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Always Strive to Be a Better You

Who's Doing the
Work Here, Anyway?

Picture this in your mind's eye: You're at school. It's nearing dismissal time, and your pulse is racing. Why? Because you're standing by the exit doors in Wing C, bracing yourself for a stampede rivaled only by the running of the bulls in Pamplona -- the massive, screaming exodus of children from your school.

R-r-r-r-r-ing! Off goes the bell, and out go the children. A wild swarm of excitement, accompanied by loud voices and boisterous behavior, engulfs the entire scene. Smiling, laughing, jumping, cartwheeling, yelling, chicken-dancing and as soon as it starts, it's over (or so we hope).

But it's not over -- there's something behind the students. Ahoy! Look there! What is it?

Bedraggled, harried, and slumped over, the shuffling form of a classroom teacher casts a new shadow on the doorway. It's been a long, tiring, wearisome, exhausting day.

What's wrong with this picture? Why are the kids catapulting themselves into the great big world while the teachers are dragging themselves down the dimly-lit hallway?


There's no disputing that teachers, as a collective mass, are a hard-working bunch. Unless you buy into the uninformed prattle that bemoans educators short work-day and work-year, you'll likely rank teachers among the hardest-working (and least-compensated) professionals in our solar system.

And in your school, you have some teachers who seem to work doubly hard. Tireless and dedicated, these teachers may be the first to turn on the coffee machine in the morning and the last to unplug the laminator in the evening. In between, they're a blur -- streaking between the staff workroom to the copy machine to the classroom to the colleague's classroom upstairs to the cafeteria and back to the staff workroom. There's never enough time for these folks to finish all the work they've set out to accomplish. And all with the best of intentions and a deep commitment to their students.

But in the final appraisal, the students in these teachers classrooms may not be making significant strides. Despite all the hours, toil, blood, glue, and sweat their teachers have poured into their work, the student achievement rates aren't climbing.

What gives?

How can we explain this lack of correlation?


I'll just spit this out there: Many of us are spending a tremendous amount of time and a monumental amount of energy in low-yield practices. Were not getting the bang for our buck.

Which suggests three questions:

1. Do we have the courage to say NO to traditions and accepted practice?

Some things we just do because that's what weve always done. This is true of any school -- the spelling lessons, the assemblies, the dress code, the homework policy, the lunch-line routine, the thematic units, the holiday parade, the bulletin board decorations, the report-card comments. You name it -- we've all experienced tradition.

Many of us are spending a tremendous amount of time and a monumental amount of energy in low-yield practices. We're not getting the bang for our buck.

Many traditions are worth keeping to build upon the school's culture, but some -- well, they just don't come clean in the wash. Some of our practices don't necessarily lead to any student growth along any grade-level standard at any time on any planet. Just because that's the way we've done it here for generations doesn't mean that's what leads to student growth. Can we say no?

2. Do we have the discipline to take things OFF our teachers plates? (We certainly add to their plates enough, don't we?)

Think about it: Do you have any new district initiatives this year? Any new textbook adoptions? Has anyone attended a new training and come back gung-ho to change the way we all do business? Any remediation funding? School choice? Paperwork for a grant? Scheduling adaptations? New protocols for data analysis?

It's easy for a principal to say, "Oh, this new approach to math problem-solving will solve all our problem-solving problems," and it might well be true. However, what the teachers hear is, "Here's another 40-minute activity you'll need to squeeze in three times a week on top of everything else you already do. What are you making that face for? And wait, don't leave yet, we also have a new traveling science lab! Oy! Where are you going?"

3. Do we understand the formula for focus?

News flash: Education isn't rocket science. There's a formula for rocket science. There's no formula for the education of children. Ergo, education is fundamentally much more complicated and difficult than rocket science.

However, if there were a formula, it would look like this: E = wt2c, where E is education and wt2c is the written, taught, and tested curriculum.

The Spokane (Washington) Public Schools, along with many other school districts, has made a living embracing this simple concept: If we assess our students beforehand, create a common curriculum based upon what the students need to have, then teach that curriculum and fill in what the students don't have, and then assess the students again to be sure they got it, we'll probably be okay. There will be learning. Like rocket science.


It's time that we, as educators, evaluate everything that we do in our classrooms. We need to align every decision, every book, every lesson, every instructional strategy, and every assessment with our stated and agreed-upon grade-level standards. Follow the formula.

Develop the courage to say NO to traditions that don't align. Strengthen the discipline to remove the disconnected elements from our teachers' plates. Hone the focus on the formula for, well, focus. Let's eliminate the clutter. Remove the extraneous matter. Confiscate the wayward influences. Amputate the superfluous and incongruous stuff.

Let's work hard, and encourage our teachers to work hard. But only on the high-yield activities that directly align with grade-level standards. Then, in the end, it can be our teachers who skip around after the bell rings and the students who can drag themselves home, exhausted after a hard brain-day's work.

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Updated 05/07/2012