professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Woebegone Blues

I love Garrison Keillor and the radio programs from Lake Woebegone where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average. I have come to believe that educational reformers must live in this fictional town since they believe that everyone can be above average. I am an above average reader, but I need remediation when it comes to geography (directions, location of land masses, etc.). I am an average citizen (I vote, donate, etc.) but a below average artist (really, no drawings ever went up on Mom's fridge). On any given day I might be below, on, or above average in writing, speaking, teaching, etc. It is relative. It depends on a variety of factors.

So, when I see said reformers calling for achievements that, statistically, seem rather daunting (that is the nicest word I could come up with in my sleep-deprived state), I know that they have found a way to transport themselves to Lake Woebegone where such things are possible. gets this. Here is the piece I read recently that made me sit back on my heels in alarm:

Please take the time to watch the video that explains how easy it will be for all schools to be excellent and, thus, all children to be excellent as well. I swear if I had the time and the talent, this could be the plot outline for a very disturbing but hilariously funny dystopic novel.

Quick and easy solutions are not possible. The problems kids face occur outside of the classroom: poverty, abuse, neglect, hunger, and more. Simply doing "pods" (did anyone else think of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS?) or "swaps" (like SWAP MEETS?) or paying some teachers more than others based on a perceived level of excellence (and we are a tad uncertain of what that even means and how it will be determined). And you have to love the phrase inserted every minute or so "as budgets permit." Teachers online and not in the class while other teachers (not the excellent ones) sit and make sure the kids listen and take notes and behave? I am still unclear about the role of the less than excellent teacher, but I am thinking that means an aide and perhaps not even someone with a degree will be in charge when the excellent teacher is not available. Honestly, it would be funny except that someone was deadly serious when this video was assembled.

Because I am questioning this, of course, I am one of the folks who has low expectations, one of the not-so-excellent teachers, one of the people who does not want to see kids succeed. I have expectations; I want to see more and more kids succeed. I will retire soon. I am well aware of the need for new folks to come and do the work I have loved for all these years. And I have met many who are excellent. Perhaps I do not know too many of the not-so-excellent legions out there (if indeed there are legions which I doubt) because I hang out at conferences with excellent teachers. I talk tot hem via social networks. I see the books and articles they write. I know their stories.

Unlike the educational reformers who are Lake Woebegone residents, I understand that we all have different strengths (and, conversely, weaknesses). I know working with a mentor teacher is always good. I would have loved for my own kids to have Sara Kajder, Kylene Beers, Donalyn Miller, Katherine Sokolowski, Penny Kittle, Paul Hankins, Colby Sharp, John Schumacher, and so many others as teachers. Occasionally when we all gather in one place, we talk about our dream faculty. We have no trouble at all talking about the wonderful teachers we know that we would love to have the chance to work with daily. Not. One. Bit. Of. Trouble.

Excellent teachers exist. They are in the classrooms juggling new curriculum, new students, new needs, and so much more than the outside reformers will ever know. They are working hard every single day for YOUR KIDS and YOUR KID and YOUR KID. For each and every kid. If reformers could only acknowledge that first, if they could sit in the classroom and watch the miracles that occur when a kid "gets it." If they cold see kids excited about reading and writing and learning. If ehy could see the physical change that takes place and see the mental adjustments made, perhaps they might just see that excellence more often (and not always be looking for excellence in data points).
Tags: excellence
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