Friday, March 16, 2012

Is there a doctor in the school?

These days everyone is talking about applying the business model to schools.   Some advocate that if people looked at the bottom line, basically what a school produces, the school and teachers would be more accountable and this would make schools more competitive.  While this seems to make sense, business minded people are usually focused on products and profits, not people.  While customer service is championed by certain individuals, the overall focus in business is on the success of the company, and is not always dependent on customer satisfaction, despite what their motto may be. 
The argument of the schools, of course, is that we can handle it ourselves, thank you very much.  But what people are forgetting is that the schools are already operating from a business-type model: the factory.  No matter where I go there are bells that ring at regular intervals alerting everyone to stop what they are doing and move onto the next activity in the production line.   Teachers in this production line deliver a lesson or task, ask the students to complete the task, and then they rate it as acceptable or unacceptable.  It is not about authentic learning.
For authentic learning to take place a student needs to express what his own needs and interests are, then research or seek assistance in meeting those needs, and finally assess how s/he is learning and what the results are.  That is what we do as adults when we need to learn something new, and that is also what people do when they go to the doctor.  They go to the doctor and say, "This is what I am having difficulty with and want to fix."  The doctor then replies, this is what you need to do, "Take two of these, and call me in the morning."  The doctor remains a fixed part of our lives knowing us as a patient and individual and continually reassessing our needs based on where we have been and what has and hasn't worked in the past.    At the same time, we have the ability to communicate about is working for us and what is not and we have the option of seeking a second opinion, finding a doctor who we feel most listens to our needs.
If we continue on this analogy between schools and doctor's offices, imagine how we would begin training our teachers.  They would have a residency with other resident teachers in a school, observing and studying students with the toughest 'case histories' in order to learn exactly how to manage 'student care' for a variety of issues in a variety of situations.  After this experience the resident teachers would have an internship with a highly qualified teacher.  (While this is not too far from the model we currently use, it could use some tweaking.)   If these highly qualified teachers would train resident teachers in the poorest districts, taking a "year of service" from their regular positions to teach in an urban setting, adequately compensated for their work, think about how much they could learn together.  Students in the greatest need would have the greatest teachers and not just one, but two.    Because resident-intern teachers are studying student cases, not just curriculum, the business of teaching, they would be highly student-focused and knowledgeable in learning styles.  They would be adept at all types of learning modules and strategies, experienced in differentiation, and basically could find ways to meet the needs of all students.   It would be a stark contrast to the pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all curriculum and testing module that is so prevalent today.  It would be an education model built on student needs first, bottom line second.  It would empower teachers to do what is best for students.  It would empower students by giving them a voice in their education. 
I am sure there are plenty of reasons why this would never work, but imagine our medical system without those years of training, which we take for granted now.  Now imagine our educational system with that intense training for all teachers.  Imagine how teachers would be recognized by society, both in terms of their profession and their dedication because it certainly would take a lot of hard work and perseverance to go through this training.   Imagine our students in this type of setting.  Imagine if your son or daughter could learn everything there was about, say, trees, or engineering, or writing, or carpentry, while in elementary school because the teacher was focused on his/her needs first.  Motivation would be extremely high, learning would be exciting, and teachers would be doing what they do best, practicing student-care, meeting the needs of students, not bottom lines.

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