I was a classroom teacher for eight years and have been a school administrator for more than a decade. I understand accountability and the need to monitor student achievement. It is vital to ensuring successful schools and systems. When I began my career in the state of Michigan, teachers were asked to give up three weeks of instruction in the fall to provide the state summative assessment. That’s right, in the fall. The reason, as explained by state level educational experts, behind that system was to afford the state ample time to analyze results and share them with relevant stakeholders during the school year. Assessing students later in the school year did not provide the same “luxury”. After years of debate about the validity of a fall assessment, the state changed its system, believing, as many educators do today, that assessing learning after the summer months is not an accurate measure of learning. After all, how can we possibly expect students to remember all that we have taught them last year after three months of playing outside and not doing all of our assigned homework and worksheets Many believe, if we are going to give state assessments, the only way to accurately measure learning is if we measure it near the end of an academic year like we now do in virtually every state, with a spring summative, big stakes assessment.
It is important to remember, however, our job as educators is not to teach kids skills that will last until the end of a school year. Our job is to prepare kids for life, a life beyond school, a life without us, a life that is still unknown, a life that they are living now and will live in the future. What good is it to test students on skills we expect them to master in the spring if we are willing to admit they will not remember them even a few months later after living in the real world and out of the artificial fishbowl of our classrooms.
As educators, our job is not to create lessons, but to establish memories. We need to stop saying that we teach content and begin to embrace learning that lasts, education that endures. It’s Like Riding a Bike– it really is. We have all heard the saying “Once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.” This is so true. Even if you haven’t hopped on a bike in years, if you learned as a child, you can get on a bike tomorrow and go for a ride around the block. The learning you acquired when mastering this skill has endured. This is lasting learning at its finest. Memories last. Lessons are forgotten.
As educators our job is to create learners, not copycats. Most of us get that. In classrooms we put procedures in place to inhibit student cheating. We say we want students to produce original work. On test day we tell students to use a cover sheet, to move desks so that they are not seated next to each other, and we monitor for wandering eyes. We want to make sure that students are not stealing the ideas of their peers, yet at the same time we are 100% OK if students copy our words. Why are we OK with students writing down our every word in class and then simply spitting them back to us to show mastery of a topic, but we cringe when thinking a student may do the same thing with a peer. The hypocrisy is real. We say “no” to cheating when a kid copies a kid, but celebrate it when a kid copies us.
Teachers, our job is not to create compliant students who can spit back information, but instead to create learners who actively question answers in search of new truths to challenge the thinking of the status quo. If we really want a better world we have to allow students the freedom to question the realities of our current world.
The fault is not with teachers, though. It’s bigger than that. We are all products of our environments. We all have employers who set goals, objectives, and agendas. Teachers do what they do because of their attempt to live up to the expectations of those put into authority over them. In America today there are more than 90,000 public school principals. The vast majority began their careers as classroom teachers. It is reasonable to assume, these principals found some measure of success in their classrooms that led them to pursue advancement. As a result, when principals move into their new roles many erroneously seek, hire, and train teachers who will provide instruction in a manner that resembles what they used to provide in their own classrooms. After all, if it was good enough for them, it must be good enough for others.
This is the same mindset so many parents bring with them to school meetings when innovative new approaches are discussed by the rare school leader willing to try and break the mold. They are often challenged by the successful parent who judges his or her child’s current school by comparing it to the same system they encountered decades earlier when they were a part of it. The pressure to conform to the way things have always been becomes so strong that often the cycle just continues. Unfortunately, our students suffer and we become more and more entrenched as we prepare students for our own system, not the real world of the future.
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