Thursday, December 27, 2012

So what?

"We don't want to know what we really know, because if we did we'd have to change our lives."

Parker Palmer

It's year seven as a middle school science teacher for me.  What was once a whisper of change in how students learn, is now being shouted through a bull horn.  To continue teaching (I define teaching as the act of allowing real learning to happen) you cannot do what you did in the 1990's.  In fact in light of the latest recession I could argue that you cannot do what you did pre-2007.
I started teaching in 2006.  I have watched my college classmates suffer the consequences of being poorly prepared by an industrial revolution education system.  I have made a career in this system and I am now watching as the same process continues around me and in my classroom.  Three years ago I moved to another school district and innocently I thought it would be different.  It wasn't, and this unnerved me to the point of questioning if the teaching profession was for me.  As my grandfather told me on the back porch one night, "When you are not satisfied with something you can get to changing it or get to leaving it."  Three years ago I decided I was done watching and started changing it.  The "it" that I have immediate impact on was and still is my classroom.  
My classroom is not there yet, but then again I have learned that there really is no "there" to get to.  There is simply improving or not improving.  I can say that the amount of student learning happening in my classroom is improving.
Before winter break I was talking with a colleague of mine who was feeling pretty beaten down.  He was telling me how the kids just don't work.  They are not studying at home, and they are not doing their homework.  "If this is 1st semester, what's gonna happen mid way through 2nd semester" and "This wasn't how it use to be", he said.  He remembered years where he was able to move students way ahead in the curriculum.  Now he really has to push just to get students where they need to be by the end of the year.  In talking with a 7th grade teacher he found out that kids next year will have  much the same attitude and lack of work ethic.  In asking him if these kinds of students will just become the way students are now I got a glum look and a "maybe...".
I think the answer is "yes".  To be honest though why should they study or do their homework?  The answer of so you can get an "A" and get into advanced classes, and then on to college scholarships and a rewarding career doesn't work.  It doesn't work because it is no longer true.  There is no guarantee for success.   The assembly line where each teacher adds in a few facts to the brains of their students and then if they get all of the facts at the end of the line there is a job shut down a while ago.  This may very well be the system we went through and the reason we have our jobs but it is no longer true for our students and to tell them that it is true is a lie.  The number of unemployed college graduates is staggering right along with college tuition.  College admissions have more students to enroll than ever and less money to give than ever.  I know a high school valedictorian who is and has been unemployed even after sailing through a prestigious law school and there are others from my high school class with similar stories.  I know these stories because of social media.  Guess what... our students know people in the same situation because of social media.  To tell them to follow the rules, to do the work, to answer each question, to read each direction so that they can be successful later in life doesn't work because our students know the real story.  They know people or know of people who played the game of school very well, but upon graduating they still had to live in their parent's basement because they could not find work.  They couldn't find work because they are a product of an industrial revolution school system where you are not an individual.  Upon graduating college you are one of millions of other graduates and if you will not work for a low salary employers will find someone who is desperate enough who will.  This race to the bottom will continue to happen in a world where cost determines who is selling and who is not.  To be employable now you have to be different than anyone else and have a unique skill to boot.  The race to be the best is exhausting because there will always be someone who has the same credentials who will do it cheaper.  Secure jobs do not happen and there is not one path to career success. The Detroit Auto Industry is a prime example of what once was a secure factory job, but that is not the only example.  Think about what Redbox and Netflix have done for the movie rental business.  We can even look at lawyers and doctors and see what has done to the law practice, or even what web md has done to the medical field.  Paying for people with valuable facts is over.
Have students changed?  Absolutely and they should if they want to have a career.  Every industry and business has in some ways changed since the recession.  Schools on a whole haven't.  Wait... I take that back... if a school's only change is that now the robotics team has to fundraise then we are not changing enough.  The school factory system conveyer belt of desks in a row, read-this-do-this activities, do your homework, and fill in the blanks will continue to off load students into a non existent jobs.  Why are we forcing students to value what the industrial revolution jobs valued?  Students have deemed these skills not necessary for their future.  Businesses change in response to the world around them and the needs or wants of their clients.  Education should follow suit.  It's time to go up to periscope depth and look around, freak out, and then continue to look around.  Once you have you will then come to the question my students and I are already asking... "So what now?" This blog is a record of my journey in answering that question.