What Teachers Hear; What We Should Be Hearing (from 8-12-14)

If you have children, think about them, and what you wish for them. If you don’t have children, but are a teacher, think about your students. If you don’t have children or students, think about your nieces, nephews, grandchildren, younger siblings, or at least hypothetical children.

Think about sending them to a classroom where they received messages like, “You like to be creative, do you? We don’t need that here!” “You are not here to think! You are hear to do exactly what I tell you!” “Who you are, what you love, your interests, mean nothing in here. You are simply here to work through assignments and get assessed!”

I would hope that you, as  a person who cares about your children, or even children in general, would not want children to have messages like that forced on young people in classrooms. Many of us would be appalled with teachers who told students things like that. We would probably think they deserved to be fired.

Understand that those are the messages the education reform movement wants teachers to send to children. They might not say it explicitly. Then again, thinking about David Coleman (Dylan Trollman in Mr. Fitz’s universe), maybe they would.

But I’d like to move from what messages we send to students to the messages we send to teachers. Because those messages are directly related.

As the school year begins and many of us head back to our schools for pre-planning, we will be asked to sit and listen to a lot of messages.

Some messages are explicit, like, “Pick your students up from lunch at 12:27,” or “We must raise our Math scores by 56% or be labeled a failing school.” Some messages are implicit.

Here are the messages teachers are getting these days:

“You have creative ideas about how to teach? We don’t need those here.”

“Follow the curriculum map. Keep to the pacing guide. Use the textbook and ancillary resources.”

“Don’t think. Don’t question. Do as you’re told.”

“All that matters is your scores. You need to make gains. Pay attention to your data.”

“If a student is not succeeding, fill out these online forms with drop-down boxes so we can give you a ready-made, test-based success goal for your student.”

“Education is training for careers or college – and NOTHING else.”

“Succeed with all your students, or you will be punished or terminated.”

I could go on, but I’d just get depressed.

How do the messages that teachers hear and the messages that students hear relate? Well, when teachers hear nothing but dehumanizing, stifling, negative, pressure-based messages, it is rather challenging to turn around and present students with positive messages. There is severe cognitive dissonance involved.

What messages could, should teachers be hearing? How about…

 “We honor and encourage your creativity – it is the key to reaching students and getting them excited about learning.”

“Think hard about how you structure your classes, about what themes you use, about how you will decide to pace things for your students – the actual people who sit in your class each day.”

“Encourage and model questioning. Start with us – question the powers that be. Question yourself about how you are doing as a teacher and what you could do to improve. Question what teaching means to you. Encourage your students to question. Be curious.”

“Pay attention to your students. Don’t be blinded by data, by low or high test scores. Pay attention to them as people: to their interests, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their goals. Pay attention to what bothers them, what causes them to succeed or fail. Get to know them. They are people.”

“If a student is having problems, do not get on your laptop to fill out forms. Talk to the student. Talk to the student’s parents or guardians. Talk to other teachers. Try to involve the student in identifying the problem and finding a solution.”

“You may not get every student to pass standardized tests, but you can encourage every child to improve in your subject. You can encourage your students be curious, to think, to question, to love learning, to read, write, problem solve, investigate, create, and perform for the sheer joy of accomplishing something. Help your students to see education as the key to a better future, but also as an end in and of itself.”

“If you are struggling, we will help you.”

Imagine how those messages, given to teachers, would filter down to the children in our schools.

I am one of the luckiest teachers I know. I have people over me who send me those messages, who encourage my creativity, who encourage me to be the best teacher I can be, who tell me that what I am doing is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I am grateful for that fact every day.

But I have also heard the negative messages, and gotten very down.

As the school year starts, listen to the most positive messages you have available to you. If you don’t have any positive messages coming your way– go back and read the ones I listed above.

Someone should be saying those things to all teachers. Someone should be saying those things to you.

But if no one is saying them to you, say them to yourself. Find another teacher you trust and say them to each other.

The message has got to change.

And once the message is right, we need to stay on message.