Today I received a blog post from Teacher in A Strange Land, where the author reviewed his 50 years of teaching. As I read through the post, I began to think about my own over 50 years of experience in education, writing the following comment:
As someone who also has been in the education field for a long time, since 1967, there have been many distressing changes to the field. One of the most distressing changes that has happened to teachers is the de-professionalization of their work. The move to implement teacher-proof, scripted curriculum that would be uniformly implemented to all children regardless of their backgrounds or experiences has led to the demoralization of many teachers.
Along with the general disdain of teachers from policymakers and politicians came more distain from the teacher colleges that prepare teachers. Many of those teacher educators in policymaking roles promoted the idea that the teachers they were graduating needed to be thoroughly tested to determine their academic fitness to teach, first (at least in NJ) by redoing the certification tests to make them more “rigorous”, then by instituting draconian requirements for college students to meet in order to even enter a teacher education program, and finally taking away from the faculty who educated the graduating teachers the role of evaluating their performance for certification by imposing edTPA (a supposed performance evaluation that takes into account only limited areas of subject matter, which are “graded” by unknown faculty through Pearson Education).
If we could start over, what would we do? Is there so much baggage from the past that starting over is an impossible task? Everyone says that this is the time to reimagine education and how we do it. Is this wishful thinking? Can we really start from scratch? Michael Fullan (2019), who has been writing about educational change since at least way back in the 1970s points out in one of his more recent books, Nuance, that a nuanced leader is someone who has “the ability to “read between and see beyond the lines” (p.9). He points out that lofty goals without thoughtful policy or carefully planned action leads to blindly moving forward with no clue of how to reach the “lofty goals”. Teachers then rightfully complain that they do not know what they are supposed to do to reach the new goals. As Fullan further states, “. . . complex problems require people to ‘learn in new ways’ with the people who have the problem functioning as ‘the key actors’ ” (Fullan, 2019, p.9).
So, can we do this with the current teacher population, many of whom have been demoralized and de-professionalized? Can we bring back the idealism and critical thinking about their work that has been taken away?
Fullan, M. (2019). Nuance: why some leaders succeed and other fail. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.