New Year’s Yet Again: A Look Back at the Year in Education

new year

My, but time grows more slippery with age. Seems just yesterday I was breaking a new batch of resolutions and here we are again, two days from the Eve (which will ring in another of America’s specialities, a drinking holiday).

Looking back on the year in education, it’s been more of the same — in some cases worse and in others better. Let’s start with everybody’s favorite whipping boy, stress. The s-word has been in educational news a lot lately.

In New Jersey, one Superintendent sent a 16-page letter to parents (clearly the man needs a lesson in concise writing) lamenting the stress shackling students in his high-flying district. In response, he ditched midterms and finals and declared “no homework nights” on certain parts of the calendar.

Many parents applauded. But many others, most noticeably parents of Asian-American students, did not. They saw the let-up as coddling. They also saw it as harming their children’s path to the league comma ivy. Racial divides over stress? Yes, it’s come to that, and to The New York Times where you can read all the stress that’s fit to print:

NJ School District Eases Pressure on Students

Meanwhile, in Duxbury, Massachusetts, the superintendent got a hero’s “for he’s a jolly good” write up in The Boston Globe when he dispatched a letter saying no student, teacher, administrator, or para (he left out retail workers) should work over this holiday break. Talk about winning crowds by handing out twenties! Huzzah, and all that:

Dux Supe Hands Out Holiday Cheers

Only it’s easier said than done for teachers. Sure, students get a clean break when nothing is assigned, but teachers? They ignore piles of tests or papers collected just before the holiday break at their own risk. Their reward for relaxing will not be very relaxing: they’ll be correcting work when school commences anew–twice as difficult as taking care of business during the break.

By following the good supe’s proclamation, in other words, teachers will become the equivalent of fiddling grasshoppers, singing the season away while ants of the world prepare for a wintry day. (Let’s call Monday the 4th of January “winter,” as that’s when our holiday will come home to roost.) Thanks, Supe. Glad you went viral and enjoyed your 10 seconds of fame!

In 2015, change continued to be the big boat trying to do an about face in education’s Panama Canal. On the surface, education embraces change, but in the secret darkness of its heart? Not so much. For many teachers, it’s “Shut the door and carry on” (cue sound of file cabinet).

Technology in 2015? As is its wont, it soldiered on. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes it was used for bells-and-whistles glamor, and sometimes it was used properly. As for training of any substance? Teachers were on their own. (Sink or swim… education preaches against it but practices it nonetheless. Budgets, you understand.)

What do we look for in a good teacher? In 2015, some forgotten practices resurfaced as if they never left. Questions asked of teachers: Do you have an essential question on the board? Do you point it out at the beginning and the end of your nattily fit-to-time lesson? For some teachers, the solution was to put a question on the bulletin board and leave it there for months. For others, the solution was to post something but forget to mention it. In either case, if 2015 is any indication, you’re a better teacher if it’s there. Meaning: Write your essential question.

Other evidence of good teaching? Staying an hour or, better yet, more after the final bell rings, apparently. When it comes to assessing written work or planning, some teachers focus better in their classrooms and some teachers focus better at home, but the “at home” teachers are deemed slackers by any staff who somehow have time from their own busyness to look out the window and notice said slackers trudging to their cars in the parking lot.

Teacher assessment (and self-righteousness). Easy as A, B, C!

Speaking of, many districts in 2015 paid umpteen dollars for some sort of teacher-tracking assessment software. It is not user-friendly, teacher-friendly, or economically sane-friendly, but it looks good when Big Brother wants to know if you’re tracking your teachers’ ability to set goals, store data, write reflections, revisit data, rewrite goals, and reflect on their reflected reflections (input every 5 minutes or data may be lost).

Might this distract teachers from the rigors of good teaching itself (researching and preparing lessons, providing feedback to today’s work, changing lessons on the fly based on problems as they develop)? Well, there’s that, but bureaucracy wins the day again. It’s all part of the education-is-business movement beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike. Plus, 8% of your teaching staff might just be lousy and in need of such tracking. The other 92%? I think, in military terms, it’s known as “collateral damage.”

Which brings us to the most alarming trend of 2015: the Whole Child. Yes, he and she are back (and that’s fine) but, like ships in the night, said Whole Child is passing the Whole Teacher who is headed the other way.

That’s right. Kids’ stress levels and emotions and morale are under scrutiny and on action lists like never before (see news links above). Teachers, on the other hand? Not even on the radar. You’d think someone would see a connection. You know: Happy teacher equals happy student?

Eh. Maybe in 2016. Or not.

Happy New Year, my friends!

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