Is the "eduspeak" a big turnoff? Likely. I had a teacher rail at me on Friday morning as we walked down the hall from the office. Here it was, not even 7:30 a.m. and this woman had been stewing in her own juices for hours...all over the term "scaffolding." Now, I admit it's a bit trite, but this is a term I actually kinda like. I like the idea of supporting student learning to a new place---and then removing the supports once the skill is learned. My colleague does not. Her perception of the term means that it is a support for a crumbling entity...not something used to build. This was just the tip of the iceberg for her. She ranted on about the need for scaffolding at all. Hey---we went through the educational system and made an effort to internalize the information and turned out just fine. Why on Earth isn't that good enough now?
I tried to explain that she and I had certain advantages (scaffolds?) in the forms of two educated and involved parents who made enough money to keep us comfortable. We had so little in our personal lives to worry about that it made focusing on what happened in the classroom pretty simple. But there are a lot of kids, then and now, who don't have that. We can't do much of anything about what happens to them outside the school walls, but inside, we have to give it our best shot. This means doing a bit of scaffolding for students who need help in building background knowledge. Not everyone has been to a museum or camping or had a parent read to them when they were young. What can we do in the classroom to bring everyone to a point where the same opportunities for the future are possible?
This explanation only served to make her more irritated. "Not everyone is meant to go to college. We'll still need people in services, etc." I agree. But I don't see the current trends in education as completely devoted to college readiness. It's about making sure everyone---regardless of their background---has the same basic knowledge and skills. What they choose to do beyond that is their own business. I do have some issues with the standards movement, but not with the ideas related to equity.
She and I have both been in this field for awhile. The standards movement has run over us, not through us as with the younger crop. These new expectations aren't things that we've had a chance to internalize---they've just been dropped in our laps and we're supposed to magically know how to change what happens in the classroom. Now that I have a greater support role in the district, it's becoming so much more obvious to me what is missing from teachers' toolkits. I'm just not entirely sure how to bridge the gulf. Here's some of the larger needs I see:
- How do you "teach to a standard" and know if students have met it?
- How do you change from a teacher who "covers" material to one who can say their students have "learned" the material?
- How do you release your choke hold on the facts listed in the textbook and teach concepts?
- How do you select instructional strategies and lessons that help all of the students in a classroom?
You may be wondering if I have the answers to these questions. I don't. I do have some ideas about how to approach them and some resources for doing so. I e-mailed my school admins with a few of these questions and the need for getting at the belief systems of the staff. We can't move forward as a school unless we have some agreement about what should happen in a classroom and why---along with a plan for supporting it.
The role of a public school teacher is difficult enough without having to figure out all of this on one's own. Those of us in support roles have got to find a better way to address the needs of teachers.