I’ve been spending a lot of time the last two weeks looking up articles on Sage Publication’s website (by the way, you can peruse their journals for free until April 30th). I’ve been pouring through articles on a variety of topics: gifted, ADHD, alternative assessments, teacher retention, pre-service teacher education…etc. I’ve been doing this with little focus, more like gorging of myself on current literature while my free trial lasts. But I do have a underlying purpose, and that is to find what intrigues me, inspires me, and to find what I can actually add something new.
After reading the research, something is troubling me…. I’m worrying about public schools. I think most would agree that traditional public schools are set up for cookie cutter students. You have to fit a certain mold, and if you do, you will most certainly succeed. But public schools allow little flexibility in curriculum, classroom environment, structure or service to be able to meet the needs of your spoon drop cookies…. those kids who aren’t the perfect shape. I remember as a teacher how frustrated I would become when certain kids would miss the cut off. Kids who were points shy of qualifying for Gifted services, yet were clearly not being challenged by the textbook. Kids who would miss the cut off for special education services because their IQ was too high, even though they were struggling to keep up. Kids who received no accommodations because ADHD is not considered to be a disability. Kids who needed extra attention, service and consideration, but received none.
The responsibility to meet these extra needs falls squarely on the shoulders of the classroom teacher, but many times classroom teachers are not given the extra support, training or resources to be able to serve these students. And realistically, how much extra attention can you give to special needs students when you have a classroom of 24 with varying abilities and needs. Your juggling so many different factors at one time, that the ball is often dropped for several. A governor once said that there was no evidence to support lowering classroom sizes, because kids scored relatively the same regardless of their class size. I believe that if you ask any teacher, they will tell you that the time they feel most effective as an educator is when they are working one on one, rather than whole class. Since we have to play with the hand we are dealt though, the question still begs…. How can public schools meet the needs of all learners, spoon drop and cookie cutter?
I believe that a radical reform must take place in order for this to happen. First, we need to demand that all children not only have an equal opportunity to learn, but that they should be given an equal opportunity to succeed. Furthermore, we must contend that is the district’s responsibility to find alternative ways to provide for the variety of learners in each school system. No more, retaining children multiple times in the same grade level. If it didn’t work the first time, why would repeating the same grade be any different? Second, more schools need to be established using cutting edge techniques for serving the needs of varied learners. These schools need to be research oriented and consult with pediatricians, psychologists, and university education programs. If studies show that outdoor education has a positive impact on the academic success of ADHD children, then get the kids out of their desks and get moving. And third, we need to invest more in our teachers. I haven’t met a teacher yet who didn’t care about the success of their individual students. Our students are not just numbers on a page, percentages on a standardized test, they are human beings and we adore them. We celebrate their achievements and grieve their failures. We are constantly reflecting on what we can do to improve our instruction, in order to better serve the needs of our students. So with that in mind, districts need to spend more – not less- on in-service training. We need to require teachers to stay current with research, both by conducting their own and being abreast of what is new on the educational horizon. Teachers must attend conferences, share findings and lessons from the classroom with others, and must be trained in more disciplines than just their interest dictates. And with this, teachers need to be compensated for the many hours they spend tutoring students after school, organizing special events, working holidays and weekends, all for success of their students.
My ideas are not popular, they are expensive and idealistic. But reform is never easy. And we all know that education needs serious reform; our kids are worth the trouble.