As evidenced in Monday’s op-ed piece, the conversation around education has been stolen. No doubt it is correct to ask for the best of every teacher. We hold a critical position in the social fabric. We are providers of the knowledge, the one’s responsible for the sophisticated thinking processes that we need to move the next generation and the world forward. This is no minor responsibility. Education is also hugely expensive and taxpayers have a right to know what happens in schools. However, not only are test scores not a measure of good teaching, the forces that insist on accountability for teachers are missing much of the picture.
The conversation about education should not be focused on an academic skill. Have we forgotten that we teach whole human beings? When did math achieve its ascendant position? We want to have kids come in and love the day in a school and leave after high school with brains swimming with a wide variety of knowledge to discover themselves and to navigate the complexities of the world. They should not feel beaten down with their struggles. Math matters. It does not matter most and to very many people, it matters very little. Math education and test scores have somehow been given the driver’s seat and that is a something we should regret.
One glaring piece of the picture that is missing (and was never even mentioned in Monday’s opinion piece) was the kids. The kids are the biggest players in school success. This obvious point needs to be supported by understanding that the best teacher in the world struggles to teach a struggling learner. Kids have issues today that were not present in the classrooms of my youth. Poverty has a real effect on education. Diet has a real effect on education. We see attention issues and attitude issues that are huge impediments to our educational objectives. The declining economy is evident on an emotional level in some students. To deny the influence of outside forces and assume the teacher can work the same results with all varieties of learners is an incorrect assumption. Not all kids learn at the same rate. Not every class roster has the same potential and heaven help us the day teachers fight over rosters because their income will depend on it!
Another misguided assumption that seems to be fueling the debate is that there was a golden age when every student was proficient and every teacher highly skilled. I would argue that today’s education system is the best the world has ever seen. We have motivated staffs with expertise using a wide array of tools to address the needs of every child. Certainly there are some teachers that are behind the curve, but to assume that there is a cadre of experts waiting to fill in for the current crop of poor teachers is just fiction. Notice we don’t hear a call for scrutiny of the administrators that hire, train and supervise teachers.
And just what is evidence that education has in some way failed? We are producing unprecedented numbers of college grads that can’t get work.
Let’s accept the complexity of the challenge. There will never be one answer for every educational challenge. Each child, each teacher, each class is unique and this dynamic situation resists an easy fix. Teachers want the best for their students. In my time as a teacher, I have never heard a teacher utter one word to indicate they do not care about kids or that they harbor harmful motives toward students. As a teacher, I appreciate your support.
Peter Jacoby lives in Bozeman and teaches at Sacajawea Middle School.