TEACHERS KNOW

    So much of contemporary public talk about education makes little or no sense to people who teach. Even more astonishing is the fact that most teachers just accept this as an unfortunate downside to a job they enjoy anyway. Many seem to have given up expecting to have their experience credited, their skills respected and their contributions appreciated. Some, in school districts that purchase canned reading and mathematics programs where teachers basically lead students through lessons constructed by "experts," find themselves in an educationist dronedom, their work increasingly done on the right side of their brains, the left drifting off into dreams of retirement as the world at large blames them for the problems of our schools.

    To those who donít teach, the debate between the testing uber alles crowd and the authentic assessment savants probably appears to be a sensible debate, one related to everyoneís desire to raise the standards of our schools and make them and those who teach in them more accountable. Teachers, however, know that the results of standardized tests while useful for what they tell us about individual students and the academic program in their schools, are at their best indicators of minimum levels of academic accomplishment, at their worst creators of illusory academic excellence. They know, too, that no matter what kind of assessment tools we use, we never completely know for certain what students have learned, and we know even less about the influence we have had on them as human beings. Such things just canít be known to a scientific degree of certainty. So while they learn what they can from all of the assessments they use, good teachers ultimately fall back on their teacher instincts, developed in the process of creating the persona they become when they step before a class of young people. They hold themselves more accountable than any administrator I have ever known, accountable to their own high standards. Most of the ones I know never feel they make the grade they have established for themselves.

    To those who donít teach, the often impassioned debate between those who think school should be about rigorous academic courses and those who believe that our schools exist to "educate the emotions" of our students is an equally pointless discussion. Most of the teachers I have known are in no doubt that their primary mission is to teach young people things that educated people are expected to know, to teach to think coherently, and equip them to be productive citizens of a democratic society. While they are sensitive to issues of mental health and while they attempt to be role models of compassionate human beings, they know that school is not a mental health facility. They know too that to be a good teacher of the young is to sometimes have to say "No" to their desires, to sometimes brave the risk of their hurt feelings and anger and to occasionally be seen as unfair. But, good parents have to cope with those situations too.

    Those who donít teach have a terrible time understanding the world of education largely created for them by others who often are clueless about the things they claim to know with certainty. To teachers it sometimes seems that almost everyone thinks he knows more about the work they do than they do. Do you know of any school reform initiative that proposes to put teachers in charge of teaching?

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