10 September 2006

The Inertia of Secondary Education

In another week or so, I will be working with a whole group of kindergarten teachers all day. What the heck do I know about teaching kindergarten? Nothing. Will the kindergarten teachers care about that? It's highly unlikely. This is one of the odd, but pleasant, things that I've discovered in my district role of Science Goddess. Elementary teachers are very welcoming of those who don't have the same pedagogical knowledge. I think it's because they're expected to have expertise in all content areas, so anyone who can provide them with guidance and support is encouraged to do so. The teachers will fill in the developmentally appropriate information.

This reverse of all of this is not true. Secondary teachers are content specialists already and most of them snub their noses at the idea that there are things to learn from those teaching the younger grades. And in the meantime, secondary education remains quite stubbornly stuck in its ways.

Our elementaries have, for the most part, embraced constructivist principles, instructional coaching, and standards-based planning, assessment, and grade reporting. As much as I complain about their lack of focus in science, I have to give them props for being quite progressive in their work with students. This doesn't mean every single teacher is on board and/or excited about all of these items, but there is enough of a critical mass of enthusiasm to keep carrying things along.

The Union here has stated that standards-based grading will never be a part of secondary, because those teachers "won't stand for it." The same is true for other initiatives and it makes me wonder why elementary teachers are more adaptable...and what it will take to shake up our secondary teachers and get them to really think about what they're doing in the classroom and why. How do we get away from the "same-old, same-old," and move to a more learner-centered practice? How do we respect the content knowledge of our secondary teachers while encouraging them to improve their pedagogy so that kids love the content as much as teachers do? What do we do to help teachers understand that standards are not a threat and that equity in what we do for students is imperative?


Ryan said...

That's a hard one. As a union guy I can tell you that my HS drives us all batty, too--no change is good change, in their eyes, and they've eaten up and spit out 4 principles in the last 6 years.

I could see how the elementary schools would be more welcoming to you, especially as a science person. There are a lot of folks in the younger grades (I'm one of them) who aren't really science people, so any help offered is appreciated. At the HS you're dealing with dyed-in-the-wool science folk, and I can see where the "Who're you to teach me about science?" attitude would come from.

I wish I had great advice, but the best I have is good luck! :-)

Anonymous said...

What if it isn't the pedagogy? What if there is something that happens between elementary and high school to numb kids to the value of education? What if the high school teachers are just plain worn out?

I ask after having attending the open house at my son's academic public magnet school -- a top 50 school in the country according to Newsweek. Definitely one of the top high schools (public or private) in my city. The school is alive. You can feel it. The teachers are thrilled to teach at the school and are thrilled to have our kids -- they told us that time and time again.

In one of my son's classes the teacher pulls up the chair so he can converse with the 16 students rather than lecture. In the geometry class the teacher said he is not going to drill the information into the kids. Rather he is going to pull it out of them. They will have to do the work. All of the classes are honors or AP level.

Guess what? These teachers, faculty and staff have very high expectations of the kids. The kids are given great freedom until they violate the trust. They are trusted from the get go.

Does this happen in the comprehensive high schools? Does it happen in the other magnet high schools? I truly doubt it. Why is that? I don't know.

What I do know is all students in our public schools deserve to be told (and believe it) that they are wanted, that their teachers are thrilled to teach them, that the teachers have high expectations, that the teachers are available before school, after school, during lunch or planning time to help them.

If I were a student in today's public schools I never would have made it. I was ready to leave school at age thirteen. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that really wanted me (a private high school) and that re-ignited my love of learning.

Something to think about -- kids are inately curious. They want to learn. As little tykes they are always asking why, why, why...However come it is after forced schooling of almost any kind they stop asking?

Thanks for letting me comment ---

PHaggood said...

> teachers pulling up chairs and other descriptions of the energy in this magnet HS

Where is this? Tell me so I can move there early enough to get my 6th grader on the waiting list!

The Science Goddess said...

Interestingly enough, anon's district is just a few miles up the road from mine (I checked my stats to see where he'd logged in from). It is Lake Wobegon incarnate---all of the children are above average.

Anon is certainly right that schools need to be passionate about what happens in the classroom and foster passion and curiosity in their students.

My big "but" in all of this is that anon's area has kids who don't go hungry and have involved parents. If every school had kids who showed up with their basic needs taken care of, we'd be as well off in our classrooms as they are.