“Just Let Me Teach” is not only the title of a great radio program, hosted by Justin Oakley on IndianaTalks radio, it is the perfect tagline for a movement to save public education in America.
Implicit in the definition of the word “teach” is that someone “learns.” If learning does not occur then we have not really taught.
The fundamental purpose at the outset of public education in America was two-fold. On the one hand, the purpose was to help kids learn the basic knowledge and skills that they would need to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship. On the other, our objective was to give kids choices in life by helping them develop their unique talents and abilities to the optimum level while also arming them with the strong self-esteem they will need to deal with life’s challenges and control most of the outcomes in their lives.
The mechanism for fulfilling our purpose in education was to place children under the tutelage of trained teachers and, from the outset, the most effective teachers were the ones who were able to form close, personal, nurturing relationships with their students. The idea was to create an environment in which we place teachers in a position to teach and children in a position to learn.
As we have said in a previous article, the relationship between teacher and student is where real and sustainable learning takes place. Relationship trumps everything.
After over a half-century or more of misguided reforms and a profusion of secondary agendas we find ourselves with a structure that prevents teachers from doing what society and their students so desperately need them to do and what teachers, themselves, so fervently want to do.
• When did it become our purpose to prepare kids for standardized competency exams?
• When did it become our purpose to see how students measure up against the performance of their classmates rather than focus on their own progress?
• When did we decide it was a good idea to push kids ahead to new material when they still struggle to comprehend?
• Whatever possessed us to set some kids up for failure and humiliation while we celebrate the accomplishments of their high-performing classmates?
How do these activities serve our fundamental purpose to let teachers teach and students learn?
Why is it so difficult for teachers and administrators to shout “whoa!” and acknowledge that what we are doing does not work for a growing population of American kids and we are not just talking about poor and minority children, although they are clearly over-represented in this population? The evidence is there for all to see!
The world has always been full of distractions but the powerful allure of “social media” and the ready availability of a full menu of multi-sourced media have had a supercharging effect on peer pressure. The result is that it is exponentially more difficult for parents and teachers to capture and sustain the attention of our nation’s children.
If, today, we were given the opportunity to reconstruct the educational process to achieve our fundamental purpose is there anyone out there who believes we would we choose to do any of the nonsensical activities that dominate the time and energy of modern-day teachers, a few of which we have identified above?
Instead, teachers would ask for more time to teach; more time for kids to keep trying until things begin to make sense and they begin to gain confidence that they can do it; more support from parents willing to share responsibility for the education of their children; and, less time devoted to unproductive busy work and recordkeeping, all of which the business community has learned to automate.
We know teachers everywhere look in the mirror, every morning, and offer up a wish or a prayer in which they say each day, “just let me teach.” If we work together, beginning today, we will create a reality in which teachers leave for school each morning with full confidence that teaching is exactly what they will be both allowed and expected to do.