We always believed that learning took place in the classroom. But does it?
To me, education focuses on the mental, personal, intellectual, social, and cultural development of the young. When graduating students come out of the educational institutions with lifelong skills which often lead them to careers that will help to achieve the living standards of their futures. But, that involves a lot of aspects which are not assessed by the standardized, multiple choice tests of today. These tests are supposedly capable of determining whether the students have completed their learning!
Are today’s classrooms ready for this?
Even though I am retired, I enjoy being in a real classroom and the only available venue is substitute teaching. My academic preparation is for higher education, but I have found great enjoyment in going to the upper elementary school classes. The students are old enough to take care of themselves and young enough to be full of curiosity and readiness to venture into the various aspects of learning. I let them know that it is a pleasure for me to come to their classes and that I like learning for sheer pleasure..
There is joy in teaching when one is not fettered by spurious regulations. It is exciting to watch the young minds open up to the new learning served up to them. There are many teachers who go through these rewarding experiences. But, I also notice the drastic changes taking place in the classrooms. I see some new teachers and some old caught up in the plethora of testing and missing the focus on what their true roles are.
I had the misfortune to go to a classroom in the high school. I did not know the teacher and the the subjects were some subdivisions of math. The classes were of low level, possibly the result of some tracking. I was appalled at the practices in the room. Students did not change their group work seats for test taking. Right away I could see that the integrity of the test was compromised. When I saw their answers in the tests I collected, the poor state of their learning became painfully apparent. Most of them did not know that they had to add an angle sign when they named an angle and they could not identify the side of the triangle with two vertices or, in common language, with two points. They appeared not to know the very rudimentary facts that a single letter indicates a point and two points define a line. The inadequacy of the classroom was shocking and I wondered whether the principal or the department coordinator supervised these classes. The integrity of the assessment and the integrity of the content were thoroughly compromised.
To add to to the pandemonium in the classrooms, some technology advocates have converged on a popular device: the cell phone. Educational conferences are imbued with the discord about the applicability of these mobile devices in their capacity to reach information with fingertips. But, do these advocates realize what truly happens in a classroom? They will blame the teachers for the failure of these policies. But, what I saw was disheartening. The students claim that they are using cell phones as calculators and it is a permissible practice. Did it occur to anyone that they may be used to text the answers? How many teachers can monitor the use of cell phones in the classroom? The students have the dexterity to use their fingers without looking at the devices. I have seen some students texting under the desks, inside their bags, and inside their pockets. None is so omniscient that they know to whom the students are communicating with and about what. Evaluations are unreliable if cell phones are allowed during tests. Irresponsible parents are texting to their children while they are in scheduled classes. The distractions of all these external communications are wreaking havoc in the classroom and it is hard for a teacher to introduce subjects in a classroom when they have no support from the administrators about the most distracting device to date. Finally, many give in and stop fighting the battles without any victory in sight.
When I hear the clamor against tenure, I always place the blame at the school administrators’ doors. If they had done their jobs with integrity and professionalism, they would have been monitoring the teachers and documenting the results. It is time consuming, but vital. It is important to hire teachers who have a mastery of the subject they are going to teach. Tenure should be given to only those who deserve them. It is understandable that the new teacher may not be at the top of the form. That is why it is imperative to observe the teacher and offer useful suggestions to encourage the good practices and correct the flaws to improve classroom education. Only if there are concerted efforts to improve should any person with flawed teaching practices be allowed to continue in the district. The administrators should collect sufficient proof to retain the new teacher or not. Even tenured teachers should be observed periodically to ensure that quality is maintained. That means that the administrators should get out of their offices and be actively involved in the process of education in their buildings. They are the leaders of education in their districts and it is up to them to take up the onus of leadership and make the difference. It is up to them to hold up academic standards and academic policies conducive to learning. We need educators as administrators in school districts,, not simple officeholders in name only.