How do we change school when… Oh them teachers!

I just saw something odd on Twitter (no surprise there, right?), namely the question: How do we change school when lots of people are concerned with protecting their little corner of school?

I suspect that a lot of people (I mean a LOT of people) wisely nod their heads hearing or reading this assumption loaded question, the assumption of course being the one drummed into the public’s mass mind by our media, namely that teachers obstruct change for the better and are the cause for all that’s wrong with our schools.

The question is so upside down, it made my brain flip inside my head.

A few slightly more knowledgeable folk may substitute teachers with administrators and be closer to the truth, but… there are not many such people, and most of them are teachers who have already been vilified and removed from any discussion of how to do school right – after all, why ask the people who are actually there?

After my brain had righted itself again, I thought I should take a few moments to ask the much more valid reverse question of: How do we change school when teachers are prevented from protecting their little corner of school, the one in which they can do their best?

I hope you noticed the difference: I am not joining the mooing herd that claims teachers are blocking improvements. I am saying teachers are people, people with the insanely difficult task of guiding large numbers of immature people. And since people work best their own way, especially when their tasks are difficult, it would make sense to let them. Sadly, “school reform” has done the opposite, and new reformers keep making the same mistake. “We” won’t be able to improve school if we keep paralyzing the people who work with our kids there. It’s easy to day dream about change. Implementing it is much harder and requires a protected area in which to do it. It also must be given time.

In truth, I suspect, the OP meant the question quite differently from how I am reading it here. After all, Twitter provides no context, and we don’t know who the OP referred to as the “we” who want to change school or how they want to change it. Still, reviewing the question as most people will understand it, it exposes a major problem in our schools: the constant meddling from the outside of the classroom by people who have no idea of what goes on inside or what is needed there. I have worked in public schools, saw the need for change, tried to do it, and found myself gagged, bound, and sabotaged from all sides. I have paid dearly for even trying to treat students as human beings. I have worked at independent schools which professed to implement many of the changes I had determined to be necessary, but which found themselves caught in such a turmoil of widely varying and contradictory expectations from students, parents, supervisory agencies, and society as a whole, that once again my colleagues and I were sabotaged from all sides and blamed for not squaring the circle.

I don’t have time and space to write at length here, so I will make the rest short. What we really need to make schools good are these three things:

  1. Figure out as a society what we actually need and want from schools and design a model which serves all those varied needs. Almost everybody’s current assumptions about these things are dead wrong and naive!
  2. After hiring passionate and knowledgeable school staff who stand behind this concept, give them credit for their qualifications, pardon their human imperfection, show them some trust and a lot of cooperation, give them time, and by the love of all that’s good stop trying to micromanage their work from the outside!
  3. Realize that human beings are a messy bunch, that K-12 education and child raising are therefore messy (shit will happen!), and then stop punishing schools and teachers for this simple fact of life.

We all need to be less hysterical, presumptuous, and disunited.

4 thoughts on “How do we change school when… Oh them teachers!

  1. Bravo! We teachers have been turned from professionals to peons. Show me a child who wants to learn from someone nobody respects.


    1. Good changes, yes. Bad changes, no. There have been changes – for the worse. We need to demand GOOD changes. For such sensible changes, however, society really must rethink the purpose of school, come to a consensus, and then set clear goals which are NOT mutually exclusive. Until this happens, teachers will continue to be expected to square one circle or another with everybody else vilifying them from the sidelines for failing to achieve the impossible. This blame game and the associated false education “reforms” help nobody but a few crooks and careerists (politicians included in both categories).


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