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Maybe It's Time to Reform Demands We Put on Educators By David Waters V of E

Need a little inspiration? The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee, has granted Education World permission to reprint "Maybe It's Time to Reform Demands We Put on Educators," by columnist David Waters. It first appeared February 21, 2001, in Waters's Faith Matters column.


Public school teachers, please forgive us.

We send you our often tired, muddled, poorly prepared or just flat-out poor masses of children yearning to sleep in.

We expect -- no, we demand -- that you work miracles by refining our precious raw materials into brilliant gems.

We offer you little pay, limited help and unlimited interference. Then we criticize, blame, punish and try to control you for "failing" to do what none of us could or would attempt.

If you had a dollar for every bit of school reform that has come down the hall in the past 20 years, you might be paid what you're worth.

Nearly every year, we back the Education Reform truck up to your school and dump another load of goals, strategies, models, programs, curriculum and assessments into your classroom.

Bush's America 2000 gave way to Clinton's Goals 2000, which gave way locally to Memphis 2000. In Tennessee, Sundquist's as yet unnamed reforms will reform McWherter's Education Improvement Act reforms that reformed Alexander's Better Schools Program reforms.

Here in Memphis, the Focused Instructional Program (FIP) gave way to Success for All (SFA), which may give way to Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).

Meanwhile, the reformers just keep getting rich, re-elected or otherwise rewarded, and the "reformed" just keep getting dumped on.

We demand that you trust us, but we still don't trust you.

We want you to be creative, innovative and intuitive, but we also want you to follow elaborately devised scripts that tell you exactly what to "Say to the children ..."

Your days are so scripted, scheduled, assessed and burdened by reforms, you rarely, if ever, have time to stop and rest or think or talk to a child.

We want you to teach every minute of the school day, but we also want you to document every one of those minutes so we can try to figure out why you can't teach.

We want you to test every child at every turn, so we can test you. Student testing is supposed to be used as a diagnostic tool to help you measure and help our children. Instead, we misuse it as political weapon to show us how you don't measure up.

We put so much emphasis on the tests we force you to choose between teaching the idealized curriculum or the standardized tests. Neither of which has much to do with the needs and interests of each of the too-many children in your classroom.

We keep tightening truancy laws that compel us to make sure our children get to your classroom. There are no laws that compel us to make sure they get there physically, psychologically or emotionally ready to learn.

We send you children who are tired, sick, sad, angry and depressed.

We send you children who need more sleep and protein, and less sugar and caffeine. We send you children with fevers, open sores, cuts and bruises.

We send you cross-eyed babies, lead-poisoned babies and crack babies. We send you children who are medicated and shouldn't be, or who aren't and should be.

We expect you to teach all these children how to read, write and compute, to know, understand and memorize, to think critically and creatively.

We also expect you to teach them about the perils of alcohol, tobacco, sex, weapons, hateful speech, prejudice and discrimination.

We also expect you to teach them how to be good, caring, compassionate, committed, law-abiding students, friends and citizens.

Some of you get kindergartners who know how to read and write. Others get kindergartners who can barely talk.

Some of you work in brand-new, climate-controlled facilities full of computers and active and affluent parent support groups. Others work in leaky, too-hot or too-cold, computer-deprived dungeons where parents show up only when they are mad at you.

Many of you lose your most highly motivated students and parents to private schools, or special schools within schools in neighborhoods across town.

Still, it doesn't matter where you work or who you have to work with, we hold all of you to the same standards.

Most of you spend more quality time with our children than we do. And yet most of us don't know anything about you other than your name.

Remarkably, in spite of everything we have dumped on you or taken from you over the years, you continue to show up for work every day.

You continue to show more faith in our children than we ever show in you.

And you continue to teach us, time after time, that the only education "reforms" that really work are the ones that give you more than half a chance to teach.

We want what's best for our children. So do you.

Forgive us, teachers, for failing to realize that what's best for them is what's best for you.

David Waters's Faith Matters runs on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. To contact him, call 901-529-2399 or e-mail waters@gomemphis.com.

Copyright, 2001, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN. Used here with permission. No additional reproduction or distribution of this article in any form is permitted without the written approval of The Commercial Appeal.



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