Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time Vs. Time: How the 21st Century Initiative Should Jump-StartEducation

I am not a good blogger. A good blogger not only has a lot to say on subjects that are of interest to their audience, but they update their blogs frequently enough to keep the conversations going. Since starting my blog early in the ‘09/’10 school year, this will only be my third posting. I simply don’t have time to write about things when there is so much to do. It gets put on the back burner more often than not.

But, I’m not a teacher and my blogging isn’t something that will directly affect my students’ learning in my classroom. If it were, you could bet it would be at the top of my to-do list.

If you ask any teacher what they need more than anything, most of the time they won’t say they need more pay. They usually don’t say they need help with things, or more respect from the community for the job they do, or even complain about having too many things to do. Instead, they most often want more time to do the things they know are important.

The question I want to address in this post, then, is: what is stopping the teachers I serve from taking the time they need to do what they think is important-especially when the opportunity presents itself to vote in an entire day to do those things-with pay?

There is a committee of teachers who plan these optional extra days, and they are the ones who suggest the topics for themselves. Yet, when the vote goes out to teachers (which must be approved with a 2/3 majority to pass) they routinely vote it down. This is baffling to me for a number of reasons, but most of all because the biggest complaint I hear is, “I need more time.” Here is an opportunity to have just that-an entire working day’s worth-and they turn it down.

I’m not going to speculate as to the reasons for this discrepancy, instead I am going to discuss the reasons why the trend needs to change.

Let’s look at some facts:
1. Education, as an institution, is very slow to change. Sure, we get new initiatives and the infamous pendulum of various schools of thought swings back and forth as we adjust new research and learning to what we know as best practice-but change happens very slowly.
2. Technology changes very quickly. We have all heard the figures about just HOW often it changes; from the “doubling every 6 years” to the amount of data on the web that is added daily or hourly, to the reports of this or that new gadget available every other week.
3. The world has changed since the models we presently use in most educational settings was established.

The point I’m going to make here is that we already have a LOT of catching up to do, and in the race to be fluent in the 21st Century, we are getting lapped by our students.

Enter the 21st Century Initiative, a movement intended to “…facilitate the emergence of new approaches to learning that draw upon a range of insights in to the human brain, the functioning of human societies, and learning as a community-wide activity.” ( ) Obviously, there are others out there who recognize the fact that most teachers in America are still teaching in ways that were designed to prepare students for an industrialized, factory-laden society that has all but already disappeared. The global economy has changed, but the way we are preparing students to participate in it hasn’t.

We are looking down the double barrel of a loaded societal shotgun and daring the rest of the world to squeeze the trigger-unless we change-and change quickly.

There are some fundamental things that need to happen in order for this vision to become reality.

Maybe most importantly is the need for support for teachers. They need to feel like they are allowed to deviate from the drill and kill that has become the norm in our test-happy system and practice moving into a more student-centered environment. I think most teachers really want to teach in a way that fits the NETS-T standards; becoming more student centered, problem based, etc.-but feel that if they dip in their test scores, they may lose their jobs.

Unfortunately, this and many of the other things that need to be in place for this movement to take off are out of teachers’ hands. One thing teachers have total control over, however, is how we use our time. Time waits for no one, and we as educators owe it to our students to be more than we are-regardless of how good we are already with the things that worked a century ago. We are way behind, and it’s time to catch up.