I’ve struggled as a career educator in a system that has lost it’s way. We have produced a generation and are producing another generation of students that is emotionally bankrupt. How did this happen, well it happened because the Bean Counters and Analytics folks took control. Somewhere along the way teachers stopped being able to provide love and attention to students needs and were forced to meet standards of performance. Let’s be honest, children at school are not the same as machines in a factory. The true measure of a successful education system is not the final product, it is the experiences gained along the way. When I began my journey in education as a 5 year old in kindergarten right up until I left the classroom two years ago I have seen many changes. I remember teachers being strict, but they always made me feel that I was important. They were genuinely concerned with the how we were learning, rather than the what we were learning. I remember having the confidence as a grade 8 student to go and interview the ED of the John Howard Society in Saskatoon. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I know my teacher helped me set up the interview and to put together the information. As an educator I have always believe in allowing the students to make choices of what they want to learn and then helping them do so. In essence to be able to take ownership of their learning. One of the best ways I found of doing so was supporting, organizing, and advocating students involvement in both Science Fairs and Heritage Fairs. Sure, we may not have always followed the rules, I am a deconstructivist by nature. The thing is these kids enjoyed the experience and I certainly enjoyed watching them learn.
Where did we get it wrong then, you might ask. Well, there is nothing wrong with having a curriculum to follow. That being said, here in Saskatchewan we used to call them Curriculum Guides. I have always interpreted this to mean Guidelines, as opposed to actual rules. The reason we have Superintendent, Directors, and Boards of Education who treat them as Rules, is that they are trying to use them as a measure of teacher performance rather than student learning. This is wrong. It is an unnecessary intrusion into the basic operation of a classroom. At the heart and sole of education is the relationship in the classroom between the adults and the students. I say adults because there are teachers, support staff, student teachers, adult volunteers and others who may be in the school and classroom on any given day. So, that relationship, while it is critical, is hard to measure. Whereas reading scores and math scores are far easier to assess and apply to a scale. Let’s be honest here, these scores and the scales they represent are artificial constructs. As such they should be used as guides and not as gospel.
You might also wonder what gives me the right to say this. Well, as I said I’ve had a long journey in education. I began as a student, when on to university and entered the teaching profession. I returned regularly to education and other learning opportunities through out my years in education. I hold two undergraduate degrees, a Bachelor of Arts (sociology) and a Bachelor of Education (secondary). I also hold a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. I am also half way through a certificate in Special Education programming. I have been a classroom teacher, school based administrator, and central office administrator. I have worked in rural and urban communities in Northern and Central Saskatchewan. I have spent countless hours preparing lessons, searching for ideas for kids, marking papers, preparing reports and other things. I have also spent many hours and travel lots of miles with students on intra and extra curricular activities. Over a life of 55 years has made me somewhat of an expert on the topic of education.
Why did I do all these things. I’m not unique, any good teacher has done, does, and will do the same type of things. Always with the end goal of making the experience ‘good’ for the students. So it stresses me that education has become less of a human institution and more of an industry model.
One of the greatest tragedies of modern society and using education as a microcosm of society is that the analytic numbers haven’t changed that much in the past 10-15 years. Reading scores are about the same, math scores are about the same, and graduation rates are about the same. So why then do we have so many children and youth experiencing mental health issues? It’s not hard to extrapolate that in a few years we’re going to have more and more adults with mental health issues. I’ve always been an advocate or proactive rather than reactive strategies.
Instead of talking about mental health issues let’s put a strategy in place that will genuinely address the issues. Let’s stop the reading and math assessments and minimize the curriculum. It isn’t important for students to study the human body, dinosaurs, somebodies history, every year for 12 years. In theory this should be building upon previous knowledge. But once you learn something it’s time to move on to something new. Kids do this effortlessly everyday. We need to focus on the other side of learning, I’ll call it what it is popularly known today as Social Emotional Learning. In essence this boils down to helping kids become decent human beings. I’m not so naive to think that all kids will be decent human beings as kids, youth, and adults. What I do know is that by focusing on the kids social and emotional needs we will start having more and more kids enjoying life and not being stressed out and then checking out.
When I wrote my Master’s Thesis, I was challenged to think beyond just saying the system was broken and needs replacing. I addressed this then and have also spend a lot of time thinking about it since. In that process I have become an advocate for replacing the system rather than changing it. In this I have been influenced in my thinking by the work of Robinson, Egan, Dewey, Hattie, Fullan, Hargreaves, Levine, Greene, and Sinek to name but a few.
We need a change to our system if for no other reason it has lost it’s focus. We can avoid catastrophic results by refocusing and truly placing people first before numbers on a ledger.