Teachers are no strangers to having stories told about them in order to move political agendas forward. During the era of No Child Left Behind, tales of lazy and incompetent teachers helped pave the way for strict accountability measures. Now, as ESSA marches forward with its plans to commodify, digitalize, and outsource education, a new set of myths has begun to circulate. Here are some of the most common fables you’re likely to hear.
We spend most of our time lecturing.
In a 2010 article titled Teachers Unions vs. Online Education, Katherine Mangu-Ward summed it up like this: “A child who was perfectly content with a video stream, an MP3, and a chart flowing past him is suddenly ordered to sit still, shut up, and listen while a grown-up scrawls on a blackboard and delivers a monologue.”
But here’s the truth: most teachers spend very little time lecturing. At the elementary level, most teachers are trained in the “workshop model” of instruction, where direct instruction is limited to a short “mini-lesson” only. Across all grade levels, most teachers combine discussions, projects, and group work into their daily lessons. Scrawling on blackboards while delivering monologues? Not so much.
2) We make our kids memorize lots of stuff.
This one also makes a great foil for reform plans: while teachers simply jam a bunch of knowledge into kids’ brains…
…online and digital programs will actually teach kids how to think.
But again: this just doesn’t happen. In most contemporary education programs, teachers are taught to use the constructivist model of education, where knowledge is “co-created” between teacher and student, and memorization takes a back seat to meaning-making. Meanwhile, the end-of-year math and ELA assessments don’t actually require students to know any particular facts at all; instead students are asked to do things like “find the main idea” of a paragraph, or decipher the meaning of an unknown word given its context in a sentence.
So, as much as they would like you to believe that those antiquated, 20th-century human-teachers are simply filling kids up with facts and sending them on their way, it’s just not true.
3) We teach according to our own needs and interests.
There is a big push right now among digital reformers to make learning more “student-centered” – as though we have somehow been centering our teaching elsewhere.
The truth is that as teachers, we are constantly searching for ways to tap into our students’ interests to engage them more deeply. “Teachable moments” – those spontaneous moments where you set the day’s plans aside because of something a student said or did – are one of the best parts of the gig. We only wish we had more time for them.
4) We need better “assessment tools.”
This one brings my blood to a particularly rapid boil, as it pretends to hear some of our concerns about the end-of-year test (we don’t get the results back in a timely manner; they don’t actually give us worthwhile information, etc) but is really just trying to sell us more junk. Most of the major testing companies (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, etc.) have shifted their focus to the burgeoning “formative testing” market and are now promising to give teachers the real-time data and analytics that we need to inform our instruction. Meanwhile, an army of corporate-funded non-profits are aiming to put teachers to work developing banks of formative assessments that can be also used to gather student data.
But here’s the truth no one’s telling you: we don’t actually need any of this data.
Our own assessments, our own eyes and ears, our own conversations with kids and parents and caregivers give us more than enough information about our students to do our jobs well.
5) We are on board with the latest reforms.
We are asked to complete surveys that don’t include options for what we actually think; sometimes a couple of us are invited to participate on policy task forces only to find out that such policies have already been determined; occasionally someone from on high asks for our “input”…
…but lord knows what happens to it.
The fact is, while we make good window-dressing, teachers don’t have much say in what happens to public education.
Can you imagine what things might be like if we did?