turning it into a duplicate of its other high schools.
So, all of this for what? My next teaching truth:
Hang on to your ideals for truly educating your students. Don’t let go of those standards you set for yourself.
If you let district or even campus ideals for teaching to a standardized tests, you not only sell your students short, you sell yourself short. Your students will learn, yes, but not for the long term. They will not have fond memories of the “drill and kill” or the “gurge and purge” tactics. You will suffer, as well – losing sight of the reason you started teaching in the first place – because you want to help students get excited about their learning, because you want them to grow up and make a difference in the world. If you lose sight of excitement, you will come to dread your profession, and that is never a good thing.
In college, how many times did you read an assigned reading for a literature class and still didn’t know what it said after you finished? What was the purpose of having you read it in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been more effective to have had a lesson first, one in which your instructor engaged you, excited you, and revealed to you the hidden secrets to be found in the passage? What do you remember about your science class? Do you remember the lectures and the worksheets or do you remember the field trips and the experiments?
The school I used to be a part of still clings to its former self. It continues to promote field trips and real-life experiences. It continues to strive toward giving its students an edge in the real world by helping them to understand the difference between dressing for success and dressing for a date. It gives students a way of understanding how important attendance, punctuality and ethics are in the workplace. The question is, how long can it hold on?
In today’s world, where education needs true reform (and I’m not talking from a government level down, but from a teaching standpoint), we need to be clinging to what we believe. Your district wants results. If you can give them the same or better results using your methods, they will not complain and you may be able to effect change on a grander scale. You’ll be able to say, “Look what I did!” and dazzle them with what speaks to them – test scores. But you will be doing it in a way that your students will thank you for and that you will be comfortable with.
Don’t let go.