After the earthquake on the East Coast last week, I guess I had the term “Shake-Up” on my mind. I don’t know which I considered first, the title, or the post. The beginning of the school year has arrived as many of us do every year, I am wondering what I will do differently this year from those same classes that I had last year. This is something that many teachers consider as they enter a new year. It is also something that many teachers do not ultimately address, but rather settle for many of the same methods and tools of the previous year to get through the new.
If a teacher developed a lesson, worksheets, quizzes, and tests that worked last year, why reinvent the wheel. It takes a great deal of time to develop this stuff, and who has time today? This year’s students never saw this stuff before, so it is new to them. As a secondary teacher of 34 years, I have been in this very same spot. That is how I know it does go on. I have done this. I also recognized it as a fault as I did it. This practice, unfortunately, just reinforces the status quo, and that is the thing that has been under so much scrutiny lately.
If there is one thing that supports the status quo in the education system, it is the way teachers are assigned classes for their schedule. Some schools have almost a cast system. The youngest most inexperienced teachers get the leftover classes. The”problem classes” no one else wants. The teachers, who have been around awhile, the experienced teachers, get the cream of the crop. The result is that the kids who need the most experienced teachers get the newbies. The kids, who are self-motivated life-long learners and have the ability to search out content on their own, get the teachers who are there because they are recognized as content experts.
Teachers who are interested in starting classes often work very hard initially to develop curriculum and selling their course to their “superiors”. If they are lucky, they are given the opportunity to teach that class and it becomes theirs. They actually take ownership and it is their course and deservedly so. However, ownership of classes continues for many years with one teacher, teaching specific classes possibly over decades.
It stands to reason that a teacher who has taught a course over years is truly a content expert for that course. Up until now content expertise is what was demanded of educators in all the previous years of our system. Content is King. The problem comes in when innovation goes out. The creativity that was used by that teacher to get the course up and running is replaced over the years by habit and complacency. Innovation is hard and things have been going along fine without it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No, not every teacher falls prey to this attitude, but many do, too many.
Of all the problems in our system, this is not the biggest one. I believe however, that it is more prevalent than schools care to admit. Maybe it is time for a Shake Up. Maybe we should consider rotating teachers around after a few years in one area. There are some licensing areas that are subject-specific, especially in science. Other areas are less specific. A teacher certified in secondary English is expected to be able to teach any English course on the secondary level. Maybe three years is enough time for a teacher to teach a specific subject before getting a new assignment. There will be disappointments, but maybe that can be turned around by the creative juices of innovation. If nothing else it will promote collaboration between colleagues. It might also have teachers seek out best practices by others.
This need not be limited to teachers. There are many administrators in large districts who might benefit by a rotation to another school in the district. It would expose them to the culture and leadership of another school. It would broaden their leadership experiences. This would certainly hold true for department chairs as well as assistant principals.
Of course this Shake Up idea will probably go nowhere for one reason, the comfort zone. That is the ultimate place that we all strive to find. Once we find it, we want to always live there because life in the comfort zone is easy. The sky is always blue and everything is right with the world in the comfort zone. If we are to change the system, we need to change the culture. We need to change the comfort zones of educators. They need to be comfortable with, innovation and change. In order to make that happen, they need support. Support from Administrators, parents, colleagues, and kids. If we really want to support change, we need to all support teachers. Since we expect a great deal from teachers, our full and unwavering support is the least they should expect from us. The Shake-Up applies to all.