Recently I asked my friends: what do they consider the major issues pertaining to education? I received one response that I found interesting and I wanted to explore it further. Here’s the response I received:
“[There are] too many students in a classroom and not enough teachers. I’ve seen an art teacher [who has to] teach math because the school needed a math teacher and he was good at math. I’ve seen an elementary teacher only teach math because that’s what he was good at when he was suppose to teach another subject. There is not enough money for supplies. The excessive use of suspension instead of actually addressing the problems. Students aren’t being given a say in their own education. Students being taught not think, but to memorize instead of mastering skills by having a deeper understanding of the concepts. Intervention needs to happen early on instead of just passing students who do not know how to read or use basic skills. Need I continue?” -Chamir LawsonChamir is a student teacher in college studying mathematics. She has been teaching and tutoring for approximately 9 years. Because of her response to my question I begin to have a deeper conversation with her.
Bryant: How many teachers do we need in a school?
Chamir: As many as it takes. It’s a shame that the media glorifies other jobs, but neglects one of the most important jobs in any society. A teacher is much more than someone how helps a young person read, write, and do math. We are the trainers of the next generation. Of course that sounds very cliché; however, there seems to be a misunderstanding of how much of a child’s development takes place in and around school. My point is that young people need individualized attention or as close to individualized attention as we can get.
Bryant: You mentioned the excessive use of suspension and addressing the real problems. How do you suggest addressing the real problems?
Chamir: Well first we have to take a close look at a young person’s life outside of school to see if there could be an external influence on his or her behavior. Once we determine whether there are other issues that supersede the behavioral problem, we can address the problem. Honestly, this process has to be done with the help of other students. We, adults, are usually far removed from the issues youth are experiencing though we may have experienced them in the past.
Bryant: That sounds like a restorative justice type of disciplinary system.
Chamir: Exactly! Discipline isn’t just about punishing a student. It should be about how to prevent future situations and restoring the peace amongst members of the school community.
Bryant: My work with the National Student Bill of Rights focuses on a similar disciplinary structure. In fact, right number 6 expresses the idea of students being able to establish systems of restorative justice within schools and communities.
Chamir: That’s a wonderful idea!
Bryant: So tell me what you meant by not teaching students to think?
Chamir: It’s real simple. There seems to be this crazy notion that we can evaluate all students in the same manner. We like to call it standardize testing, but there is a clear problem just with the wording. Students have different rates of learning so how can we set an arbitrary standard. It’s irrational to assume that they [students] should be at the same level at the same time. But in order to perpetuate this fraudulent thinking, we [educators] are required to teach to the test. In Maryland, it’s the High School Assessment (HSA). You cannot expect students to be intelligent when you spend most of your time teaching students what questions and weird language to look for when taking these tests, especially in math. Students have to understand the concepts thoroughly so they can solve any math problem by approaching it in logic not by how the problem looks.
The conversation I had with Chamir went on for about 1 ½ hours where she goes into further detail about her ideas. For the sake of keeping this blog short while sharing her opinion I will try to use the rest of the interview in another blog.
Many of you have had similar conversations with friends and family who are educators. What disturbs me is the conversation about hiring and firing teachers based on their ability to get students to produce high scores on these standardize tests. Teachers are not being consulted about how to properly educate youth and how to produce a real system of evaluation of learning.
I encourage any educator who has read through this to share your thoughts about some of the major issues of the public education system.
-by Bryant Muldrew