Whiting column: Examining six myths of education
It’s time for school bells once again.
A new school year is accompanied by anticipation and trepidation from parents, students and teachers. Everyone was a student, so everyone thinks they know how to run a school. Schools are like restaurants.
Everyone benefits from an effective educational process, but many perceptions are inaccurate. A lifetime in education has given me some insight. As a result, we are going to discuss six common myths about education.
1. A hard class is always the best class. Wrong.
As an educator it is easy to fall into this trap. Ideally, most students should achieve at the highest level. If they don’t, there’s a problem. The class may be perceived as hard, but it’s hardly an effective class. That doesn’t mean lower the standards. The learning process is what must work. It’s OK if it takes time and effort, but the learning process must not only allow but facilitate achievement. High standards without a route to achieve them aren’t of any value.
Quality teachers take their skills personally. They realize that if the student fails, so did they. Even the student who doesn’t show the level of effort we would like can be reached. It doesn’t always happen, but the good teacher is always working to find the spark that will ignite a fire in that student.
2. Tenure attracts good teachers. Wrong.
Those who fear the absence of tenure do so for good reason. Quality educators seek accountability because they want to assure all students learn, and welcome input as to whether their process is working. Quality teachers are attracted to schools with effective teachers. They prefer to work with colleagues who are hardworking, dedicated and know what they are doing.
Some argue, “What if the principal doesn’t like me?” That can occur in any boss/employee relationship. In today’s educational environment, the principal has a vested interest to attract and keep quality teachers because s/he is judged by the growth and achievement of the students. Principals will work with any teacher who wants to be effective and is willing to spend the time necessary to be so.
3. More money won’t improve education. Wrong.
If a business wants to attract better talent, money tends to be the dominant factor. A school isn’t different. If you paid every teacher $100,000, let them focus on teaching instead of monitoring the hall, bus duty or having to fundraise, you could attract teachers who would knock your socks off. All educational research comes to the same conclusion: the No.-1 factor in achieving a high level of learning is the quality of the teacher.
Most states, including Colorado, have a shortage of teachers, let alone quality teachers. Consequently, many schools don’t have a choice but to hire whoever applies. Many positions receive zero applicants. They don’t have the luxury of finding a great teacher. If we want all schools to be able to hire quality educators, then we have to first increase the number of fish in the pond. When a first-year teacher salary is around $37,000, it’s hard to attract top-notch people to the profession when the plumber and truck driver make twice that, and other degreed careers even more.
4. A high graduation rate always means the school is better. Maybe.
The government has emphasized raising graduation rates by ranking them accordingly. A worthy goal, but in order to facilitate such, many schools have lowered standards, both in regard to required subject matter and achievement levels for grades.
Additionally, some schools are doing so at the expense of achieving students. Schools are under pressure to keep students with reoccurring behavioral issues. Kids will be kids, but if after multiple situations the student is still disruptive, there comes a point where keeping them only detracts from the culture of the school, disrupts others and diverts time and resources from those who want to learn.
5. All students can be taught in the same manner. Wrong.
All students don’t learn in the same manner. Consequently, the teaching process must respond accordingly. If all students in a class are taught the same, some students will learn easily, some after considerable repetition and some not at all. It’s not an effort issue, it’s a brain issue. To put it simplistically, our brains choose the manner in which they learn most efficiently. It can always learn with enough repetitions, but that can take an inordinate amount of time.
The term is learning style. The term is often misused, because it’s not God-given talent, a brain type, a right/left brain issue or an aptitude, but rather the brain’s desired input method. There are scientific names and everyone’s learning style is different, but they can be generalized into four main categories: reading, listening, doing, watching.
I am sure some of you can remember being asked to read something and then wondering what you had just read or listening to a lecture with the same result. You weren’t a reader or a listener. Others can read and learn quickly. Others need to hear. Others watch and others need to move as they learn. A teacher must present the desired learning in all four learning styles if all students are to learn efficiently.
6. Once they get to high school, kids don’t need your involvement. Wrong.
Over and over parents told me, “They’re in high school now. My input is over.”
They are still kids and deep down, even they know they don’t have all the answers. We influence them by what we role model in values, appearance, manners and work ethic. We all made mistakes in our youth. Let them benefit and learn from our errors.
Know their schedule, their teachers and what they are doing. Make sure you and they are involved with the activities the school has to offer; support them with your words and attendance. Trust but verify.
It’s our personal responsibility to understand the educational process, facilitate its improvement and fulfill our role as parents. And guess what, that influence won’t end even after our children are 20, 30 or 40 years old. They are always our kids and we are their parents.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than by government intervention. He recently retired after 40 years of teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and economics. Comments and column suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org