I Am Not an Educator (or When Academia Trumped Teaching)

I am not an educator. I am, however, a pretty good teacher. I know this for a number of reasons. My grandfather taught chemistry at Temple for about a million years. He was not an educator either but he was a tenured professor. My cousin teaches biology at Perdue. I taught computer apps and technology at Vermont colleges. My students learned the material I taught and learned how to expand on it. I got pretty good grades, too.

I am not an educator. I didn’t vote for one to be superintendent of schools either.

So, what’s the difference between a teacher and an educator?

Educators talk about “graduation rates” and “resources” and “administrative needs” and “professional leadership.” Teachers simply make sure every student learns.

An Educator should make the system work.
Teacher does make the student work.

I didn’t vote for the incumbent Superintendent of Schools here in the Keys because he advertised proudly that he had raised graduation rates “to 84%.” The Monroe County schools make up a “State of Florida A Rated School District.” In a state where a quarter of the kids drop out of high school, that statistic means more kids stay the course here. Unfortunately, it also means he still isn’t teaching 410.5 kids what they need to know and that’s just wrong. (As of 11/3/08, all Florida Keys public schools have a total of 2,566 students enrolled in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12.) I want to know what to do with the half a kid.

Our kids aren’t learning. Everybody knows it. And everybody points fingers. It’s the parents’ fault. No, it’s because the kids don’t eat breakfast. No, it’s because of television/Internet/cell phones. No, it’s because kids don’t get enough sleep.

Didya ever think it might maybe be the “educators” themselves?

Have you followed the trends in your school district? All of the techniques tried and discarded to improve test scores? Buzz words, all of them. Edu-speak designed not to improve teaching but to make education seem more professional. Professional? At the end of his term as president of Yale Kingman Brewster said, “Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession.” He may have been talking to British managers but academia should have listened.

I have lived through Critical Thinking, Emergent Literacy, No Child Left, Portfolio Assessment, and Whole Language. I watched in awe as my cousin learned that 3 plus 5 equals purple. I have taught in a college that believes in neither tests nor grades (I gave both anyway). I learned about Discovery Learning, Lifelong Learning, and Mastery Learning.

Don’t get me wrong. Parents do need to read to their kids and to set boundaries. Kids do need nutrition and sleep. Kids do watch too much television. And so on.

Kids need teachers who teach.

Put up your hand if you had one. You know whom I mean, the life-changing teacher who inspired you. The teacher you visited when you went back to your school. The teacher you talk about at cocktail parties.

Want a superintendent who will fix your schools? Vote for the one who will fire all the educators and hire some teachers.

Of course if that many kids do drop out of your school, they can become garbologists instead of ordinary trashmen. God knows we need more trashmen.

A couple of interesting links:

Eduspeak: Learning the Lingo
Choosing a School

5 thoughts on “I Am Not an Educator (or When Academia Trumped Teaching)

  1. Despite my dislike of Edu-Speak, I do believe in Mastery Learning.

    I once sat at the feet of the masters in Johnson City, NY (most educators will know that was a hotbed of Mastery Learning in the 80s). Based on Benjamin Bloom’s model, Mastery Learning presumes that all kids can learn. Period. It simply takes some students longer than others. In a Mastery Learning system, a student does not progress to a new topic until he or she passes the current one.

    Well, D’oh.

    Isn’t that the way schools used to work?

  2. Mr. Queary – He allowed me into the photo lab, no questions asked (the gym teacher, OTOH, did wonder where I was).

    Brian Duprat – My second shot at algebra. Just when you think you don’t have a grip on something, change teachers. It makes all the difference in the world. He went on to become principal at Highgate Elementary, probably the best thing that happened to that school.

    There are teachers who teach, then there are those who make you WANT to learn.

  3. I do not have a degree, yet have been a teacher for the past 20 years. I have taught a variety of subjects in military academies, corporate settings, and now teach in a police academy. All too often, I find that folks are plugged into the role of teacher simply because “they are good at what they do”. This is all fine, except many do not possess the talent to teach, i.e., to convey their knowledge to their students. How many times in grade school did we witness a teacher of (insert subject here) become frustrated with a student because the student failed to grasp what is, of course, crystal-clear to the teacher?

    As my old pal Dick points out, education should not progress to new tasks until basics are mastered. If one has ever laid tile or pasted wallpaper, if the first row isn’t straight, all following work is then based on the initial mistake. However, anyone that has ever done any work on an old Vermont farmhouse can tell you that seldom is anything plumb or square, so sometimes a little creative thinking is required to make everything right.

    All good teachers know, and educators should, that students learn differently. It is the teacher’s job to discover how their students learn, and translate it into decipherable data. That my friends, separates the good teachers from the, um, teaching-challenged.

    As a teacher, I fully believe that my job is not done until every student not only passes, but comprehends my subject matter; they don’t graduate until they do. The difference between an educator and me, is that I am committed to whatever time and effort the task requires.

    Vote Dave K for Superintendent…

  4. I was surprised by the mention of the superintendent of schools being an elected position. Such is not the norm in the American school system, as in most districts the Super is an appointed job made by an elected board of 5 to 9 people. S/he is regarded as a CEO and subject to the board’s whim, subject to the contractural arrangements that go with the job.

    Yet, in spite of his/her job not being elected-by-the-taxpayers/owners, most boards leave *educating* up to him or her while they are busy posturing for higher political rungs on the ladder.

    If you google up nine or ten school districts and read their mission statements you will not find more than one in ten whose statement affirms that students will learn. Most say the obligatory PR crap that the “district will provide the opportunity and environment for learning and the continuation of self esteem, etc etc etc”. Few if any will actually say that the “Mission of such and such school is that students will acquire the necessary information, attitudes, abilities, and attributes to become successful citizens in the 21st Century” or some such wording that actually means something.

    So, with no stated mission to demand that such virtues be obtained by the students themselves, the *educators* have merely to provide the opportunity and environment for learning. And if they do that–and even if nobody learns–they can still give themselves high marks for having *provided* the freakin’ opportunity and enviroment. Further, what if they provide the opportunity but no one takes advantage of it? Same high marks.

    That’s why schools have all this fluff, which is symbolism over substance–the hallmark of liberalism–and so many are *left behind*–and I don’t mean like in the Rapture.

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