One of the most common issues in the world of politics today is education reform. For the last 30 years or so, we have heard candidate after candidate explaining how they are going to solve the education deficit, once and for all. I don’t doubt the nobility of these candidates intent, solving the problems around education is extremely important. Teachers, parents and politicians all agree on the basic statement. The approach taken, however, always seems to stem around the issuance or repeal of education funding. I suppose it is understandable that the belief is more money will yield higher results. But, the statistics have proven otherwise. Our education spending has increased 700% since 1982 (not in GDP percentage terms, but the actual amount spent), but the vast majority of these funds go to the administrative costs of unions and board members. That is absolutely absurd, and I hate to use that word. So the point here is; the answer can’t be to “just throw more money at the problem” when that money rarely ever reaches the students.
We have to rethink what education is, in the first place. Standardized testing has been an utter failure (outside of providing employers a new flock of sheeple). And we cannot allow students to decide what they want to learn either (like new-age learning centers) because then they graduate skill-less and unable to participate productively in society. What is the answer then? Well, we have known for a few generations now that there are different types of learning styles, and not every student is going to respond to a single teacher’s method. While we cannot cater to the demands of students as though we’re serving them dinner at a restaurant, we should be able to stop this massive cluster-fuck that has become the average class room in our public school system.
I went to public school, and can attest that out of 12 years I was only able to find 3 solid teachers. My first good teacher was Ms. Ramirez, 1st grade, she was a great woman. Friendly, willing to sit with us and always had some fascinating story or guest speaker to make learning fun for everyone. No one was left out – even the awkward kids had their 15minutes to shine in that room. My second good teacher was Mrs. Smith, 4th grade. The special part about Mrs. Smith was her willingness to ignore a person’s past and let their current actions dictate the outcome. I had some rough patches in 3rd grade, being removed twice from school for “bad behavior.” But, Mrs. Smith was never cold to me, or thought I was a bad seed. She even put me in charge of the class-pet, a cockatoo, and I earned all O’s (O=Outstanding) on my report card. I had never known teachers to be forgiving until that point, and I’m thankful to this day for her not thinking of me as some bad kid simply because I made a few mistakes.
Finally, my last good teacher was Mr. Wayne. Ironically, I thought he was going to be my least favorite of all about half way into my freshmen year of H.S. It turned out; he was my absolute favorite, period. He was tough, but fair in his teaching. If we got out of line in class, he’d slam a book on his desk to regain focus. If one of us was caught doing something else wrong, he’d take us outside and embarrass us into acting appropriately. He was not the picturesque person one imagines when defining a great educator. But, I discovered something very unique about him. All his antics aside, he was the most willing to NOT send you away for something as minor as acting defensively in a school fight. I was attacked one day by a kid who thought he was tough stuff. Being larger than him, I was afraid to actually “fight” out of fear I could really hurt him, but I did push him out of punching distance quite a few times when he encroached. Anyway, he finally caught on that I wasn’t going to fight – but rather than give up and sit down – he charged me full-bore. I was able to grab the collar of his shirt and did a spin move before I let go, he flew into a nearby table saw and was hurt pretty bad. I was sure that I would be expelled for fighting and the entire school board would come down on me so hard that I would never be allowed back. But, to my surprise, Mr. Wayne saw the entire thing from his office, and was waiting to see who escalated the violence before stepping in. Because he did things this way, he knew I was simply defending myself and never meant to hurt the kid, and made sure I wasn’t in serious trouble even though this kid was ultimately the “victim” of the fight. At the end of entire ordeal, I was suspended 2 days by the board for breaking the “zero tolerance” policy on fighting; the other kid was removed and was forced to change districts entirely. I felt a little annoyed that I got suspended at all; because I really didn’t “fight” I defended myself. But, I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Wayne that day. And I learned something very valuable – not everyone can be judged by first impressions.
But, Wade, what exactly do these anecdotes have to do with education reform? You may ask. And, truthfully – not much, I just wanted to explain how I felt about education and educators growing up. As a product of public schools, I know all too well that you are lucky if you find a teacher willing to help you succeed, or at least help you stay out of trouble. And that’s my point. There are teachers who are entirely biased about students based on their backgrounds or records, they’re unwilling to forgive and forget, even though these are children we’re talking about. As if an 11 year old is going to be the same person in 5 years, much less 20. I’m not putting the blame only on teachers, because parents play a huge role in the success and development of their children as well. But, if we’re honest about a few things here; let one of them be that teachers spend 8 hours of the day, 5 days a week, 9 months out of every year with our children, so they do have a large amount of responsibility when it comes to behavior and performance results. Unions and administrative debacle aside, teacher-student interaction suffers because the way classes are filled; at least that’s my hypothesis. If we know that people learn differently, then why do we squish together kids who are kinetic learners with visual and audio learners? Does this make zero sense to anyone else out there?
Would it not make more sense to fill classes with students who learn in the same way, and then give them teachers who teach in the method that fits to the student needs? This way a student who is a visual learner may actually get some help from a class mate who does understand when the teacher is unavailable. A teacher cannot devote time to each individual student every day and still be effective throughout the class. That’s a life-truth more than anything, spread ourselves too thin, and we lose the ability to remain cogent in the eyes of those we interact with. I think it’s worth a shot, at least. In the interest of making the lives of everyone involved better, this is a simple solution that could very well lead to a revolution in the teaching profession.