“If you could redesign the entire education system, with no concern for money, resources, politics, or anything, what would that look like?”
I was nearly floored when I received this question not long ago from some friends (and we all have those friends who love to ask us about education). Sure, I had ideas, but with such a massive “magic wand” redesign, where would I even begin?
As I began to formulate an answer, I realized we tend to think about what we would change, or what we need to defend, or what we dream about, but we rarely discuss these kinds of “big pictures.”
So here’s my dream. It’s based largely on the research I (and others) have performed at Teachers United, on my own (and others’) struggles with our education system, and with just a pinch of fairy dust.
Again, it’s difficult to think about this in a purely linear fashion, since it would require so much paradigm change, so let’s use the best linear process we can, and describe the lifetime of an individual who will grow up to be a teacher. We’ll call this person Aislinn.
Aislinn was born. She spent her first year at home with at least one parent, because they received a full year’s parental leave, regardless of where they worked or how much they were being paid, but let’s say for the sake of our imaginations that this child’s parent is a high school teacher. Shortly after this, Aislinn went to a state-supported pre-school program, which is considered a standard part of a child’s education. In fact, the only thing “pre-” about the program is the fact that the focus is on socio-emotional growth rather than reading or math, since the pre-school program is actually hosted in the high school! Childcare professionals work side by side with a rotating group of students who are learning about child development while they care for their teachers’ and fellow students’ children, which allows both teachers and students to attend school for the day while staying close to their babies.
As Aislinn grows up, she receives an excellent education provided by well-supported, positive, and energetic teachers (more on this later). She loves her school because she feels valued and cared about, so she learns really well. Aislinn or her classmates might develop depression, homelessness, or medical issues, and the school-centered counselors, social workers, and medical staff (including primary care physicians and nurses) are able to help the children cope and handle these issues as they arise.
Aislinn decides at some point that she wants to become a teacher, just like her parents. This means that she never actually finishes school, because in our redesigned system, the K-12 system and the collegiate system have merged. As Aislinn transitions to a collegiate environment and begins to take the psychology, content area, and other classes she needs to become a teacher, she slowly begins to work in the same schools she once attended. At first she volunteers alongside some teachers at various age levels and content areas. Once she settles on a focus, she starts to take over some lessons. Then a full day. Then a week. Then a unit. Eventually, she takes over a year. She commits to teaching as a career, because she loves her job.
She loves her job because she works directly with students for four hours a day, and works the other four hours of her day reviewing her students’ work, planning the next day’s lesson, filling in her students’ families with their children’s progress, collaborating with and observing other teachers, advising one of her school’s clubs or coaching a sport which meets/practices during the school day, and/or reflecting on her practice with her mentor teacher as well as advising her own volunteers who are a couple years behind her in the process. Since we have merged higher education with the public school system, researchers have access to (and often teach in) classrooms and therefore she has access to all the latest educational research. This action-based research has replaced standardized testing, and is more effective because it’s focused on students and their learning rather than a snapshot of a test score. Her class sizes are at a research-appropriate level, but her school is not over-crowded because we have doubled the infrastructure of our schools’ facilities.
We have also doubled the number of teachers so that students can learn all day while the teaching part of a teacher’s job only takes up half the day. We did this pretty easily, since we have turned teachers’ 60 hour weeks into 40 hour weeks and so work-life balance, the number one reason teachers once left the profession, is no longer burning teachers out. She does not need to worry about making more money to pay rent, buy food, or pay for her future children’s educations, because teachers are now paid a competitive salary, and anyway, access to post-secondary education became part of a “free and adequate public education” a long time ago. She even teaches for much longer, since she does not develop the work-related stress health conditions that many teachers currently do.
Is this a pipe dream? Perhaps. But that is what we do at Teachers United. Rather than railing against what we hate, we fight for what we dream about. Maybe your dream looks similar, maybe it looks wildly different. If you are interested in working towards your dream, join us. We’ll see you at our next dreaming session.