In the name of improving public education in the US, I’m going to start throwing everything at the wall. Any idea, no matter how wacky, will be considered. Because our system is stuck, and small measures here and there just aren’t going to improve the learning of our students, or the well-being of our teachers.
Warning: What I’m about to suggest has never been tried, to the best of my knowledge. But it is an idea I’ve kicked around with a few other interested souls, and I’ve regularly heard the same response:
“Why didn’t I think of that?’
And in the name of full disclosure, this idea is not solely mine, but a combination of many conversations with my brilliant mother, who is the prime recipient of my many and ongoing rants about problems in our education system.
A few days ago, I wrote about the difficulties facing first-year teachers, and how one possible solution would be to provide these greenhorns with a co-teacher, or at least a secretary, to off load some of the burdensome and time-consuming paperwork tasks.
But teacher retention is not the same as teacher happiness. And to reprise the old adage: Happy teacher, happy classroom.
So what could we do to help teachers throughout their career? To give them the time that is always required, to plan lessons and actually reflect on what they’ve done, and assess whether or not their approach worked… To ask: did the kiddies learn anything? And how can I improve on this for the next go around?
Well, this is the plan. Every nine weeks, teachers get two weeks off from the classroom. They’re not on vacation (don’t freak out!). Instead, they meet together to grade, look at test scores, discuss how various lesson plans worked or didn’t, target problem areas and places where re-teaching is a must, and prepare for the next unit.
Meanwhile, a separate, two-person team takes over the class, doing an intensive short unit on a subject-related topic. For English, maybe it could be two weeks on Shakespeare, or poetry structures, or Tom Stoppard. For a science class, why not a ten-day course on NASA, or the lasting lessons of volcanic erosion we can learn from Pompeii.
The point is, these two-week mini-courses within the larger class could be that all-necessary, oft-overlooked enrichment we’re always droning on about. We could actually do it. And in the meantime, give the regular teacher ample time to reflect on how to improve their teaching, get in touch with parents, give students meaningful feedback on their projects, papers, tests, etc.
I think this would be a great deal for students, too. They would have a healthier, happier teacher. They would have more useful, constructive comments to help them improve their learning. They would get a break from the regularity, and sometimes monotony, of class routine. Plus, they would be interacting with new material from new teachers, who would inevitably inject a different vibe, and perhaps ignite the interest of otherwise apathetic kids.
Obviously, the logistics of implementing a program like this would be a serious mountain to climb. And any time a new, radically different idea is presented, the resistance to altering the bland, predictable landscape is immense, even if said landscape predictably leads to failure.
But I think these kinds of ideas are the jolt public education needs. I think we need to try, if not something like this, then… at least something.
Because our status quo is not working.
This post originally appeared here on March 12, 2016.