Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Raining in Education

I listened to a talk by Dr. Michael Apple this afternoon at the University of Regina.  According to their website, he's a "renowned critical pedagogue".  I was going to make up a simpler name but couldn't think of anything appropriate so we'll go with their title.  Basically, he's a wise man who knows a lot about education.  How could  he not with a name so apt for the profession as "Apple"?  Of course, I mentioned this to my tech savvy hubby and his mind went in another direction.  I suppose Dr. Apple would be great at computer technology as well but I digress.

I arrived at the talk a bit late since it started at 3:30 pm and it was a bit rushed to drive from work and try to find a parking spot.  I won't get into the parking issues too much but I will say that I spent way too much time looking for a parking spot which was extremely far away from the lecture.  I also may have used a few curses along the way and feel badly for the parking attendant who was forced to listen to me vent about the whole fiasco.

Back to the talk...and because it's late and I still have a journal article to read, we'll go with point form.  Here are the points that resonated with me the most today.
  • Education is a feminized profession.  Because of this, we are constantly fighting for respect.  We make 5,000-10,000 less than professions that require similar educational expectations.  (I would argue the gap is much larger than this in Saskatchewan and there are plenty of statistics to prove it.)
  • Teachers are highly skilled individuals and yet everyone seems to think they can be a teacher.
  • Governments and educational stakeholders understand very little about what goes on in the classroom on a daily basis.  Only teachers and those who spend time in the classroom truly know what's best for the students.  
  • Standardized testing assumes that every teacher should teach every student the same thing.  This conflicts with the very basis of the Saskatchewan Curriculum which encourages inquiry based learning and constructivism especially in subjects such as Science.  In math, we are asked to teach understanding in many ways where different students connect to the material in a way that makes sense to them.  Yet, at the same time, students are writing standardized tests which assume they are being taught the exact same thing.  Sounds like a no-win situation to me.
  • It's always the teacher's fault when something goes wrong in education.  In fact, anything that goes wrong in education is automatically blamed on teachers or teacher education.  Apparently it has nothing to do with a lack of resources, diverse student needs, cuts in educational assistants, or a multitude of initiatives that would make a head spin.
  • For every 500 poor people, there is one rich person.  Dr. Apple then said that this stat was wrong...there are actually more poor people for every rich person.
  • In every nation where teachers have been paid based on performance, it has never been done with an intention to pay teachers more but with the intention of cutting jobs.
  • There is no research that supports the idea that paying teachers based on performance yields better results.
  • Paying teachers based on students' performance results in a greater divide between the rich and the poor.
Referring back to the title of this post, "it's raining in education" for everyone.  For teachers, for parents, for school boards, for governments, for private enterprise.  In other words, there are challenges for everyone when it comes to education and you have to stand under your own umbrella.  The private sector and those who are interested in a more market-based education system are trying to pull others under their umbrellas.  According to Dr. Apple, private-based education does not work.  He went into descriptions regarding various groups and their beliefs near the end of the presentation.  Unfortunately, I had to take off to pick up the kids at that point but felt enlightened by the lecture and am glad I took the time to attend.

Listening to lectures like these reinforces how important it is for educators to continue to work hard to advocate for what we know works in the classroom.  Teachers are the ones in the classroom each day and there are a lot of good things happening.  As Dr. Apple said, about 19 out of 20 media reports are telling the public about all the shortcomings of our education system.  This struck a chord with me after the attack ads we saw on Saskatchewan teachers in recent months.

How often do we see positive articles about what teachers are doing?  Let's see more of those.  Teachers really are doing great things in their classrooms.  I see this passion for teaching everyday in my colleagues (and myself).  I see the caring and attention teachers give students everyday.  Let's start to talk about that rather than all the doom and gloom of how our educational system is failing children.  Teachers are doing great things and I truly believe that the public knows this.  Why are we trying to keep it a secret?  It's okay to celebrate our teachers and to thank them and to appreciate them. Above all, it's okay to RESPECT them.  That's what we really want.

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