There are many parts to the educational equation and if any of them are out of balance or not functioning well, all the balls that are in our academic air risk tumbling. Here’s a Top Ten List of What We Need in order to be effective as an American institution.
We need good teachers.
Simply put, it’s absolutely beyond refute that America needs high quality teachers leading our classrooms. The data proves it, the kids know it and only someone who is trying to sell you something would try to diminish the importance of an awesome educator at the front of the room.
We need students who are open and hungry to learn.
Give me a kid who is eager to learn and I can teach them how to punctuate an appositive phrase. Give me a kid who ditches class, shows up unprepared (or on drugs or seething with anger from emotional issues in other areas of their life which are eating their soul) and I am going to struggle to get that kid to do squat, just like most every other teacher there is. You can lead a student to water, but you can’t make them think.
We need parents to be involved.
Parent involvement can take a vareity of forms. Providing a quiet space for homework, storming to Board Meetings to advocate for the students, reading to toddlers so that they come to school with a few fundamental literacy schools, showing up to Back to School Night, and so on. But parents who cede the education of their children to public education with a “now go teach my kid” mentality are leaving a void no one in a child’s life other than a parent can really fill. To our credit, schools will try… but we often will not be very successful.
We need administration to properly support us.
I know a heck of a lot of administrators and the truth is, they are being kicked and worked over and abused about as badly as anyone in the world of our schools. While teachers get cut slack in some corners of the world (i.e. he’s a great math teacher, she really is a wizard at getting those kids to learn science) administrators are so often the punching bag of almost everyone. That being said, they need to support us, empower us and take a step back and let us do our jobs as if we really were professionals. Micro-managing and hyper-legislating a classroom from an ivory tower (or cubicle without a window) simply doesn’t work. The best administrators I know view teachers as an ally. The worst view us as the problem, an enemy, an unruly gaggle of tenured miscreants that need to be tamed.
We need kids to be in possession of certain skill sets before they come to our classrooms.
Is it just me, or should kids not be expected to know their multiplication tables before they show up to an Algebra 1 class? Or how about knowing how to indent a paragraph before, say, high school English class? Social promotion is a policy which is failing our nation. We need gatekeeping and we need checkpoints and if kids do not have a certain set of skills in 4rth grade and then 8th grade, they should not be granted access to 9th grade because chances are too low that those who are deficient in both 4rth and 8th will ever graduate and we are trying to do too much recovery work in high school when the opportunity to be more effective avails itself to us much earlier on in the process of public schooling.
We need the community to support our schools.
When is the last time our business leaders actually came into the local schools and said, “How can I help?” I mean, they are the folks who are going to need the talent a few years out we are currently nurturing. Internships, mentorships, and so on. It’s not money we’re asking for — though that’d be nice as well — but the currency of their intellect is valuable and sharing it with the local kids would go a heck of a long way.
We need the politicians to make intelligent policy.
Do I need to even address this point? I mean we see how the policies of Dubya have taken schooling into a dark and dreary place. Politicians matter — and it’s really tough to admit that since they are so problematic in so many ways to try and support.
We need great teaching materials.
Handing out 5 pound books six times over to kids during the first week of school (and then measuring their intellectual growth through inane bubble tests) is the foremost means by which we “educate” many of today’s kids. Throw both of those two things away and then let’s see how far we go, that’s what I say. But whether you believe that last statement or not, it’s simply a sad fact of life these days that most teachers are being provided with low quality materials. Great chefs use great cookware. Teachers are, by and large, being given crappy tools. We need to reinvent our teaching materials because many of them are simply not effective. (And isn’t that the ultimate barometer of a tool?)
We need reasonably sized classes.
Ever try teaching at 41 to 1? There’s not a person in the world who can sell me the argument that class size does not matter. 20 to 1 versus 40 to 1 is an immense difference and if you extrapolate it out over the course of either an educator’s career or a student’s trip through our school system, there is little doubt that the numbers will not add up to favor the student/teacher who gets to operate in a world of smaller classrooms. Not that all these layoffs are really going to matter or anything, though.
We need safety on campus.
Without discipline, without order, without a sense that school can be a place where students are not fearful of their own physical and emotional safety, we are fools to think any real between the ears strides are going to be made in our classrooms. Kids who are worried about being jumped in the halls don’t concentrate in class. This is probably the greatest difference between so called high achieving schools and low ones: the levels of violence on campus. Without safety, kids will not academically perform at a consistently high level and we are lying to ourselves if we believe that our lowest performing schools are not also our most violent houses of learning. Without discipline on campus a school can’t function. Without discipline in a classroom an educator can’t really teach. Schools need to feel like places where the adults are in charge — not the kids.
Well, that’s 10. I have a feeling I could find a few more. (Love to hear other thoughts.)
Oh, BTW, this is not in any kind of order.