Saturday, February 1, 2014

Challenging Times for Educators

These are challenging times for educators in our State and around the nation. 

I have been an educator for over forty years.  I began as a Head Start teacher where I worked with low-income preschoolers and their parents.  My core beliefs about education were validated and strengthened during my early teaching years.  We took care of students and their families -- feeding and teaching them about nutritious meals and the importance of medical and dental care, helping families to access health or social service resources, encouraging parents to volunteer in the classroom so they would know how to interact and converse with their children.  These early teaching experiences convinced me of the need to care for our students and their families so they could be successful in school and in life. Throughout my years as a teacher and an administrator, my philosophy of teaching and learning has changed very little: I believe in the power of schools to change the lives of our students and their families.

It seems that everyone has an opinion about what is wrong with our schools, and educators endure unfair criticism, all the while doing their best to help students learn.  As I contemplated the educational climate today, someone shared this cartoon on Facebook.  It accurately describes my feelings. In his blogs for EdWeek, Peter De Witt shares that as educational leaders, we need to take a stand and make our voices heard.

So, here are my random personal thoughts about how we might improve education.
  • A well-rounded curriculum includes time for students to be exposed to more than just the academic subjects, but when a teacher is being evaluated on student test scores or student growth, the "non-essentials" get pushed to the side.  Not every student is college-bound, but every student should have opportunities to explore and discover something they may be good at.
  • There are so many free resources and the availability to share lessons via the Web. Teachers learn to design comprehensive lessons during their university coursework, but in the classroom, they often do not have the opportunity to create their own lessons to address the needs of their students.  Instead, they are told to follow the teacher’s guide to a curriculum that is “aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”  Following a guide does not guarantee success; it is still the teacher in the classroom who has the greatest impact on student learning.
  • Our state is using an observation process as part of a teacher’s evaluation.  In a 180-day school year, two observations - about 1.5 hours total - will be used to evaluate performance and to determine whether a teacher gets a pay raise or not.  I agree that administrators need to be in classrooms, and teachers need to reflect on their teaching.  However, formal observations should be an opportunity for discussions to improve teaching and learning, not as an evaluative tool.
  • Way too much emphasis is placed on standardized tests.  In the real world, we are judged by our performance on-the-job, not by a standardized test score.   Let’s re-think high-stakes testing and move towards performance-based assessments to evaluate student learning.
  • I believe in the use of technology; however, tech should be making our work easier, not more difficult.  I have personally spent too much time inputting information into inefficient or un-user-friendly systems.  It is frustrating to waste valuable time on inefficiency.
  • Instead of increasing student instructional time, we should be examining ways to increase teacher professional development time - time to collaborate, to visit other classrooms, to plan lessons together, and to learn from each other.  A practice that has been around in Japan for more than 100 years is lesson study where teachers plan a lesson, observe others teaching, and give feedback about what they observed. In Japan, that planning time is essential to building capacity of all teachers.  Our system does not allow these rich opportunities for teachers to improve their practice. I believe that improving teacher effectiveness will have a greater impact on student performance than increasing seat time. 
I believe that we can improve education for our children and that schools and teachers need to be accountable for preparing students for their future.  I also believe that the public needs to respect educators, trust that we have the expertise to positively impact teaching and learning, and support us as we take on the challenge of educating our nation's greatest resource - our children.  

+SAVMP +Peter DeWitt 


  1. Jan,

    Thank you for your honest in this post. Through your words it is easy to see the passion, enthusiasm, and commitment you have for the students and other members of your school community.

    I absolutely loved how you stated that you believe in the power of schools to change the lives of the students and their families. Ever since seeing Daniel Pink and other talk about what your sentence is, I have been trying to figure mine out. Little did I know you had already done that for me! I will most certainly give you credit anytime I use it. :-)

    Our state is also looking at extending the school day. I absolutely love the idea about providing more time for professional learning with our staff. Presently many districts in our state have late-arrival or early release days to do this. Some of our elected leaders feel this is wasted time and want to recover it for class time. During testimony at an education committee meeting one elected leader described the time as "wasted Wednesday".

    Thank you for your leadership, commitment, and encouragement!

    1. Forgot to leave my name: Scott Friedman your mentee!

    2. Hi,Scott!
      Thank you for commenting on my blog. It took me awhile to get my words down; it sat for over a week while I pondered what I wanted to say. I've been overwhelmed with mandated tasks, and it's frustrating sometimes to remain positive in the face of so much criticism. But I think about our students and their families, and I know I'm not ready to hang it up yet. Thanks again for allowing me the privilege of sharing and learning with you through SAVMP!