At the start of this semester I was asked, “if you were named Secretary of Education tomorrow, what would you do?” and I accidentally entered a state of paralysis because my answer is simply: everything. As a teacher for the past four years and having worked in education in other capacities for just as long, I’ve collected my list of qualms with education as a whole. I’m writing this as an extension of the answer I gave in class that night, an answer that was by no means holistic or well-thought-out.
This year, working part time has shown me how many issues with teaching could be solved by simply having smaller class sizes or fewer responsibilities as educators. Being able to focus on the smallest number of students allows teachers the opportunity to build positive relationships with each student and notice trends much sooner. We can also solve this problem by incorporating more TAs in the classroom. An aide can help with tasks such as taking attendance, running small pull-out support groups, distributing materials, relieving the teacher in emergencies, an on-site support in case of a substitute, and other tasks that take up space in the primary teacher’s mind on top of content and pedagogy. In some schools, a TA might even be an older student in their final year who is completing an internship of sort and using this a hands-on experience out of genuine desire and interest. This could be another way to further develop community: the desire to become a role model in the classroom might inspire students in ways Pep Rally’s don’t usually. We can also solve this problem by hiring more teachers: raise the status and importance of teaching, reduce the burden of the career, pay educators more, remove the financially burdensome barriers to licensure, and creating more equitable community to classroom pathways.
Grades gotta go. Standards based all the way baby! I’ve taken to writing rubrics at the bottom of all of my formative assessments (classwork, homework, etc) and simply giving students a completion grade. With the pandemic, I’ve done away with late grades entirely. If you turned it in you turned it in. During in-person school years I’ve created separate sections in the gradebook for late vs on-time work. Personally, as a very frazzled individual, I found it hard to keep up with the bean-counting necessary to have accurate submission times recorded for each student. I’d love to read more about where and how we can teach timeliness and keep students fairly in sync while still honoring students personal work styles and giving them the flexibility and guidance to be the best students they can be. Students should be allowed to reassess for things the same way they would likely be given a second chance on their driving tests, most standardized exams, and many realms of life.
More community. Community building is probably at the center of your school’s mission statement or guiding principles or ideologies but what does that look like inside your school’s halls? It’s amazing the type of projects that a cohort based system are able to work on and come up with. If students, baseline, felt more safe and understood within school walls, this nebulous “community” may be easier to come by. Educators, counselors, admin, students, families, everyone needs to believe in the school and in their students/selves. We can build community around the fact that we care about these students and their educations and are doing everything in our power to make sure they’re supported in and through it. Everyone also needs to be educated on how to manage their emotions and express themselves in manners most aligned with their authentic selves. This would allow for positive relationships to flourish and community to be underscored in this setting. I would also like to see schools have more of a symbiotic relationship with the immediate neighborhood, members, and small local businesses.
Food needs to be free for all students point-blank period. Speaking of food, with proper practice with cleaning and being respectful of our spaces, students should be able to eat unobtrusive food freely. Think of the number of times in the day you as an adult, are likely to meander on over to the pantry and graze? So why do we not allow even a crumb of food in the classroom? We should give students the opportunity to practice and model cleanliness if that’s our biggest issue. When people are forbidden from doing something, they do it sneakily. We need to be working with students, considering why and how our long-standing rules are in place, and figuring out the best relational compromises to keep students learning, safe, and healthy. We can spend several minutes of every class reminding students of the “no food” policy or we can accept that bodies operate how they operate and sometimes a lil snack is less distracting than hunger or hunger-induced apathy.
Revaluing of alternate post-secondary paths. Vocational school or going straight to working shouldn’t be taboo! These are all valid, viable, and worthy of support in the same way that college-bound students get supported for their plans. When refocusing on all post-secondary paths rather than just college, we will have to sit back and reevaluate which “core courses” are actually necessary, to what degree, and really understand what we’re asking students to internalize and learn. It would allow more room for non-traditional classes such as Executive Functioning or SEL or Financial Literacy or Sexual Wellness, or Gardening. These courses are likewise able to make a person more well-rounded and I would have found, at minimum, just as useful as Pre-Calculus.
What are some things that grind your gears about K-12 education in the US? Big or little, I’m really curious!