How many times have you had something go wrong with your car, something that you know needs attention? If you’re like me, it happens occasionally. And, if you’re even more like me you don’t attempt to fix it. There are people who are experts at fixing cars, in my case a Jeep, people who have a lot of experience and expertise fixing Jeeps. I always defer to the experts, because I know they know a lot more about it than I do.
I know there are some people who do not work in a garage who can fix much of what goes wrong with their cars. I have a level of respect for them, no desire to emulate them, however, and say “good for them.” Those people are the very rare exceptions.
Now I’ve driven a car since I could drive, and I’ve driven a Jeep specifically for the past 27 years or so. But, I don’t try to fool myself, or others, into thinking that I know everything there is to know about my Jeep. I especially don’t attempt to fix my Jeep when something’s amiss with it. I leave that to the experts. So why don’t people look at education the same way?
I’ve mentioned in previous posts an excellent book I read this past summer, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan. The administrators in my district were tasked with reading this book for our summer professional development workshop. It’s made an impact on me and we’re using the book to change some of our practices at Shaker JHS, but how we’re doing that is a subject for other posts.
In this book Fullan and Hargreaves write:
“What is teaching? Most of us think we know. After all, we were taught by teachers…Teachers were a big part of our lives, and many made a big impression on us…These memories and feelings profoundly influence people’s views about teaching today and what they want from it…They affect how people vote and the reforms that politicians feel they have to pitch to them to stay in office…Memories of teaching, then, often become stereotypes of teaching that profoundly influence how people want to change teaching and teachers.”
My point exactly. It amazes me, and other educators, when non-educators think they know education, how to “fix” its flaws, how to “fix” teachers, how to improve student results, you name it. It is because John Q. Public spent time, a lot of time, in school that anyone and everyone has firmly held opinions on schools and on educators. And it irks me as well.
I wouldn’t think to tell my doctor how she should treat an ailment or an illness, other than a common one such as a cold, even when it’s my ailment or illness. I’ve never suggested to my dentist how he should attend to a cavity in one of my teeth. I don’t attempt to tell my garage mechanic how to fix my Jeep. I ask my financial planner how best to maximize the money in my 401k. I respect experts and their knowledge and, more importantly, their advice and expertise.
People, educational lay people, should do the same. Having gone through school, even a lot of school, is nowhere near the same as running a classroom, or managing a school, or being responsible for a district. Your neighbor, who has never taught anyone a day in her/his life, thinks they know how classrooms should be run. The local store owner believes she knows how to improve student test results. The parent of a current student who sells insurance thinks he knows how we should discipline kids for misbehaviors. Executives of non-profits have clear ideas of how my district, a one hundred million dollar business, should be managed. And the list goes on.
Do you think these same people ever wonder why their opinions aren’t solicited by the Center for Disease Control regarding specific illnesses? Do you think they’re upset that the CDC is informed by doctors? Yet whenever an educational issue arises, and educators express opinions, the response is always “Well, of course you think that, you’re an educator, you’re not objective.”
We are educators, and we are objective about specific and general education issues, and our objectivity is based on our experience and developed expertise. Does anyone really think that any educator doesn’t want his/her kids to be successful? Don’t people realize that if there was a magic bullet that would insure any student’s success it would be used? Politicians really don’t believe we have students’ best interests at heart and that we have excellent insight on how to approach providing for these best interests? Give me a break. Trust those teachers who you respected and maybe even admired during your schooling…they’re still here, in classrooms just like the ones you were in as a kid.
And that’s my perspective.