Things I Know 208 of 365: Let the teachers teach

The only way to predict the future is to have the power to shape it.

– Eric Hoffer

Ironically, though I won’t be teaching this year, I’ve attended or been party to more district commencement events than any single year I’ve been teaching. Most interesting about each of these events are the similarities I’ve seen across districts.

With only Sarasota and Philadelphia to use as my in-person barometers of district cultures, I’ve relied the last few years on what I’ve read on the edublogs I follow.

When those posts have echoed experiences similar to my own, I’ve written it off as an expected consequence.

Of course these people would have similar thoughts to mine. I’d chosen to follow them, hadn’t I?

This year’s commencement sampling has included reports from Nebraska, New York City, rural Texas, suburban Ohio and Chicago.

I’ve gone back to school virtually or physically all over the country.

Outside the realm of my usually reading, the sentiments of teachers are remarkably unified – let us do our job.

At least three of the districts a bracing for new state-wide standardized tests.

As one teacher put it, “We’d just about figured out the old test and now we’ve got to figure out a new one.”

I suppose one way to make sure teachers aren’t teaching to the test is to completely revamp the exam when students start to experience success.

Very tricky.

Five points to Slytherin.

In almost all of the schools and districts I’ve connected with, I’ve heard some variation of the phrase, “We’re in a transition period right now,”

This has meant anything from the traditional superintendent shuffle (no less off-putting than the Super Bowl Shuffle of the 1985 Chicago Bears), massive layoffs, the adoption of new store-bought curriculum (rhymes with “Fearson”), or re-structuring to bring a district into compliance with a newly-chiseled state commandment.

What strikes me with particular force as I encounter these stories is the fact that none of these changes are coming from the school or teacher level. All of them, without exception, are being handed down with compliance as the expectation and termination as the unspoken stick.

I have this notion that teachers can have some pretty innovative ideas and be tremendous forces for positive change if well-meaning, but misguided leadership got out of the way.

It’s just a theory. I’ve only ever seen it work two times.

My favorite line across state lines when it comes to commencement has been uttered by every superintendent I’ve encountered – “We are not teaching to the test.”


Are you sure?

Because you’re certainly not teaching away from it,

After a speech I gave recently, a teacher came up to me to explain why no one had engaged when I opened the floor up to Q&A, “Plenty of people wanted to,” she told me, “but we’re on lockdown with scripted curriculum. We like the ideas you talked about, but we can’t talk about them with the administration in the room.”

They were so frightened of getting in trouble for doing their job that they couldn’t talk about doing their job.

As she walked away, the teacher turned and said, “I wish they’d just let us do our jobs.”

Five points Gryffindor.


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