E is for Education
I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.
You will not find a bigger fan and supporter of education than me. My father taught school for 40 years. My wife has been teaching for seven years. They are both fantastic teachers who have an excellent reputation in their districts. My wife and I both have Masters degrees, hers in education, mine in counseling. I teach at Spring Arbor University. All three of my daughters are honor students who love school and do well quite naturally because of the value we have always placed on education. So when I say education is a mess in our state, I do not say it in that “forget it all, I’m sick of the whole thing,” dismissive way that people do when they stand outside of something and criticize it. I say it with regret, with frustration, with genuine desire to see things get better, and willingness to do whatever I can to be part of the solution.
There are model school districts. You hear about them on the news on a fairly regular basis: schools that are doing bold, creative new things to recruit excellent teachers and treat them as professionals; pioneer new programs and strategies that are making a real difference in the lives of students; and finding new ways to fund what they are doing. Yet these approaches never seem to make it far enough to change the overall picture for other districts. I realize that you can’t just take one successful program in one community and copy it into another community, but model districts show us what we most need to see — that it can be done. And yet, generally, it is not being done. Why?
One reason is because we keep scapegoating teachers. Almost every bit of news coverage on educational issues contains statements made by politicians about the need to find better teachers, as if this is what is mainly responsible for our educational woes. Of course that is absurd. People are always the best resource, in every organization. Every good leader knows this. The worst organizations and the worst leaders always target and scapegoat their people. What does this mean about our school system?
Those at the top of our educational system (beginning with our state educational leaders, then moving to our district boards and superintendents, then on to school principles) are charged with the responsibility of crafting a system that will change to reflect 21st century reality, to creatively educate our children, to care appropriately for our teachers who live on the front line of this venture which will always be difficult, even under the best of circumstances. If we look around and see 1) that our schools are not serving our children, 2) that America keeps slipping further and further down in the education of our children relative to other countries, and 3) that the teachers who have the most potential keep leaving the profession, something is wrong at the top. There is a difference between fixing the problem and simply bumping graduation requirements up another notch.
I’m not a politician. I don’t know the solution. But I do know that it simply cannot be true that the teachers are the problem. Teachers, working together with dedicated principals at every level, are the ones who will be able to fix the problem. That is, if they are ever given the freedom and support they will need in order to do so, in an environment that has not already hamstrung them out of the gate.