The Secret to Good Education: Empower Good Teachers -- Get Out of Our Way!
- 20 Apr 2012
- Written by Larry Strauss
EDUCATION - So-called accountability measures seek to compel incompetent or unmotivated teachers to be effective -- or to replace them if they can't or won't improve -- but anyone close to an actual classroom knows that the best teachers are the ones who compel themselves to serve their students and for whom such external accountability measures are obstructive and insulting.
Effective teachers are motivated by professionalism and a strong work ethic and a deep concern for the long-term well-being of their students.
The best teachers go beyond the requirements of their job. Their passion for the subjects they teach and their own self-motivation to excellence inspires students to love learning and work harder and achieve.
Anyone who has ever worked in a school knows this and many who try -- with good and bad intentions -- to fix schools from the outside, are frustrated by the impossibility of replicating the most effective instruction by external means.
And why shouldn't they be frustrated? The really effective teachers can help the students they teach and maybe influence some of their colleagues (those motivated to be better), but their effectiveness also shines a harsh light on the mind-numbing, oppression on that constitutes much of the school experience for our children in and out of the classroom.
Effective teachers are a school's most important assets and sometimes that makes them difficult to control and school districts and their administrators are not always comfortable with anyone or anything they cannot control.
Insightful administrators understand that they ought to give their best instructors autonomy and exert control only on those teachers who need it. But our education system doesn't support or encourage such differentiation.
Teaching our children is a profound responsibility and privilege, and any teachers who blatantly violate the trust of children, parents, and tax-payers are doubly destructive. They harm their students directly and they indirectly hinder the rest of us. They must be offered a reasonable amount of help but not at the expense of the children depending on them.
Therein lies the great challenge: How to protect children from educational mal-practice without creating a culture of regimentation and fear that stifles the individuality and creativity that make great teachers so effective or that frustrates the innovation and risk taking that can transform a classroom.
We know how oppressive schools can be when the rules of conformity are allowed to flourish.
Our hope, therefore, lies not in exerting more control over our teachers but in giving them more power to go along with the responsibility already inherent in their job.
In order to do that we need to rethink the organizational model of our schools.
It is a backward idea to impose a military/corporate style chain of command onto an education system. It represents the lazy thinking of people who believe that compliance is the same as learning and that bubbled in test answers can predict the future of our nation's economy.
In a factory, executives manage subordinates who manage their subordinates all the way down to the factory floor. Those workers understand their menial tasks and perform them. Their supervisors manage the production. Those at the top manage the relationship between production and distribution, marketing and sales, profit and investment.
The chain of command makes sense for the military as well for reasons just as obvious.
The idea that these principles can be applied to education is ridiculous. That intelligent people fail to question it is bizarre.
Public education -- most private schools too, for that matter -- treat teachers like factory floor workers. Paid a bit more, in most cases, but answering up the chain of command when they ought to in fact be the chain of command: novice teachers on up to master teachers.
Factory floor workers perform fairly narrow tasks. They are small cogs in a vast machine.
Teachers perform the only meaningful job in the school! What goes on in their classrooms is the school -- or ought to be. It is true that students receive health and other services (and sometimes their only solid meal of the day) through the school site but that is out of convenience; the only reason anyone else in any school or district ought to have a job is to support what goes on in the classroom.
We cannot begin to fix our education system until we get everyone in power to recognize the falseness of the military-corporate-education analogy, until we accept the absolute stupidity of executive-ruled schools.
Until we dismantle this faulty, ill-conceived education power structure, we will never really fix our schools.
(Larry Strauss is a veteran high school English teacher, basketball coach and novelist. This piece was posted most recently at huffingtonpost.com) -cw
Tags: Education, teachers, schools
Vol 10 Issue 32
Pub: Apr 20, 2012