THE END OF AN ERA
Today I watched an interview on CNN with Nancy Artwell the recipient of the million dollar global teaching award. During the discussion she said that she would encourage creative, imaginative and enthusiastic young people to enter the private sector of employment and not public school teaching.
Her rational is that the extreme emphasis on common core standards and the corollary testing that partners this effort results in teachers becoming technicians that merely facilitate the implementation of curriculum instead of designing imaginative learning environments that meet the unique needs of their students in their classroom.
Teachers are increasingly being denied the opportunity, in their classroom, to become the professional educator that they have studied in college and worked thereafter to accomplish. Teachers are being compelled by school administrators to implement what administrators deem as appropriate methodologies and strategies to get our students to learn, without mutual collaborative input with teachers into the design of this process.
In Chicago, this spring, at the National Science Teachers’ Convention, I found myself immersed within a sea of new climate-change curriculum ideas, innovative science research technologies and introduced to volumes of big data from satellites. This is the kind of collaborative experience, with my peers nation-wide, that helps me to reevaluate my science curriculum in my school and motivates me to implement new science project initiatives that will galvanize students to learn to love doing science.
At the convention I began to wonder if this innovation in the classroom can be sustained. For too long it has been up to the individual teachers or small groups of teachers to put out the effort and address innovation in the classroom head-on. For too long it is has been more of an altruistic effort by individual teachers within schools to change curriculum to meet the needs of students and prepare them for the challenges they face in the 21st century.
Today there is marginal investment by school districts to fund the needed curriculum initiatives that can deliver increased academic achievement in the classroom for all students. Districts maligned with meeting state mandates, implementing new testing strategies and squeezing budgets along with reducing faculty and staff do not address critical aspects of learning. The assault upon the profession of teaching continues as more and more top-down education programs relegate teachers to the position of merely proctors of a process.
Educators, like myself, holding time-honored ideals of commitment and perseverance in education continue to work to deliver inspired and relevant learning opportunities for our students in a 21st century classroom. This effort by teachers has become a heavy lift and it will be difficult to sustain without more district support. If more support for cutting-edge curriculum initiatives is not put forth by school districts for teacher-centered ideas, then the learning process in the classroom will cave into the technical application of prescribed standards-based curriculum along with their corollary testing.
It is disappointing to me that after 20 years of avocation for innovation and cutting-edge curriculum initiatives in the science classroom and for decades attending many of the largest gatherings of science educators in the world, that I now feel a sense of watching an era in education coming to a close. Project-based and real-world applications being sidelined in favor of prescribed uniform pedagogy along with standards-based curriculum and district-wide testing and evaluation. The new generation of technician teachers will suite district purposes more appropriately from here on and with perceived greater district-based efficiency. I do not know where the learning in the classroom goes to in all of this, but I suspect that it too will becoming a relic.