What is a teacher’s job?

Dear Teacher:

You believe your job is to apply what research has found to be “effective.” I believe your job is to appreciate your subject matter and students. We believe in different job descriptions for the same reason — your experiences taught you to believe in yours, my experiences taught me to believe in mine.

Professors of education taught both of us that teachers should be professionals who apply what research has found to be “effective.” The difference in our experiences comes before that. You were taught to embrace what is taught in school, I was taught to challenge it.

Even though you can’t describe a time when applying what was “effective” had the desired effect, you will continue to believe that is your job because that is what you were taught. When we believe things we can’t support with experience or reason, we “just believe” them, anyway.

In this case, though, the results are disastrous for the improvement of education. Because 99% of teachers “just believe” what is not true — that teaching is an applied social science — schools have not improved over the last 50 years. If you believe they have improved, describe how they are improved and describe the social science findings that were applied to achieve that improvement.

BTW — when you had classes with education professors, did they describe the research findings they were applying? Did you ever wonder why they didn’t?  Now you know why. I love irony.

Improving schools is difficult. Don’t make it complicated.

A must-read for school personnel is Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal’s Reframing Organizations (RO). It uses clear language to explain an idea that is so simple it can be remembered and applied in even the most complex, hectic, school situations. When applied to schools, the theory behind RO is that educators acquire a full understanding of school situations by looking at them through four different “frames:” (1) structural, (2) human relations, (3) political, and (4) symbolic.

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Imagination — the second intellectual virtue

This 90-second video touts the importance of imagination, the second virtue of the educated person. The narrator calls it creativity, and he says we should build a pipeline that develops intellectual geniuses, like we have for athletes.

I say it is simpler than that. Teachers should model and teach understanding and imagination. Think back to your own teachers.  Mediocre ones asked you to understand, but your best ones asked you to imagine, too.

Certainly you had some teachers who asked good questions. If not, we are worse off than I thought.

— “We are a public school, not a private school.”

At a recent school board meeting Asheville Middle School parents and students expressed concern about school safety. The principal gave this explanation for their concerns:

We are a public school, not a private school, and I think there are some people who are looking for a private school experience in a public school.  (AC-T, 5/13/2012)

That is true. Many parents want their child’s public school to be like a private one. That is the idea behind charter schools. Legislation exempts charters from oppressive state and district regulations, hoping they will be more like private schools.

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Students grow in a caring classroom

From Holly White, 7th grade Language Arts, Piedmont Community Charter School, Gaston County, NC

At the end of last school year, teachers warned me about the incoming 7th graders.  I had a great group of 7th graders at the time, so I thought, “God blessed me with this group to prepare me for what is to come.”

I used to “pride” myself on the fact that I didn’t listen to teachers’ horror stories about children.  I had to see who they were in my classroom before judging.  Now, after reading The Six Virtues of the Very Educated Person, I would say I am humbled by the positive relationships I am able to build with my students.

There was one rising 7th grader, in particular, who I was worried about having in my class. I sometimes saw him throwing fits in the hallway and cussing out teachers as he ran crying and screaming to the office.

And sure enough, he is in my class this year. He is extremely intelligent and writes better than most 7th graders. Throughout this year I have tapped into his strengths and created opportunities for him to shine with his classmates.  He went from thinking everyone was talking about him (bullying) to knowing that everyone was talking to him because they were interested in what he had to say.

It is amazing to see how students can change when the classroom is a positive, nurturing environment; where they feel comfortable sharing their accomplishments and even their defeats.  One day recently, this boy was having a rough day–almost as bad as the ones I saw the previous year. I had to take action because even the other students knew the slightest annoyance might trigger an outburst.

Instead of sending him out of the room, where he would be embarrassed, I asked him to help teach the class.  The topic was the Holocaust, in preparation for studying The Diary of Anne Frank.  He knew so much about history and the students wanted him to share.  Once he realized the others wanted to hear from him, his mood instantly changed.

I was humbled by the way my students were able to see that their actions/reactions were important in helping a fellow student. Not only that; but, as class progressed, this student showed strength and courage.  And today he continues to grow.

A vision becomes new school

From Susan Humbert, North East Carolina Prep

I am fortunate to be one of a group of people who will open a charter school in August, 2012. Last fall I met a man with a vision for a region that needs more options for students. This person, a former principal, wanted to open doors for families in three counties. It was his dream to create an environment that provided creativity, trust, community, and strong values.

With imagination, courage and strong character he overcame obstacles most of us would have run away from. With strong ideals and faith he gathered a group of educators and community members, who shared the same ideals for educating students. With no money, continuous battles, many long sleepless nights, and negativity from local school officials, I watched this person and our group grow.

It has been a humbling experience to experience their generosity and kindness.  Creating a school from the ground requires an amazing show of courage and strength. From this one person’s strong character a school has begun to bring new hope to students and parents in a community that had long ago given up hope. North East Carolina Prep will open August 1, 2012, only because one man had the imagination, generosity, and strong character to envision a  better learning community for students.

Teacher views opposite mine

Although I am sympathetic to teachers, many of them disagree with me because I look at their situations from the opposite perspective.

For example, they look at the need for education reform, and they immediately want administrators, school board members, and state legislators to lead the way. I look at education reform by first looking at the history of public education. Then I conclude that governing elites will be the last people to lead reform.  They have benefited from our current system — they are administrators, school board members, and state legislators. Continue reading →

Why do we believe? #3 of 5

The headwaters of a river flow for a simple reason–gravity pulls water downhill. If rivers are like our beliefs, the reason we believe should be simple, too.  With the six virtue definition of the educated person, it is.  Beliefs bridge understanding and imagination in a way that gives purpose to life.  What does that look like?

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Book Purpose & Summary

The primary purpose of The Six Virtues of the Educated Person (TSVOTEP) is to start a philosophical discussion about what it means to be educated. The book describes the definition promoted among today’s policymakers (achieving high standardized test scores); and then it argues for a definition that is rooted in philosophy instead of politics.

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It’s simple — just teach the 6 virtues!

Scholarly Crap:

Here is another recommendation for what we should teach in public schools, complete with complicated qualifications:


From the article:

So, instead of defining high school success solely in terms of mastering a common, college-preparatory curriculum, we should develop a broader and more individualized measure of high school success where students achieve a sense of competency by demonstrating mastery in an area that most interests them—whether it is math, physics, cooking, mechanics, or sports—while achieving acceptable proficiency in core academic areas.

Educators should teach young people “math, physics, cooking, mechanics, or sports” and core academics.  Is this a new idea?  How many of these do we pump out each year?  How is that working?

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