SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

My Children are not Widgets

Sometimes I’m amazed at how my two children could have come from the same gene pool and be so different.  From the very beginning this was clear.  As an infant, my son needed to be held while we walked around the house constantly.  The moment we tried to set him down…”WAAAAAAA!!!!!”  My daughter, at the same age, could be put down in her crib wide-awake and she would soothe herself to sleep.  As a preschooler, my daughter was debilitatingly shy.  (FYI-Microsoft Word tells me that debilitatingly is not a real word, but I will continue to use it anyway.  Take that, Bill Gates) If we went out in public, you could see the fear on her face as people approached her.  My son, however, was comfortable starting a conversation with whatever kid, teen or adult happened to be within earshot.  Many a stranger has been privileged to learn the finer details of the Thomas the Tank Engine saga.  His comfort in social situations continues to this day.

Now, these two children in elementary school are still very different.  One is amazingly academically focused, creating new work assignments when the ones assigned by the teacher are completed.  The other spends homework time creating incredible things out of Legos and brainstorming questions about what would happen if the guy from Avatar teamed up with Qui-Gon Jin and they created a super spaceship.  (OK, I totally made up that question, but it’s usually something like that)

Why am I divulging this personal information about my kids?  Stay with me.  I’m going somewhere with this.

Our current education system is based on a principle that all children, families, and teachers are the same.  We have a one size fits all mentality when it comes to curriculum, behavior management, and selection of teachers.  This attitude may work great in the industrial world, where the final product is some random widget that can only be created one way.  But guess what…

My children are not widgets.

If my two kids, who came from the same gene pool, are so different, think about how many individuals there are among the students in our school, our district, and our community.  Different kids have different personalities.  Different kids learn in different ways.  Different teachers teach in different ways.  These are all things that we should appreciate, not ignore.

I understand that some of my concerns stem from decisions made at the state level, where a lot of the curriculum requirements are determined.  But I also know that there are many teachers in SCUSD and beyond that are truly amazing, and despite the fact that they must use the curriculum approved for all students, manage to make it interesting, fun, and work to the strengths of each individual student.

And, like in all professions, there are those who are just not good at their job.

Unfortunately, we have a personnel system that is entirely based on seniority.  The Board of Education, district administration, Sacramento City Teachers Association, and our community as a whole have accepted a system that bases teachers’ value solely on how long they have continued to show up for work.  Sure, experience is important, but it’s not the only thing.  My kids have had amazing teachers that have been brand new to this career, and others that have been teaching long enough that they could have been my teachers.  But they have also had some teachers that, if I had the authority, would have been sent packing years ago.  I’m sure there is a widget-making factory for them somewhere.

My point is this: We need the best teachers with the best ability to adapt to the needs of our children.  Whatever that takes.  In the future I will discuss some possibilities for how to evaluate teachers in a way that includes both experience and results.  Not just test results, but actual results.  Those amazing teachers that I referenced…I want them to stay.   In those tough budget times where pink slips are given to our teachers, job security needs to be there for the best teachers, not just for those with the most seniority.  Experience does not automatically equal ability and interest.  For example, I have had far more time on this earth than my son, but he can do a far better job at answering those questions about Qui-Gon Jin and that Avatar dude.

I know I’m not alone with these ideas.  I talk with other parents about this all the time.  In New York, a bill would allow principals to decide who stays and who gets laid off. Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, when asked about keeping ineffective teachers, has stated that we need “far better evaluation systems where you actually look at somebody’s performance instead of these drive-by evaluations…” (Real Time with Bill Maher, 3/26/10). Clearly, this is an issue worthy of discussion.

We need to figure out how to best serve every student, and what structural system will best enable that to happen.  We can all agree to put our students first.  Let’s also agree that our children and teachers are not interchangeable widgets.

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Written by Michael Minnick

April 16, 2010 at 11:22 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Yet a lack of experienced teachers is one of the most cited reasons at-risk schools are in that category. Teachers with years on the job hold a wealth of classroom experience and teaching methods. What holds true for other professions like medicine
    and the law, holds true for teaching as well. Obviously experience does matter.
    The seniority protection keeps principals and districts from firing the most experienced, and therefore the most expensive, teachers when times get tough. It also protects those individuals who choose teaching as a career they invest in, through time and education advancement from being shunted aside for cheaper labor. Without some protection through seniority, the teaching profession itself would lose the ability to provide middle-class jobs for those who choose teaching as a career.

    Anonymous

    April 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm

  2. In GATE education we have a lot more freedom with the curriculum which we differenate for ability levels in our students. We also tier assignments and let the students do Independent Study projects. I am working on the new Gate Advisory committee trying to qualify more students and put this program out in more schools. That is the direction from Mr. Raymond to our committee!

    Tari Green

    April 18, 2010 at 9:38 am


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