Friday, September 26, 2014

Let’s compare Apples to Apples

Those who do not know how to teach become educational administrators or legislators who command how education should work. I’m frustrated with individuals who either hated teaching or hated kids, so they went into positions where they delegate assessment, objectives, and outcomes on educational topics without knowledge of what does or does not work in the classroom. Administrators are beginning to rule with an iron fist because they believe that education and educators in America are not effective.
I admit there are teachers who are not as effective as others. That occurs in any profession. If legislators as well as administrators want to remove tenure, so they can fire those teachers who are not doing a good job then fine, do it. However, I doubt they have taken everything into consideration. Here’s the problem holding teachers to the same standards as other workers. Our final products are not strictly of our making. We get all different types of children from all different cultural backgrounds. We get students who are poor and have not eaten or slept. We get children whose families are broken or breaking up. We get students who are at different levels of aptitude and attitude. Our employers do not give us the same exact material in order for us to create a particular product. That’s where the difference lies.
To prolong this ridiculous analogy, let’s take a worker in an automobile assembly plant ( I know we're not comparing apples to apples, but that's the problem). Let’s say “Jim” is in charge of the engine. He gets brand new cylinders that have been inspected, he receives pristine spark plugs, valves, the piston, piston rings, etc. Jim smiles because he knows his job, knows how to assemble the engine and is confident in the end he’ll have a great running engine. Are you with me?
Now, let’s take “Sara.” She’s been teaching for ten years. She knows her material really well. She’s taken many classes for professional development and still has a positive outlook. It is September 4, and her new class enters. Immediately she realizes that her fifth graders are very different. One little girl looks hungry and it’s only 8:30 am – lunch isn’t for another three hours. Sara makes a mental note to look into this. A little boy is poorly dressed, another looks really tired, another is very hyper and already disrupting the class, one child looks painfully shy, and on and on. Sara has all different parts, so she has to work with what she has. But, that’s not the way her principal sees it or the way the superintendent sees it or the governor sees it. They want the outcome to be identical even though Sara has been given different level parts, and their motto seems to be, “follow the money.” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy in education.
Administrators and Legislators are suggesting that America’s children are falling further and further down the list of educated people. According to the U.S. Department of Education, America has slipped from mid-twenties in math and from high teens to the low twenties in science.  Many countries are doing better than we are. Let’s look at who they are: China, Poland, Russia, Japan, Finland, and Canada ( “The Most Educated Countries in the World,” 2013). Does anyone note the difference between these countries and ours? My father used to say, “I prefer good common sense that leads to wisdom than textbook knowledge.”  Here is the difference between the United States and these other countries: the U.S. has a melting pot of ingredients. Some cultures rate education as much more important than other cultures. We mandate that all our students receive an education, while many countries mandate an eighth grade education and then give the individual the choice or an exam to determine whether they will continue their education or not.
Some countries are culturally one as in Finland and Japan, so the differences in philosophies is minor; moreover,  there are some differences in the treatment of education, in Finland especially, that one should take into account when deciding how the U.S. should proceed. An article, “Why Finland’s Unorthodox Education System is the Best in the World,” written by Adam Taylor for the Business Insider suggests a multitude of reasons why Finland’s educational system is the best in the world:
 Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7. They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens. Thirty percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school. Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments in every class. 43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools. Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S. Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and take 2 hours a week for ‘professional development.’ There is no merit pay for teachers. Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers.(2010)
Educational success encapsulates many ingredients, they are: parental buy in – parents must acknowledge that education is vital, even crucial. Reading, writing, and participatory discussions are important parts of learning as well. Learning cannot take place the first day the child who is six or seven years old comes to school. Education must begin immediately. A love of learning has to occur without delay. When 40 million of our children are going to bed hungry, there is a major problem. Children are not receptive to learning when they are hungry or tired. What are we going to do about that? Children are being abused in the home. What are we going to do about that? Older students are working to help support families. What are we going to do about that? Teachers are being scheduled with large class sizes. What are we going to do about that? Teachers are being asked to do more for less. What are we going to do about that? Where are these answers from our administrators and legislators?
Let’s stop following the money and let’s start following the students and the problems they confront on a daily basis. At the college level, professors are being evaluated on retention levels. Here are some reasons why students don’t continue college: finance, divorce, housing, abuse, health, indecision about major or employment in chosen major. Notice none were in reference to grades or teacher inaptitude. How do I know? After thirty-one years of teaching and asking, this is what I have learned. Professors can do little about health, finance, abuse, etc. We can advise counseling and counselors, but we cannot force students to go or force students to stay.
Educational success depends on many variables. To place the onus on teachers alone is for parents, administrators, and legislators to shirk their own responsibilities. Let’s follow Finland’s model. Let’s throw out those eighth graders whom we don’t think will work out well for our overall scores and keep only those who are doing well. Let’s follow Finland’s lead, and then let’s see how we do. Administrators and legislators must allow teachers who have proven their weight in gold to assess how our educational system should and can improve. These dedicated individuals have been successful and know the best methods to achieve the best goals and the most success. Let’s give education back to the educators.
“The Most Educated Countries in the World, 24/7 Wall St, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.
Taylor, Adam, “Why Finland’s Unorthodox Education System is the Best in the World,” Business
       Insider,2010. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.
 © Natala Orobello

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