“I wish my teacher knew that I love her with all my heart!” was how one third grader in Colorado completed the assignment reported on ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir.
If we want all American school children to get the quality education they deserve, and that our society so desperately needs them to achieve, we must give them what they need to be successful. We can identify four things that are not only essential but they trump everything else. What we need our political leaders to come to understand, whether here in Indiana or anywhere throughout the U.S. is that standardized testing is not one of these four things.
The first thing children need is to be treated as individuals on a dedicated learning path that is tailored to their unique starting point. As every professional educator will attest, the level of preparation and motivation children bring with them on their very first day of school is as diverse as the population of parents who gave birth to them. Beginning with such a focus not only puts a child on a path on which they can be successful, it sends a subtle but powerful message that they are special and that they are valued. Nothing gives the child the absolute best opportunity to be successful and nothing helps a child develop a healthy self-esteem more than being accepted for who they are; not how they stack up to their classmates.
The second most critical component of educational success is that each child is placed in an environment in which they can enjoy a nurturing, positive, life-affirming relationship with a teacher who will love them and care for them unconditionally. We want every child to experience the joy of the special relationship that most of us recall when we think back on our favorite teacher. While this component might be second on our list, it is second only because of chronology. Creating an environment that fosters such caring relationships between teacher and child is, overwhelmingly, the most important thing we can do to assure that the child receives the highest quality education of which they are capable. Yes, I understand that some children are easier to love than others but the universal truth is that “the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.”
The third thing the child needs is the assurance that they will get off to a good start and this requires that they begin learning how to be successful, from the very outset. This can be accomplished by creating a situation in which a child is not permitted to fail. Because we have placed them on a unique learning curve, it does not matter how a given child compares to other members of his or her class. We need to create an environment in which each and every child is given the time they need to learn each and every lesson, every step along the way. We simply must not permit them to fail. One of the things our current educational process does most successfully is to teach children how to fail. If we can, instead, begin teaching them that they can and will succeed it is amazing how success replicates itself every step along the way. It changes the equation to one in which the child’s success is a given.
The fourth essential component is that we need to engage parents as partners in the education of their sons and daughters. If we can pull the parents into the special relationship we strive to create between a child and his or her teacher we create an environment in which anything is possible and where every obstacle can be overcome. A warm, nurturing, and positive triumvirate between parents, children, and their teachers creates the most powerful motivational force in the world.
Many public school teachers will read this list and nod their head that these are important but will then go back to what they have been doing, whether or not it has been successful. The problem is that these four components are so far from the reality from most public school classrooms, particularly those in our most challenging schools and communities, that they are viewed as unreal; as abstractions.
What every professional educator must be challenged to believe at the very core of their being is that these components are not abstractions. They are real, and they can be created in each and every public school classroom in America, if only we step back and examine not only the way we do everything and why, but also the way we structure the process that supports and facilitates what we do. Each of these components is achievable and manageable; they are attainable solutions to a human engineering problem that requires only that we structure the educational process to support our most critical objectives.
In my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, I offer a blueprint for an educational process that relies on these components as a foundation for everything else it does.
I can imagine nothing that would validate a teacher’s existence more than hearing one their students say, “I wish my teacher knew that I love her with all my heart.”