“Spilling the tea” is teenage slang that this history teacher can appreciate.  Like those 342 rebels that protested taxation without representation on December 16, 1773, in Boston harbor, it is time for educators (teachers and administrators) to become revolutionaries. Although the slang of the terms is typically about gossip, the “T” in tea is also a signal for speaking the truth.  Nothing improves without noise. Education in America is in desperate need of a revolution.

Education in America is in desperate need of a revolution. Click To Tweet

In education, teachers and administrators like to believe that their schools are filled with individual adults who are consistently doing their best to educate every child.  Those of us (myself included) who work with other people’s children are a dedicated lot who grow quite defensive when criticized.    Like homework in a middle schooler’s backpack, this defensiveness has created black holes where effective instruction and authentic learning disappear.

So, let me be the one to spill the tea.  Our schools do have many individuals who work incredibly hard and are somewhat successful with many kids. There are also individuals in every school who are not effective educators (teachers and administrators).  These people are part of a systemic problem who make the more effective educator’s jobs twice as hard.  Many students graduate after thirteen years of education with significant gaps in their knowledge and skills.  Teaching practices, materials, and poor leadership are all to blame. 

I am crossing the thin chalkboard line to spill this tea.  There are people in every school who are contributing to poor teaching practices, using misguided or canned materials, and subsequently failing students.  There are administrators in many schools who are either too weak in their disciplinary practices or are too bent on rooting out black and brown kids and their perceived “ghetto behaviors.” There are many school leaders who refuse to tackle essential issues of instruction and school climate.

To call these individuals, “bad” is not an apt term.  Bad connotes morality.  No, these individuals are not morally bankrupt.  “Bad” people make news headlines and get fired.  I am talking about responsible adults who are contributing to limited student progress because these adults refuse to change.

The student deficits created by these teachers and administrators are often cumulative so that by the time students reach tenth grade they lack efficacy in basic skills.  Intelligent students, without cognitive disabilities, lack basic communication skills, like how to construct logical sentences, let alone mastering topic sentences and evidence-based written statements or essays.  Or these same students don’t own their math facts, making fluency impossible — mediocrity rules.

Why are schools not providing the best learning environments? What is the “T” in our truth?

  1.  Public schools are the embodiment of Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty–they accept all that enter.  Not every student can master all of the mandated curricula. True.
  2.  Public schools are microcosms of society and its ills. Mental health, school anxiety, student attendance, poverty, social media, bullying, addiction, parental instability are all factors that affect students’ level of achievement. True.
  3.  Distractions are the norm.  Instruction is hindered for announcements, phone calls, discipline, assemblies, special programs, etc.  Add to that climate, students who are tired, students who are distracted by their phones, and students who talk incessantly results in instructional time on task dwindling even further. True.
  4. Administrators have an incredible job, which includes managing student discipline, the organization of the building, personnel issues, attending events, observing teachers, and overseeing the implementation of content. Administrators have too much on their plates to do everything well.  True.

So, where do we go from here?  What is this revolution? 

  1. Pedagogy needs to be the top concern of every adult in the building.  Discussion of best practices and instructional methods must be paramount.  All professional development should be driven by science-based instructional practices and the reflection on those practices.
  2. External disruptions should be kept to emergencies or urgent matters.
  3. Teachers need to be empowered to remove students who are excessively talkative, distracted, or inappropriate.   Furthermore, if pedagogy is a focus, then lessons would engage the majority of students, keeping negative behaviors to a minimum.  Class time is sacrosanct.
  4. Administrators need to have difficult conversations with teachers who are not meeting the needs of their students.  Struggling teachers need support and modeling.
  5. The teacher evaluation system is broken.  Anyone can, once a year,  show an administrator a wonderful lesson.  Real instruction, however,  is honestly analyzed by investigating materials, assessments, and methods routinely applied.  Administrators and gurus often use the term data as the holy word for evidence.  Administrators need to be held accountable for their appreciation of how teachers instruct.  Administrators must collect data through informal and formal means.
  6. Educators are “Jacks of All Trades,” but they can no longer be masters of nothing.  Elementary teachers (especially third through sixth-grade teachers) should be responsible for one or two subjects to hone their crafts.  Elementary teachers deserve full preparatory periods every day.  Yes, this means hiring more teachers.
  7.  Recruiting more teachers means public schools need to pay teachers more.  When compensating teachers, schools need funds.  To fully fund schools, zip codes cannot determine the amount of money a district has to meet students’ needs.
  8. Middle school teachers need full support for removing disruptive students.  Middle school can no longer be a place where pretty projects trump essential learning like writing instruction.  Middle school should not be a time where grades don’t count, and kids need to survive the social turmoil.
  9. High school educators need to encourage many paths for students’ career choices.  Vocational training, college credit-bearing classes, job shadowing and a variety of electives should be the norm.  Many rural schools in America have limited opportunities, especially in electives and in advanced courses.

We have low expectations for our public schools, and they are performing accordingly.   No one is denying that there are dedicated educators in every school.  In order to keep those great people and recruit more, we must face our problems. Stop letting Harvard professors and business moguls dictate how our schools change.  Educators know what schools need.

The wealthy and the powerful either don’t care about public schools or are rooting for their demise.  Those of us who are in the public schools need to work to keep the positives and change the negatives of an institution that every citizen has a right to participate.

So, go ahead, spill that tea.  Let’s be revolutionary.

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