I spend a lot of time thinking about the U.S. public education system. There are many factors that draw me to this realm but at the core is the desire to enable others to be the best versions of themselves. At the core is the desire to help the youngest members of my society to become lifelong learners. I want to make these core functions easier to achieve and accessible to all students no matter their race, religion, socio-economic background, or ability. This is why the systems side of education interests me.
So, what does an equitable and productive school system look like and how do we get there?
I’d like to address the second part of that question:
The first thing is to recognize that we may not have all the answers. The functioning of an education system is a community effort that takes all voices, including those of the students, to properly enact. At the core of all action must be the students-both present and future. We won’t arrive at our desired destination until we include the necessary voices in the reform.
Because students are at the core of the system one should examine the factors within the system that have a direct effect on the students. It has been proven time and time again that effective teachers are key to successful students and schools. Therefore, we need to rebuild the teaching profession. We need to attract my generation and future generations to the profession of teaching.
Unfortunately, an attempt to capture the essence of successful teaching has been undermined by high stakes accountability measures that further push potential teachers away from the profession and pull current teachers away from the work that matters the most.
Furthermore, as much as we need to rebuild the profession we cannot expect to attract individuals to a profession stuck teaching to the test. I am a student of the testing era. Growing up I thought that standardized tests were the ticket to success and in some ways, that is what they were and still are. My peers and I have all seen the undue burden that test anxiety causes and do not want to perpetuate that culture. We want to be a part of a teaching environment that teaches the whole child; we want to be a part of a profession that recognizes the value of diversity and emphasizes collaboration over competition.
I’m not sure how we get to this point but I want to work on that. I want to explore ideas for creating a stronger profession that is then able to support a better system.
I know that there are educators and former educators ready to do this work. I have been fortunate enough to work with a team in Wisconsin that understands how to tie accountability to professional growth. I had the privilege of working with a team made up of mostly former educators and educational administrators that understand the hard work that goes into a successful classroom, school, and community.
For the sake of the students and the future of our society we need to lift up the voices of educators like my former coworkers and those currently in the field. Our system will continue to struggle until we address this imbalance and need for change.