Name:
Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

More on student morale

I wonder what would happen if schools suddenly decided to treat students like the young adults they are. what would happen if kids were given some decision making power in the way they learn the things they have to learn. What would happen if students were surrounded by their own art, their own work and their own intellectual creations. What would happen if students were addressed as 'mam and sir. What would happen if students were spoken to in a quiet voice as two sane adults address each other. What would happen if we modeled the best behavior a human being is capable of to students.

Would test scores improve? Would learning improve? Would students look at school as a destination rather than a required drive-thru window on the way to life. I think the answer to all those questions is a clamorous, lusty yes.

If we examine the way we work as adults, I think many of us would agree that our best work comes out of autonomy. My best work is produced when I am given some latitude in how I am to complete my work. I know for sure that most of what I learned that is with me still I learned as a teacher.

While I prepare lessons from scratch as a teacher I am doing original work and research. I am fully engaged in the project. There is a flow to the work that I fall into that is hard to lay down. I have had students so engaged in my career that I had to run them out of the building in the afternoon.

A reasonable assumption is that students who look at their school lives as positive parts of their overall lives will feel better about the school. Let's face it, most kids do not think very far into the future. They think about how they feel now, today, and in the next hour. Kids also do not have the ability to understand how something will impact their lives. So, tick off the kids and everything goes away - discipline, teacher morale, test scores, safety, and untold numbers of things that I haven't thought of yet.

Kids also understand when their time is being wasted. If they are drilled to death for the state tests they will realize they are not really being taught something for their good. They realize that most of the time the school is concerned about the schools good. If the dress code becomes more important than the learning the kids will behave in a perfectly predictable manner. If, for instance, the administration of a building holds the view that the dress code is the underlying secret of success there will be a problem in every case. I have known of districts where the superintendent actually spent time at the high school, clipboard in hand, tagging kids for dress code. In the same situation teachers are told that their teaching evaluations will be effected if administrators walk into a teachers room to find one or more students out of dress code. Use your imagination. You will be able to predict what happened to the morale of the teachers and logically enough the morale and dedication of the kids.

The test scores in this unidentified school district continue to go down at the same time that dress code was identified as a way to improve scores, discipline and student morale. The results were predictable. Scores are going down, teachers are leaving and kids are constantly in trouble.

Check out your own local school. Find out if your school is rule driven or driven by a concern for impact of administrative decisions on the human needs and concerns of students. One student told this writer that "they just can't get past the dress code, if they put half the effort into helping us learn that they put into being sure that we don't have on denim that day, maybe things would be better. Right now, I hate school".

Schools should not ask students to think until the administration of the district is willing to ask itself the hard questions. The first question might be "why are we following this policy"? The second question might be "is there any indication at all that what we are doing could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, in any universe, contribute to student learning and mastery"? The third question might be "is this policy based on reasoned thought and disprovable research questions or is it the result of my two-bit bias?"

Schools in our era are too often driven by assumptions that are simply the biased opinion of someone who should know better, the biased opinion of someone who is painfully ignorant, or the untested hypothesis of someone who wouldn't recognize good research if someone threw a book of research design principles at them.

In my experience rigorous thought and hard reasoning is extremely rare in the upper levels of educational administration. More often the contents of a one day seminar is forced on a district by an upper level administrator who bought the presentation hook, line and sinker without asking "is there any reason to believe that this content represents anything close to the truth.? Too often they simply are caught up by the flash of the latest idea down the pike. Two often what has really worked with kids since the first time there were kids is thrown out in deference to the latest idea that someone created because they really wish it worked and was true.

If you have a kid in a public school, pray for them.

3 Comments:

Blogger EdWonk said...

We've linked this post at the week's Tales From The Trenches: Classroom Teachers Speak.

2:35 PM  
Blogger BT said...

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