I think the darkness began with the idea that we could improve our poorest and least successful educators by setting down more exactly what we wanted them to do, and how they should do it. What to write on the board. What to place in their classrooms. How to submit evidence of planning? But insisting they exhaust themselves with more and more hours – days – years of work much of which is filled with minutiae like various means of attendance taking and grading and grade recording – isn’t the best way to approach the facilitation of human learning.
We are professionals with master’s degrees in most cases and years of experience in many. Why not ask what would help us give it our best shot, help us take advantage of our talents and interests, many of them unique. What would support our efforts, rather than complicate them?
Many of us know what it takes to parent; now imagine raising other people’s children. And it’s a litter – I mean they’re all the same age. Frankly I wonder if the one room schoolhouse had more going for it. Why shouldn’t older kids teach younger ones? Perhaps we need to consider alternative ways to group. At the very least let’s get more adults into the classroom, maybe for technical expertise, for helpful suggestions, for subgroup divisions or just to offer another pair of eyes. It takes 3-4 years before new educators can get their footing. During that time serious support is needed. The real question is how to provide it. I suggest:
— Fewer classes. Leave time for special small groups who meet regularly.
— A resource room – large, open, well equipped.
— A master-newbie connection. Begin with one class a week with some of the best in the school. Choose one as a mentor. Oddly, there are advantages to choosing outside the subject area. Teaching is a dynamic skill and there is more involved than content mastery, an area where most well prepared teachers are already competent.
— An expandable course content file regularly revised and with notes for self-suggestions added on what would improve the lesson. Revise now and again to clean the pages and add to the file. After a while you’ll look forward to starting again.
Of course many of these suggestions apply to Master teachers as well. But here the individuation of content and approach matters most. The sculptor needs a freer hand to carve his vision. Electives and special topics need to be added based on forte and choice to keep the creative juices flowing.
Reform has become a dirty word. It suggests change with blame. Newly forming what? How? End tenure perhaps or in some other way make clear that tomorrow is in jeopardy because this will help teachers be more confident, expand their planning, learn from others, recover more quickly, find resources that will add dimension and make contact with the community. (Okay, end sarcasm.)