By Sandra Martin, @SpecialtyEDU
Those of us of a certain age probably well remember those teachers who showed movies all the time, sat behind their desks, and chatted with their friends while giving students seatwork to complete independently.
However, back in the mid-20th century, many occupations operated in a similar manner. Executives and CEOs relaxed with their coffee and read the newspaper. Others overextended breaks, came in a few minutes late to work, or left early. Nowadays, those slacker executives and CEOs have been replaced. Young professionals, fresh out of college, fill their shoes. Companies expect employees to attain certain goals and demand increased performance from all their workers. A new work ethic replaces the old one. Employees must prove they make a difference for the company.
Education is no different. Teachers are not exempt from housecleaning; they are being asked to prove students learn in their classes. More than ever, their doors are open, they are connected, they develop themselves through social media, and more. As a result, slacker teachers have been forced to reform or leave the profession.
Nevertheless, the slacker-teacher stereotype still persists and has led lawmakers to enact educational reforms over the past 2 decades that direct the curricula teachers teach and the tests they use to measure students’ progress. State tests have been created to ensure standards are met, and very rigid curricula are mandated to teach students to achieve these standards. The pendulum has swung to a one-size-fits-all model. With this teach-and-test approach teachers are ostracized if they suggest that the curriculum and tests are inappropriate. Test anxiety is now prevalent and kids are programmed to go to college whether they want to or not. The ongoing stereotype of slacker teachers created the current state of affairs.
Unfortunately, the present educational practice of state-mandated curricula and testing has done little to improve the poor literacy rate in the United States. One-size-fits-all teaching and testing and treating students like robots are not working. Self-esteem has dropped and graduates are not well prepared to enter today’s workforce. When school days are filled with extra reading programs and state-testing practice, there is limited time for important subjects such as music, art, family and consumer science, and edtech.
As educational reform barreled through state legislatures, the vast amount of knowledge and research invested previously in the basics was abandoned and replaced with new research-based methodologies. Rather than building on the basics, educational reform replaced programs that worked with entirely new ones. Teachers are forced to employ the new instructional methods and abandon the old with little time to strategically plan. Often, those who have great ideas but less experience in the classroom direct these curriculum changes—not teachers. Consequently, with the elimination of basics such as phonics, grammar, and math computations without a calculator, we now are seeing educational deficiencies among students.
Teachers understand that using current educational research to modernize instruction is always a good thing; educational practices such as updating teaching methods to reach the needs of all learners, gathering data, testing to determine if lessons are successfully retained, or incorporating the latest technology are extremely important. For instance, teaching for understanding with diverse learners, using some data and informal testing to make sure every student meets defined goals, and keeping students abreast of new technology that changes rapidly are all essential. Teachers are onboard with using the best programs that ensure learning. They are in this job because they enjoy contributing to the success of their students’ lives and they want to do it right.
The state-testing system and the one-size-fits-all teaching curricula continue to stir controversy among parents and educators. Teachers should be permitted to take charge of designing curricula and testing for accountability. They should be hired for their expertise with content and their ability to work with children. Many have training well beyond their original undergraduate degree as required by the state.
Their on-the-job training in the classroom affords them experiences with students that other educational professionals with limited classroom experience will never gain. Through countless lessons, teaching adjustments for learning styles, and behaviors in their community of students, teachers are shaped into indispensible employees who have valuable insight into what works in the classroom and what doesn’t.
There are few teachers today who don’t take their responsibilities seriously. They recognize the uniqueness of the students they teach and treat them as the individuals they are. It’s time to move the pendulum back toward the center, and give teachers the primary responsibility for developing well-rounded curricula that nourish students’ strengths. With every child being as different as the fingerprints on their hands, educators should be free to use teaching and testing approaches that reach all learners.
Let’s eliminate the slacker-teacher stereotype once and for all. Allow teachers to educate our children and prepare them for life by respecting their decisions on curricula and testing. Let them build upon the basics with current trends and technology. Let’s start recognizing and appreciating the value good teachers bring to the classroom, to our students, and to society as a whole, and work together from that position of possibility!
Sandra Martin is a well-educated, veteran teacher, speaker, and professor who works with student teachers. Martin won many awards for her service to students with special needs including becoming a finalist for PA Teacher of the Year. As a classroom teacher, she changed many lives with her intervention for students with reading weaknesses called Breaking the “Sound” Barrier to Fluent Reading (BSB). With the nation continuously reporting low reading scores, her mission is to spread knowledge of BSB and change those statistics; imahe attribution flickr user markprobst; The Increasingly Dated Image Of The Slacker Teacher