We Get To Say We Do

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose7 Comments

Steve Jobs

Today, Steve Jobs and Co. blew the roof off the house with his WWDC conference today, where he introduced some mega-updates to his software on all current Apple devices. For those of us who have been buying any new devices made for mass consumption, our jaw continues to drop that Moore’s Law (the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years) has yet to fail, which is why cameras get sharper, TVs get flatter, and our phones become more feature-filled. This is all great for technology as a whole, but it boils the blood of even the most mild-mannered of us. By the time we decide on a device, a better one is reportedly on the shelves in a matter of weeks.

And that’s how I feel about these educational models now.

A typical conversation between principals who have to acquiesce to the whims of their district leaders sounds less like Sparta, more like high school:

Principal A: “Wow, we just got this brand new education program for our school. It’s going to be fantastic!”
Principal B: “Oh, that’s alright, but my teachers have that already. What we’re about to get will validate the work we’ve done for the last 10 years”
Principal A: “Oh, wonderful, but our teachers already bought into a foundation of great pedagogy from some of the greatest education speakers of our time!”
Principal B: “Right, I feel that way too, because my teachers brought in UBD and use data on top of the data they already had to continue the work they have to get done!”
Principal A: “Wonderful. Did you know that Heidi Hayes Jacobs came to our school and told us that we had a wonderful curriculum?”
Principal B: “Great, but we’re doing great things. We’re one of the first schools that says we do Elmore [instructional rounds].”
Principal A: “Oh yeah? Well we do Elmore and Danielson.”
Principal B: “Is that so? Well, we do Elmore and Danielson and differentiated instruction.”
Principal A: “Mmm hmm! Did I forget to say that we do Elmore and Danielson and differentiated instruction and Singapore Math and the Santa Cruz model!”
Principal B: “That sucks for me. We could only afford to do all of that and the Teachers’ College model.”

At this point, it’s worse than we thought. Teachers often sit there like the children of a broken marriage, hoping when one or the other will just stop the arguing so they can get back to work. Half the time, we’re wondering, “Who cares about any of these people? Are the children learning?” The other half, we’re wondering, “Does this mean that the thing we just started doing has to change again because a random outsider said so?” And the answer is a mix of no and yes, depending on what day we’re walking in.

For the last decade, teachers have raised the issue of bringing in programs like America’s Choice, some that have had good effects, but mostly that have had deleterious effects. It’s not necessarily that people like Danielson, Elmore, or Marzano are themselves wrong for education or evil on some deep-seated level. It’s that when people execute their systems, they rarely take into account the teacher expertise locally and don’t model very often what these ivory tower speakers have to say.

Now, if a principal said, “Well, I’m doing Freire, Dewey, and Darling-Hammond,” then we would be in business. But instead, we’re talking about band aids that, once these people retire from their work, will be gone like the other programs the way our Gameboys and big flip phones have given way to Nintendo DSs and iPhones. They get in the way of the things we know actually work: authentic assessment, teacher expertise, appropriate and equitable resources for schools, consistent professional development, and reduction of child poverty.

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with our devices right now, ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes, we just want a better battery.

Jose, who likes surprises …

Comments 7

  1. Nice piece Jose. As a 20 year teacher I feel I have seen the wheel invented over and over again. We’ve done so many programs in Chicago in that time that are now gone yet I’m still here. As you say the band-aid approach is not working. We need to get serious and start tackling the real issues.

  2. Here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with Marzano, or DI, or Brain-Based, or PBL or UbD or whatever the new hot thing is. The problem is, campuses won’t truly invest in becoming truly adept at whatever model they choose to adopt. So one year we’re focused on one aspect…and then another….and then another. So I, like I am sure most teachers feel, am not truly a Brain-Based teacher, or a PBL, or DI. I know some principles of each, but I have never been fully trained and allowed to integrate the skills and principles in a way in which it truly impacts my efficacy as an educator. So I am a Jack of All Trades. And in truth, that may not be a bad thing, because you need multiple tools in your belt to be a successful teacher. But we are so busy, as Wu-Tang say…diversifying our bonds….that we never really learn to master a tool.

    My other issue is the lack of true follow through with training. Every campus chooses 5-10 teachers to send to get the word, and come back and spread it. Now I understand that it’s cost effective and all that…but it’s always the same teachers….and no matter how good they are.. being an attendee of a training doesn’t then qualify you to confer a degree of professional development on everyone else. What other industry does that?

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      Both of you, thanks for your wonderful contributions. Here are two things you both made me think of. First, it’s important to really master just one “system,” whatever that system may be. We understand that there are different schools of thought when it comes to teaching, but if we’re just going to keep piling more things on top of an already loaded system, then it’s going to have a negative effect on how things get executed.

      Also, you both made me think that we better not be having this conversation again 20 years from now. -sigh-

  3. I just came upon this discussion on your blog, Jose, and am so grateful that you voiced this position. I was a hs ELA teacher in the Bronx for five years, left teaching, and am considering returning to the profession (although not as part of the NYC DOE).

    Keisha’s post eloquently voiced why I lost confidence in myself as a teacher, and why I sadly left the profession. Ultimately, I blame myself for not having cultivated the inner strength to withstand this loss of confidence; however, the feeling that I did not have the opportunity to truly master and integrate the various pedagogies into my practice led me to conclude that I was not getting better at my craft, and failing my students.

    As I ponder my future in education, I am grateful that someone demonstrated the courage to to voice that concern. Some of these pedagogies (particularly UbD, in my opinion) struck me as very worthwhile, and I only wish that my administrators and “the system” at large had the courage and conviction to stand by a school of thought and allow teachers to cultivate mastery.

    Building mastery builds confidence and confident teachers are resilient teachers.

  4. Oh this is so true. I was just worrying about this- we’re starting something new this summer and on the one hand, I want to throw myself into figuring it out and making it work. On the other hand, it gets harder and harder every year to put the effort on my end into these pd things because like Keishla said, we just half-implement them and then move onto the next fad next year.

    When will it end?

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