NBC should be commended for shining a light on what should be a national discussion on Education Reform. Expense was not spared to create more than just a venue for this examination of education. It was an atmosphere created from banners hanging from streetlights to a modern tent pavilion which encased the iconic skating rink in Rockefeller Plaza. All of this created an air of excitement and passion to finally gather educators in a public forum to clearly state what so desperately needed to be clearly stated in the pursuit for education reform. With all that sizzle, I could not wait for the steak.
The Town Hall style meeting began with a touching film about the experiences of a first year teacher. It was well received by the several hundred educators under the big tent. That was a great start with all the members of the tent in accord and reminiscing about their first days as a teacher. The next big question further solidified that feeling of solidarity. Do you feel that teachers are under attack? There seemed to be no one standing up and saying, “No, it ain’t so”. It was shortly after this that I viewed the big tent as more of a circus tent with three rings in the center and a different activity in each of the rings. There was no focus.
I understand the Town Hall meetings are for everyone to get up and say their piece, so I really should not be so critical. Maybe I should be critical of the selection of this format as not being the forum of choice to advance Education Reform. It seemed to me anything but productive in moving reform forward. If this were a class discussion, I would say that the teacher needed a better lesson plan. I don’t know if it could have been done in this format, but I wanted a moderator to summarize, focus, refocus and lead with facts and questions. There were some facts flashed on the big boards, but they were not addressed or reflected in the questions or answers from the participants.
One big objection I had with the entire discussion was the lack of definition. I always have problems with people addressing a problem without defining what the problem is. I bet if you asked a dozen of those educators, “what does a successful education look like?”, you would get a dozen variations. We easily point out all of the failure signs, but even the failure signs are determined by standardized tests and few educators agree on that as a valid assessment. One problem we can identify is that we as educators do not all agree on what a good education is let alone how to get there.
The other lack of definition was that of a “Bad Teacher”. The only thing clear as to what a bad teacher was, was the fact that anyone using that term did not include him/herself in that category.I sumized that a “Bad teacher was similar to the definition of pornography. “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. It always gets ugly when teachers go after teachers. Why do we always find a need to FIRE the offenders? We are teachers. Do we fire our students who don’t get it or do we go back and continue with a different approach. Teachers are amongst the most educated people in this country. One would think that they are at least trainable. Is it possible that some of these “Bad Teachers “are victims of poor leadership and/or a lack of professional development? We are talking about people’s careers. They too had that first day in the classroom experience that we all reminisced in the opening movie.
Where the entire meeting seemed to be sidetracked was when someone brought up the topic of TENURE. As an educator of 40 years it was obvious to me that there is a huge disconnect on the part of young teachers as to what tenure is and why it is necessary. It was also obvious to me how naïve some of these young people are about thinking the only thing that would affect their maintaining a secure teaching position was the quality of their teaching. This subject also seemed, at least to me, to open a rift between Charter School educators and Public School Educators. I was getting a feeling that each felt threatened by the other. This was when I noticed that many of the audience members were wearing shirts identifying their schools. Of course my Hawaiian shirt did not give anyone an inkling as to who, or what I represented.
I came away from the Education Nation Town Hall Meeting more frustrated then when I went in. I understand that by a number of assessments our education system needs to make changes. I consider myself a reform advocate. The changes are many and it will require that we define things clearly and dispel any of the myths that people seem to hold onto from their education experience. Of course, with education the common experience of all citizens of this country with compulsory public education, everyone is an expert. There is no single answer to solve this problem. We can’t fire the Bad teachers and expect all will be right with the world. We also need to be truthful about agendas. Education Reform to many people is the code for “Lower my taxes”. Or fire the most expensive teachers. Or, let’s get in on the profits and make money with charter schools. Or, I need to get re-elected by jumping on the education bandwagon.
We need to make changes in the system, but they must be made by people who have an understanding of the problem. It can’t be left to town hall meetings. These meetings are useful in underscoring the concerns, but emotions tend to cloud the facts. We need educational leadership to step up and replace the business people and politicians who are stealing what should be our issue. We need educators on every level to be aware of not just their problems, but how they fit into the big picture. We need to take responsibility for our actions. We expect nothing less from our students. We need to model that which we teach. We need to be educated about our profession in order to guide the discussions to a positive outcome for reform.