Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Want to Teach? Hope You Have Big Feet!

If you’re a teacher, you’ll get this.  If you’re the parent of a student, you need to know the facts. 

Question:  If you moved to another country as a young child, and did not speak the language, what chance would you have of passing a standardized test in that country, even if you could understand the basics of that language?  You sit in class all year, the teacher works hard to help you, but he/she has a room full of students that must be taught "the standards".  You're intelligent, you do your best to pay attention, but the language barrier is just overwhelming and as you’d probably expect, you fail.
Surprised?  Of course not.  Not many educated adults could achieve success in this type of setting.
Now, pretend you are teacher here in America.  Let's say you have several students in your class that struggle with English.  Most can get by conversationally, but all struggle with context and meaning at some level.  Even though these barriers exist, these students are expected to achieve the same level of success as your native English speaking students using the exact same writing and content standards.  If they do not, you dear teacher have somehow failed.  Your "scores" prove your failure and may be used to make "decisions" regarding you and your school.  Not only did you fail, your school risks being judged as not being "adequate". 

Now slip back into the shoes of a child that does not completely grasp the language being used to instruct students in class.  Do you deem it to be reasonable or fair that you are being held to the exact same standards and expectations as your classmates? 

Do you believe your teacher is somehow to blame because you did not achieve success? 

Is it possible for a teacher with 30 students to overcome the hurdles of broken homes, poverty, language barriers, special needs, and still somehow ensure each and every student is able to meet "standards" that are one size fits all?  No problem…if you’re Jesus.  I’m afraid the rest of us have feet that are far too small to fill those enormous shoes!

Bottom line:  I am an educated man.  I "get" most things presented to me, but if you put me in a classroom  where everything is being presented in French, Spanish, German, or any language other than English, I can guarantee you I would fail miserably regardless of what the teacher does to help me. 

Houston, we have a problem.  It is not a local problem, nor can it be “fixed” at the local level.  If it was, you can bet we could and would fix it.  The problem finds its root at the state and more importantly federal level.  Our educational system in this country is wounded and bleeding and the Feds are handing out Band-Aids to deal with cut arteries.  The state takes the Band-Aids because they want the goodies that come with the Band-Aids, you know money.  And what about local school systems you ask? Ah yes, well they are handed the Band-Aids (with less and less of "the money") and told "make this work and by the way, good luck"!

I've illustrated only one of the many challenges local school systems and educators face in this country.  A country where legislators are hell bent on standardizing every aspect of our educational system under a national umbrella that is held in the iron tight grip of…the federal government.  Surprise, Surprise!

Over the next few weeks, I will be addressing the results of what this nationalistic approach to education is doing “to” and “for” the students of this country.

So, hang on tight…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!