Saturday, June 4, 2016

57 Flavours ....... or just 1?

A long time ago I wrote  a post called 57 flavours? about how teachers are hired because they will bring the school something it needs, because they will add their own "spice" to the mix. I wrote that teachers should not hide their uniqueness or worry about the fact that they are not quite like anyone else at the school.

However, lately, whenever I talk to colleagues I feel that things are changing. I participate in activities, such as the Teachers' Guild, where I meet teachers from private and public schools all over the world. I am hearing from teachers - constantly now - that administrators want more consistency across classrooms in each grade, and are asking teachers to do the same things, the same way, on the same schedule. It sounds like administrators do NOT want teachers who bring their uniqueness: it sounds like they would prefer to have teachers who are as identical as possible.

I must admit that part of me completely understands this need: it must be difficult, for administrators, to keep an eye on progress across a grade if the teachers are teaching different parts of the curriculum, in different ways, at different times. And, of course, parents tend to compare notes, and a parent who feels that another teacher in their child's grade is doing something better, is going to be unhappy and may complain. Every time two teachers do things differently, at least some parents are going to think the other teacher's way is better, and be unhappy. Unhappy parents are bad for the school, and there is an easy "fix" for this sort of unhappiness: make all the classes do things as similarly as possible.

So, I understand the drive for consistency, but a part of me wonders... by eliminating the things that make us (teachers) different, by making all teachers do everything just the same, are we giving our best to the students?

If we all teach the exact same lesson, the same project, in exactly the same way, don't we lose some of the passion a teacher brings by communicating in the way they feel most excited about, feel is most natural for them? If we don't vary our approach and timing based on the students' response, don't we lose some of the differentiation our students need? If we send the same letter to all parents in the grade every week, don't we lose some of the authenticity we are trying to build in our relationships with them?

This is difficult stuff. We want to make sure that admin can properly track progress in each classroom. We want parents to be happy, and not to feel that their child would have a better experience in another teacher's classroom.

And yet...

Consistency means that innovative, creative teachers must stop innovating and creating. Consistency means that teachers are being asked not to do their best, but to do only those things that all the other teachers can do equally well. Just as every teacher has unique strengths, every teacher has some relative weaknesses: consistency means every teacher must level down, in each area, to match the teacher who is least strong in that area. One result is that it is easier for the school to monitor the classrooms and be sure that every student is getting the education they were promised. But leveling down to every teacher's relative weakness means the students have a very different experience, compared to one where they can benefit from their teacher's greatest strengths.

I have many friends in schools around the USA and around the world, and I am increasingly hearing that many of them are moving schools with the hope that, in a different school, they will again be allowed to keep their "spice" alive. They were hired for their track record of talented teaching but now are being asked to stop being different.

At the Teachers' Guild, I have come across teachers who are trying to find people at other schools who can implement their ideas, to see if their ideas would work, because they are not allowed to do so themselves. You can imagine how frustrated they feel!

The drive for consistency seems to be happening everywhere, all at once. I certainly understand why. Certainly, "creativity" and "uniqueness" should not be used as excuses for failing to properly teach the curriculum; it is important to identify teachers who need help, and to get it for them. But, it does make me wonder: is this the best way to ensure that every student has the most amazing possible experience? Or are we guaranteeing somewhat poorer - but equal - experiences for everyone? And, how can we get the best of both worlds?