This past weekend I spent three days at a conference for “Men” hosted by my church. One of the needs of a man is affirmation; they want to be told they are doing a good job. One of the Keynote speakers made one statement that just stuck with me: If you tell a man that you have his back and support him, then he will run through walls for you. If you take a negative approach to his performance, then you will only find the negatives. He will work with indecision and without confidence. Indecision leads to negative results.
In many schools across this nation we have a very negative approach to everything we do. The tone is “I’m going to catch you doing something wrong”. It is very difficult for anyone to become comfortable and take calculated risks that will be a benefit to their students. Everyone does the things they know are safe and will keep everyone off their backs.
The major issue that we are faced with as educators today is that the media has done an excellent job at painting public education as the greatest failure in the world. They have made the public believe that there are too many teachers that are “bad” teachers. The truth is there are a few “bad” teachers out there, but in general there are mostly good teachers that are working hard for the success of their students.
In 2011, while attending the Summer TASSP conference, I listened to a man speak about a trip that he and his wife had taken to China. They were going over there to study the nutrition of the children in poverty. Initially, they were told they would have 12 months to do their study and make suggestions. When they arrived they were told they only had 6 weeks. This meant they had better find some solutions and find them fast. They first began looking at some of the other nearby villages that were not having problems with malnutrition. They found that they were adding just a little bit of fish to the broth that they were making. That little bit of fish was the difference between proper nutrition and malnutrition. The point is they found what was working and expanded on it. They could have wasted lots of energy looking at all the negatives and never found any solutions.
Every child has a strength that can be expanded. Every teacher has a strength that can be built upon. It is time to start focusing on the positive and not the negatives. Only educators can fix education. Educators must be part of the solution and quit being the target of all the blame.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Let’s start with the home-life of most of our students. Currently 60% of all students in the State of Texas are receiving free or reduced meals at school. For many, the free meals provided at school are the only meals that they may get to eat during the week. The priority of these students is survival not school. Lets stop blaming and start finding solutions.
The following steps must be taken: the order that I list them in is not a priority list.
- Stopping drinking the Kool-aid! Everyone educators and the public must stop listening to the negative propaganda that is constantly presented by the press and our legislatures.
- Empower our teachers, principals and even our superintendents so that they can do more with what they have. Time to retrain the fleas.
- Educators needs need to be part of the process when deciding how to make improvements. You would not hire a plumber if you have a medical problem!
- Educators need to be treated as professionals. They need to be paid as professionals. The starting base salary for a teacher should not be below the poverty level. 75-80% of all money spend on public education is spent on salaries and benefits.
- The state needs to fund schools properly and equitably. According to the Equity Center reports: Money Matter and Money Still Matters, money is the greatest determining factor in the success of students.
- The state must return local control to the local ISDs. Let them decide their own school calendars. They need to have control over the curriculum and assessment.
These are just a few steps that must be taken. After all, how did we all learn to walk; a few steps at a time.
I believe that the State of Texas is ripe for change at this very moment. Parents finally stood up and had a voice during the last legislative session. Their outcry resulted in the reduction in the graduation tests required and new high school graduation plans. Parents finally stood up and were heard, now it is time for educators to do stand up and be heard.
David R. Taylor
26 year Teacher, Coach and Principal