Thursday, October 27, 2016

How Are the Children?

Dr. Joe Rella, the visionary and progressive superintendent of Comsewogue Schools, often asks that question when he speaks. He says it comes from some African tribe or tribes. Whenever they travel, that's the first question they ask. When you're talking education, that's a pretty important question.

When I talk to educators high above my lowly station, they never ask me that. In fact, they never ask me anything remotely resembling that. Instead I'll get a question like this one:

How do you utilize data to inform instruction?

Can you see the difference between that question and the one in the title? I'm sure you can, but since you aren't here I'll provide an answer. One question looks at the children. The other does not. In fact, the other is almost certainly focused on some test or other. How can we raise those test scores? We only had 78% pass last year, and we need to get 82% or the sun may fall out of the sky. Here's another question you're likely to hear from VIPs above your lowly station:

How do you utilize PD to motivate the staff?

That's an interesting question. I hear it and I think: "Motivate the staff to do what, exactly? Raise test scores? Jump up and down? Start a war with a banana republic somewhere? Who knows? It could be anything.

But when I sit at meetings with non-teachers who make decisions, I never get answers to questions like those, and I never get the questions I think I should hear. The closest they get is maybe:

What are you doing to make the students college and career ready?

I'm trying to think of the last time I asked kids what they wanted, and they replied, "To be college and career ready." The most I recall that is never. Sometimes a student says she wants to be a doctor, or a lawyer. Sometimes kids tell me they want to go home, to countries far away. Sometimes they're sad about things happening at home. Sometimes they just need you to listen.

So you might find yourself at a meeting with a Very Important Person, and you might be wondering when relevant questions will come up. How are teachers and counselors helping kids navigate the choppy waters of life in 2016? Are they happy? Do all these programs and benchmarks improve their lives?

In fact you may actually have a pretty cool thing happening in  your classes this year. You might think you'd get to talk about it when the moment arises. Maybe it's something extra, something the kids you serve would never experience if you hadn't been persistent and lucky enough to get them into such a program. The questioner may or may not have cared. It doesn't really matter. It will certainly never come up.

And then there are those other questions. Are the students homeless? Do they live in poverty? Do they wake at 4 AM to help relatives deliver newspapers? If they don't make it to school by the time free breakfast ends do they miss a meal?  What's the difference? That's not part of the data you're supposed to utilize to inform instruction.

There are questions that have already been determined, and there are answers. There is good, there is bad. You listen to them tell you about the incredible benefits of Common Core. They point at what they need to know. So you'll just answer the questions and not bring up any of your own.

In these reformy times, it's just not trendy to bother with how children feel or what they think. David Coleman, architect of Common Core, says no one gives a crap anyway. Just get enough of them college and career ready, walking down that prescribed path, and someone gets that all-important promotion, or pat on the back, or whatever the hell it is that motivates the Very Important People who run our system.

Everyone else just needs to get with the program.
blog comments powered by Disqus