As the teacher walkout continues here in Arizona I feel like I’m just beginning to process the events and come to an opinion about it all. It’s an interesting topic for me, since I’ve always been an outsider to the school system and maintain that self-directed learning is better ideologically than the authoritarian traditional educational model we have in the US – and yet, at the same time, I recognize that the majority of children are in public schools and as a Christian who desires the good of my neighbors and community I want those public schools to be the best that they can be for the sake of the children in them. In a perfect world the school system would be fundamentally different, and I believe it is important to work towards those deep system-level changes – but in the meantime, there are children in the schools now who deserve the best our society can give them instead of being neglected in the pursuit of future goals, and pragmatic changes for their short-term benefit are a good thing.
One of my friends shared the following image on Facebook:
That really does sound like a horrible job description. If this accurately describes teaching, then the fact that teachers are walking out to protest the lack of support (both in staffing and supplies) for their students and schools is completely understandable and will hopefully be productive!
But honestly my first thought when I read that was, ok, this really seems like an indication of deeper problems that aren’t going to be solved just by bringing the number of students down a bit or increasing funds for desks and school supplies. Maybe the goals themselves need to be different; maybe trying to get kids to sit still and be quiet isn’t the best way to transmit knowledge and enable lasting learning; maybe focusing on test scores instead of meeting children in their uniqueness as fellow humans isn’t the best way to make the connections that will interest and engage students. The best teachers, after all, always seem to be the ones who go above and beyond their job description and create personal connections with their students – which in turn help their students to connect to the subject matter and contextualize it in their lives.
Debbie Reber, in her book Differently Wired, drives home the point further in her discussion of the effect of neurodiverse students on the classroom environment, and the effect of the classroom on them:
“There’s simply no way one teacher can adequately meet the criteria of each child’s IEP or 504 Plan (if they even have one) in the long term and on the fly while simultaneously teaching a bevy of antsy elementary students how to apply the order of operations.
“One of the biggest challenges regarding the education of neurodiverse students is that they typically require more support, resources, and effort to reach their potential. Simultaneously and consequently, they may detract from the learning happening for other kids in a classroom, since having a handful of children monopolize a teacher’s attention because of disruptions or their falling behind affects every student’s learning. On top of that, as dedicated, hardworking, and passionate as teachers may be, most don’t have the tools, training, or knowledge for best supporting their neurodiverse students. As schools attempt to become even more inclusive, the challenges for teachers will only increase.
“[…] the overwhelming majority of American schools are rooted in this traditional educational model – one that sees students as passive absorbers of information; uses teacher-centered methods; is based on external criteria such as test results; focuses on linear and rote learning, memorization, and skill mastery; delivers content through lectures, worksheets, and texts; and measures progress through grades. As long as this model is held up as the standard, or at the very least, is the primary option available, children with neurological differences will always be at a disadvantage, because these schools weren’t conceived to support different ways of learning.”
In other words, as difficult as the school system is for teachers (struggling to deal with the needs of their students and the demands of the bureaucracy), and as non-ideal as it is for neurotypical students (who are separated from the wider community and forced to perform to someone else’s standards and values), it is even more difficult and less ideal for neurodivergent students. And considering that those students are now estimated to be 1 in 5 of all children, maybe it is time we started considering consigning the traditional educational model to the shadows of history. Would it really be that hard to begin experimenting with different educational models and philosophies? Or is our society so attached to its institutions of control that it will continue to attempt to bandage their corpses with promises of ever-increasing funding?
If you liked the quote from Differently Wired, read my brief review of the book here and check back in June for the giveaway!