Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is It Good Enough for Your Child?

I have two children, one in second grade and one in Kindergarten in our local public elementary school.

Last summer I attended a meeting to which parents had been invited in order to create a profile for the next principal of the school. I turned to a group of teachers who had come to represent the faculty and said, "I want my children to be taught to be more than just good test takers. I want them to have those skills identified in Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap -- the "21st-Century Skills. I'd like the next principal to be able to speak intelligently about this."

The teachers' heads all turned in my direction at once; they weren't expecting anyone in the parent section of the audience to come out with such a gem of "eduspeak" as I just had. I noticed that one older teacher rolled his eyes at my comment. Not being a fan of non-verbal communication, I asked him if he could put his response to my comment in words. "The tests are not going to go away," he said.

And he was right. There is no viable alternative to standardized testing here in Texas, and I've come to the understanding that getting into shouting matches about the value of testing is a waste of time -- at least for now. "I agree," I responded. "I'm not asking you to stop preparing them for it. I'm asking you to do more."

Parent heads nodded around me, and I heard one woman mutter, "Yes sir, that's right," in a way that made me feel like quoting scripture and hugging a Bible to my chest.

For effect, I repeated the charge, "As a parent, and as an educator, I'm asking all of us to do more."

I doubt I "converted" that seasoned 5th grade math teacher, but I know that I reached the parents in that room. And if what I said had an effect on just one of the other teachers sitting in the audience that day (and I suspect it did, based on some nodding I saw from that section of the audience, as well), then I know I may have planted a seed of change in that school.

Now the trick is to imagine my children attending every school I work with, from Estacado High in Lubbock to Fred Florence Middle School in Dallas, and to fight the fight for better educational practice just as passionately wherever I go. To plant that seed continuously, over and over.

As Felicia Donaldson, the young principal of Baxter Junior High School in Everman, Texas put it when addressing her entire staff for the first time, "If this school isn't good enough for your own children, then it's not good enough for ANY children. And we need to change that together."



  1. Most kids I teach in high school have trouble reading clocks (in Spanish class I used to have to teach them in English, so I could then teach them in Spanish) and they can't read cursive. Apparently, these skills are not on any TAKS test, so they are skipped. I don't care if kids stop doing handwriting "dittos" like I used to do, but being able to READ cursive is still a valuable skill. We are going more and more to computers, but there are still a lot of people who write notes. Seriously, if after you graduate and get a job, if you boss puts a simple note on your desk or someone gives you a phone message, what are you going to say. Sorry, I don't read that way?

  2. My biggest frustration is mediocrity, and even incompetency amongst tenured educators and administrators. There are teachers in my son's NJ elementary school that clearly do not enjoy being with children! But they are going nowhere, even those that have formal complaints lodged against them year after year.
    I realize that there is external, district-wide pressure to prepare the children to do well on standardized testing but if you can't engage them at all, then even these efforts are likely to fail.

  3. Maura: so the subtext of what you're saying is "Never mind the TWENTY-FIRST century . . . teach them the EIGHTEENTH century skills at least." Sheesh!

    I want my kids to learn to have the confidence to politely go to their boss and say, "Thanks for your note; can you translate it for me? You see, we never studied cursive in my school."

  4. Alison: There's a great book that we use with some of the school administrators we work with called "The Skillful Leader: Confronting Mediocre Teaching" by Alexander D. Platt, et. al.

    In all seriousness, you may want to suggest that Gabe's principal read it.

    And as for the teachers who "clearly do not enjoy being with children," I always tell the new teachers I work with the same thing: "The best weapon you can have in terms of 'classroom management' is the sincere wish to be there. Kids know right away whether you want to be in the room with them or not, and if you don't, it's going to end badly for everyone involved. So do us all a favor: If you don't want to be in the classroom, DON'T be. They're hiring at the Post Office."

  5. Assessing and analyzing info, effective communication skills, collaboration, creative thinking and problem solving..."Thanks for your note; can you translate it for me? You see, we never studied cursive in my school."

  6. There you go! 21st Century skills in one simple (albeit slightly sarcastic) phrase...