A counselor once taught me an active listening technique. During a conversation, each person re-states or paraphrases what the other said to ensure understanding. An example might be, “I feel angry when you forget to feed the dog.” The other person will re-phase, “I heard you say you feel angry when I forget to feed Ladders.” When done correctly, this technique allows both people to vent their feelings and ideas and hopefully hear exactly what the other person is saying and feeling.
In some ways, I feel like active listening is missing in the dialogue about education. Teacher bashing, union bashing, and curriculum bashing gets a lot of media attention. Teachers rarely get a chance to feel heard. In fact, when debates arise, no one turns to me calmly and asks, “You’re a teacher; what do you think?” the way they might address a lawyer or a doctor.
Usually, the person has already made some condescending statement as though he/she knows what teachers experience on a day-to-day level—the stress and pressure of trying to differentiate instruction for every student in the room, the heartache of dealing with students who have little to no home support, the frustration of completing mindless paperwork for an evaluation where the administrator spends more time looking at an evidence binder, rather than watching the interaction in the classroom—and then this person who has no idea continues to argue every point.
I rarely, if ever, argue with other people about their jobs because I don’t know anything about what they experience. Just because people have been a student in a classroom somehow makes them experts in education, even if they’ve never had any experience being a teacher. I wouldn’t let someone whose been a dental patient tell a dentist what’s the best way to do his/her job. But somewhere along the line, teachers have been devalued to a point that the basic respect of listening doesn’t apply.
And I get that there are bad teachers out there. But there are really crappy accountants and doctors and musicians and CEOs and professors and garbage collectors and wait staff. Somehow these positions—including doctors and CEOs who have incredible power and influence over people’s lives—aren’t nearly as vilified. Even with all the debates and conflict associated with healthcare, I don’t think I’ve seen a headline state: “Bad Doctors Must Go to Reform Healthcare.” People would think that’s ridiculous. But insert teachers for doctors and education for healthcare, and it sounds like a rallying call I’ve heard a lot lately.
Teachers can have tremendous influence on students; yet, two other indicators are more accurate predictors of how a student will fair in the world: socio-economic level and parents’ education. I could list a dozen different academic articles, which support this thesis. We want to believe education can be an equalizer for those students who live in poverty, and for a tiny fraction, it is an equalizer.
However, after reading articles discussing the John Hopkins Education study in Baltimore, it’s evident we need to look at education in a brand new way—one in which the entire family and community is educated.
• We need to create space for multi-generational learning, where parents are educated alongside their children on important topics like parenting, financial literacy, and health issues because ignorance in these areas takes a toll on the entire country.
• We need to create programs where 3rd graders aren’t retained just to “do over” the material in another classroom. The students should actually receive one-on-one instruction or small-group instruction isolating the skills students struggle with so they can move on to the next grade level truly knowing the material.
• They should have classes in music, art, drama, and P.E. more than just once in a while.
• We should teach students to grow their own food and learn about healthy cooking to avoid the need for healthcare expenses later.
• We should include a variety of trade classes, not by tracking students, but by recognizing students’ talents and interests in these areas and recognizing the importance of these trades for our country.
• Students identified with possible learning disabilities, should be given diagnostic testing within months, not years.
• Students should receive counseling, receive assistance from a social worker, and receive medical care when they need it.
This is true educational reform, not testing, or driving away teachers because the expectation to salary ratio is so out of balance, or micro-managing teachers, or feeding money to a corporation.
A thousand other teachers have ideas like these and even better ones. The problem? Very few people can hear these ideas from teachers over the criticism and insults flung at them in the media, and in person, almost daily.
Who doesn’t listen to you?