During my career, I have often come across vastly different perceptions of what my job as an educator is. The answer to this question speaks to a very key reason why public education is continuously in a battlefield. More specifically, how our community defines what it means to be an educator will greatly impact the kind of education and investment we give our children.
First, there is the old-fashioned idea about educators. The tale of nuns walking up and down rows of desks with rulers is a common story from our elder generations. The idea was to “pound” the basics into the students while teaching them to be respectful, orderly, and obedient. Students developed a strong sense of self-discipline or at least that was the hope.
This era of education did not work for many. Most students with disabilities were put in institutions. Creativity wasn’t nurtured. Finally, this traditional view of education simply couldn’t keep up with the changing economy. Still, many who found success view this as what schools should be about today.
Another perspective that is common is the “babysitting” idea: Schools are places that take children off the hands of their parents who are working several jobs or are ill-equipped to handle the challenges of parenthood. These students require more than an education, they need love and attention from their educators before they can care about diagramming sentences or algebraic equations. The idea that students can simply be dropped off at school and the school takes care of the rest is, as many teachers know, not an uncommon view.
Students as “worker bees” is another very common view, even amongst some educators. This idea is one that believes that students should be taught, first and foremost, to get work done, which is a manufacturing era mentality that focuses on production. Creativity and the arts are not a strong part of this idea because this line of thinking stresses homework and an intense focus on students creating finished products.
All of these perspectives are a by-product of various eras. The trouble is that our “times” are always and rapidly changing. Our economy has become very global, and, therefore, often out of our control.
Technology, of course, changes the way our students learn. Recognizing the medium in which our kids receive and process information is critical to providing the right environment to encourage new ideas.
As products are increasing being produced in other countries, our advantage will be to instill the skills that help our students think creatively. Innovation and invention are more important now than ever. Fluidity and adaptation in our education system is required to match those same qualities in our economy.
Today, educators must stay ahead of the game, not behind because our educators are expected to still "beat" in the basics, get students to “produce,” and to babysit them.
Public education becomes a battlefield when these different perspectives clash. In Racine, we need to define what we expect from our educational system.
Do we want disciplinarians, learning facilitators, or babysitters? Do we want a nurturing of ideas and a universal skill set? Do we want to move past the manufacturing era and prepare our students for the global economy?
Are we willing to be fluid and flexible with our support, financial or otherwise? Or, are we content with traditions and outdated perspectives? How we define the role of educators will determine what the future of our community looks like. Our educational system ought to be the source for innovation and inspiration in our community. This takes community involvement, leadership, and resources along with a willingness to get over the past and invest in our future.