This is another essay written by my buddy Bernie Keller.
From September 2011 through December 2011, I was sent to work in eleven different schools, a different school every week. For thirty-two years, I worked as a teacher of English at Adlai Stevenson high School. This means that in four months, I was sent to more schools than I had ever been sent to work at in over three decades! I don’t know about you, but this statistic tells me there is a problem, since the schools I’ve been sent to, especially those that are not doing well, represent the “external” solution to today’s education issue
The more I moved from school to school, the more I was convinced that the education issue cannot be resolved by an external people with external answers. In my travels, I have seen schools that are well organized and disciplined places where learning is most certainly taking place. Other schools I have been sent to are disorganized and poorly disciplined. Here’s a thought. Instead of looking for answers in theories and philosophies that may or may not work, why not speak to the people in the schools that ARE working, that ARE disciplined.
What they are doing is NOT a theory or a philosophy- it’s working now. Instead of bringing in a million dollar consultant or creating committees to “look at” the problem, why not use the programs, ideas and solutions successful schools already use?
For example, a major problem in schools is attendance. I think you can attribute a large part of this problem to the dissolution of the community schools. In fact, when students ask for schools in their communities or close to their homes, not only are they usually denied their choice, but also they wind up at schools they have to travel to reach, either by train or bus, or some combination of the two. It’s really simple-the further away from school you are, the more you will need to rely and depend upon public transportation, (which you do not control). The more you need to depend upon public transportation, (the more trains and the more buses), the greater is the possibility you will not be on time.
The longer it takes to get to the school, the less likely students are going to be willing to travel to school. Basically, you have handed students a built in excuse for students to be late. I teach new teachers that if you want to enjoy success as a teacher, you need to limit students’ access to excuses. The fewer excuses there are, the more responsibility the students must take on him/herself, as should be the case. (Incidentally, learning to be responsible is one of the things school should help students to develop).
Distance also affects parental participation. With schools in the community, the excuse that it’s too far to travel to get to school to meet their children’s teachers or to discuss issues their children are having is eliminated. Just like in the cases of the students, you are giving parents an excuse NOT to do their job as it pertains to their children’s education when you send their children to schools outside of their communities. By this I mean never do anything that would increase the odds against your chances to achieve success. After all, winning or being successful is already a difficult proposition, so why make it even harder by doing things that will reduce your chances and your ability to attain success?
Finally, schools where success was evident treated teachers with respect and treated them as professionals. It was clear that their knowledge and experience was valued and that the supervisors trusted them and believed that when you marry experience to knowledge, great teaching will be the result. While great teaching alone doesn’t guarantee learning will take place, (because a major part of learning as the dictionary will attest, is dependent on the person doing the learning. This means that even if the teacher is an expert with a dynamically engaging style, if a student has made up his/her mind not to learn, NO learning can take place!), but it is a pretty good place to start.
The more I travel the more I am convinced that what makes for good teaching is the same today as it was thirty, forty or even one hundred years ago, that it’s not in the Smartboards or the laptops or the many paged evaluations or the Ramp Ups or the other programs that disappear in a year, or Danielson methods or core curriculums, the more I am convinced we already have the answers and that many of those answers are simple and cost effective.
The education reformers are making the “game” harder than it has to be. It really isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t take a genius to understand what makes education work. We have the real experts, the people who have succeeded in urban education specifically, and education in general, people who have been there and done that, who do not depend on a theory or numbers and data that is designed to offer only that part of the picture or equation that supports a particular theory or political agenda. They have the answers. Ask them. If you need their names, I can start you off with a few: Adelaide Sanford, Dr. Lorraine Monroe, Dr. Cornell West, Rev. Dr. Barbara Austin Lucas and Dr. Hakim Lucas. That should be enough to get you on your way.
We have the values and the plans and the strategies that will work and have always worked. Stop looking for or trying to find or make new solutions which often cost more money, usually don’t last more than one or two years and almost never work. Use the solutions and strategies that have produced the Ben Carsons, the Ronald McNairs, the Martin Luther Kings, the Barack Obamas, the Cornell Wests, the Benjamin Mayses, the Joy DeGruys, the Paul Robesons, the Sara Lawrence Lightfoots, and the Steve Jobs, the Bill Gates, and the Shirley Chisholms.
Never make the game harder than it has to be. Use what you know works and keep it simple.