I swim with a local Master’s team, composed of adults from all walks of life. A considerable number are teachers in both private and public schools. A conversation I heard among several of them this morning really got my attention, and reminded me of how much has changed since I was in school.
The demands on teachers are different, thanks to standardized testing. The notion of personalized lesson plans and a teacher having a decent amount of freedom to teach the curriculum have apparently disappeared, in favor of rote instruction on set subject matter, so that tests given regularly can be passed by as many students as possible. This standardized testing is apparently a serious point of pride with schools, and a method by which principals are judged competent – or not. No longer are the students the only ones getting grades; the schools get one too, depending on their test performance.
I also found out that teachers must answer in writing for student performance, before the school year begins. They have to explain their plan to ensure student success. I asked if the students have to fill out the same paperwork, and explain what they will do to ensure their own success. My query was met with wide-eyed stares and silence. I got the same response when I asked about parental involvement. Apparently, the percentage of parents who actually pay attention to their kids’ school issues is pretty small, unless it involves participation in sports, or the child is in real trouble. Parent-teacher conferences? Most of the parents want the information by text or email; they’re too busy to come in. Their child has discipline issues in the classroom? The parents say that must be the school’s fault, since their child is perfectly behaved at home. Child not getting good grades? Has to be the teacher doing a poor job.
What happened to change things since I was in school? I cannot imagine coming home and telling my dad that a bad test grade was because my teacher was failing at her job. His response would have been a stone-cold glare and the back of his hand. Standardized tests? We had a few, but nothing like today, and they were not something that would mean keeping a child back a grade if a passing level was not obtained. Our parents went to conferences, they signed teacher notes, and they knew our homework was done, even if they did not understand the intricacies of algebra or the timeline of Civil War battles.
Are kids too smart for our education system, or did the system get so dumbed down thanks to laziness and an unwillingness to make them work through the boredom and tediousness of hard academic subjects? Are parents, school boards and the media giving in to feeding kids more popular culture and social media entertainment and less proper education, in order to make school days more palatable?
I hope not, but when I hear the news day after day, and hear about how unprepared today’s school-age children will be for running this world in ten or twenty years, I worry. I don’t have kids, but I will still be living in the world they will run. I’m in favor of obtaining the highest education possible; you will likely find better jobs and earn more money. But to get there, you have to suffer the small stuff first: reading, writing, ‘ rithmetic, and do them with a disciplined attitude.