The preceding feature story about Christine Gutierrez (page 28) and the round table that follows are the final installments in an occasional series on teacher leadership that began in March 1992. Underwritten by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the series has featured dedicated teachers who have taken risks to shape their schools, their profession, and their communities.
Following is an edited transcript of a discussion held last May in New York City. The 12 educators who participated are members of the National Re:Learning Faculty, a group of more than 100 teacher-leaders who work with some 500 schools around the country to deepen their commitment to the principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools. These teachers are also known as Citibank Faculty because their work is supported by a grant from that corporation.
O’Farrell Community School, San Diego
Rancho San Joachin Middle School, Irvine, Calif.
Weaver High School, Hartford, Conn.
Perryville (Ariz.) High School
Hixson (Tenn.) High School
Walbrook High School, Bal~timore
University Heights High School, New York
Middle College High School, Long Island City, N.Y.
Narragansett Pier School, Nar~ragansett, R.I.
Bronxville (N.Y.) High School
The Rippowam Center, Stamford, Conn.
Oceana High School, Pacifica, Calif.
Paula Evans, director of the National Faculty, arranged the round table. Teacher Magazine Editor Ronald Wolk asked the questions.
Teacher Magazine: How serious are the problems in America’s schools? How accurate are the appraisals by the media, legislators, and policymakers? Do they justify the kinds of actions being proposed--the massive overhaul being suggested, breaking the mold, starting from scratch, systemic reform?
Bil Johnson: I work in a very nice suburban district where all the kids who graduate go to college. But are these kids really prepared for what the 21st century is going to bring? There are a lot of schools and a lot of teachers who don’t realize that we are using a 100-year-old structure to prepare people for the next century. So some basic things such as curriculum, the structure of the day, the size of schools need to change. The real question is whether the system and structures we’re working in really work. I don’t think they do, even in my nice little suburban school.
John Larmer: Our school is a small suburban school. On the surface, things seem pretty good, but underneath the kids are really hurting, and they’re really needy--much more so than when I was in school. That is something restructuring is trying to address. A lot of teachers feel like things are going OK if their classrooms are running smoothly and the kids are doing the work. But I wonder if the kids are really learning what the teachers think they’re learning. Or are they really just parroting things back and getting good grades? If so, what does that grade really mean?
Lisa Hirsch: I wish there were more coverage of the good things going on, of course. And there really are a lot of great things going on. But the situation is as bad as they say, if not worse.
Cheri Dedmon: If you ask how the schools are doing, it depends on compared with whom and what. What standard are you going to use to measure schools? That’s where we’re really inconsistent. We need to ask the question, “Are kids using their minds well?’' My school is a national school of excellence and has more than its share of National Merit Scholars. People in the community would ask, “Why would you want to change? You’re doing such a good job.’' But kids aren’t being taught to use their minds well. Even our best kids are memorizers; they spit it back out to you. They play the game well, but they can’t stand independently and put forth a judgment or defend it or demonstrate reasoning or thinking. That’s what we all have in common in our schools. It’s frustrating because it is hard to get those top kids to buy into doing anything different. Change is as difficult for kids as it is for the teachers.
Tony Hoffmann: The problems in education are larger than people are saying they are. Anybody who really wants to look at how big the problems are has to look at the situation on two levels, and, on both levels, it’s a disaster. The two-parent biological family, with the original parents in that household, is becoming rare. There’s a real breakdown in society, and now the schools are being asked to deal with the results. And the schools are totally unequipped and, to some degree, incapable and unwilling to deal with this. When you consider that you need two parents to bring up one child, the school with 15 to 30 students for each teacher can’t do it, no matter how nurturing it is. That is an impossible ratio, given the problems in society. In my middle-class district, I can’t tell you how many single, working parents are raising their kids. Many of them don’t get home till 6 p.m.
Bill Chaffin: It’s an issue of standards and an issue of assessment. Until we start looking at what our standards are for kids--and they are very low--until we start looking for higher standards and assessing them in different ways, you’re going to get a majority of people telling you everything is OK, that we’re overstating the problem. Because according to the traditional standards and the way they’re assessed, through standardized test scores, we’re not doing that badly. SAT scores fell significantly during the 1970s and 1980s, but they are rising. People would point to that as evidence that we’re doing OK, and a good number of our students are going to college. But we shouldn’t be judging our students on that basis. We need to change how we judge our students and how we test them. When we do that, people will start to look at students and say, “We’re not doing the job.’'
Simon Hole: Let me offer the metaphor of the manual typewriter. We can fine-tune it and make it work a little bit better, but it is never going to be a word-processing system. The problem in education is worse than people think because they have in mind taking that typewriter and refining it and maybe getting another 10 words a minute out of it. But that kind of tinkering will never make the system what it really needs to be. We need to change traditional structures and classroom practice to get kids to think and use their minds. But we’ve also got to change the culture of the school. We need to break the isolationism that is so apparent in the classrooms and in the lives of school people. We need to create collegial schools of continuous improvement. The structural changes, the individual classroom practice changes won’t last unless we change the culture of the entire school.
Marian Finney: Education is in worse condition than people say it is. And teachers have to acknowledge that. We really have to change our paradigms before we can expect to make any meaningful changes in the education system.
Teacher Magazine: Sounds like it’s unanimous. All of you think the problems in schools are as bad or worse than the media and policymakers say they are.
Cheri Dedmon: If everything’s as bad as we say it is, it’s pretty amazing that things are working at all. Gosh, maybe there are some places where it’s working in spite of all the problems. It’s amazing that kids are coming out with anything. Maybe there’s something positive happening.
Teacher Magazine: Children who bring a great deal with them to the classroom are likely to do well or at least survive irrespective of the quality of the school, as long as the school doesn’t hurt them. The question is whether schools are adding value.
Bil Johnson: You see that when kids leave school, in terms of how much retraining corporations have to do, how much remediation colleges have to do in the freshman year. I bristle at the idea that kids are surviving, so the system’s fine. There’s an analogy in the Fosbury flop. Everybody for years and years high jumped a certain way. Then all of a sudden, this guy, Dick Fosbury, starts running at the bar and does it completely differently and sets new records. It totally changed the way everybody since has done it. We are talking about going over the bar in a totally different way.
Bill Chaffin: I’ve heard the phrase 21st century mentioned a number of times--preparing our kids to go out into a new century. I don’t think people are clear, and I include myself in that category, about what’s different now from the way it was in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. People aren’t clear about what the expectations are for our students and how we have to prepare kids differently to meet new demands.
Teacher Magazine: When you say “people,’' whom are you talking about?
Bill Chaffin: People in the communities. Our own colleagues. I don’t think they have a sense of what companies are looking for in terms of workers, what colleges are looking for in terms of students, and how that’s changed. Industry is changing and is requiring a different type of person to do a different type of work. That is going to affect how we educate kids. Many people are not really aware of that. They still think you finish high school, and you either go on to college or become a factory worker. If you become a factory worker, this is what you do every day. That’s just not the reality any longer. If people don’t understand that shift, they will not understand why schools have to change. The system worked so well for them, they think: Why do we want to change it?
Tony Hoffmann: People may not be doing anything about changing, but surely they understand that there are no factory jobs anymore. That’s pretty clear; the factory jobs are overseas. The problem is an inability to shift. People are mired in the past. They can look at themselves and say, “I’m not doing well; I have to change, but I’ll change tomorrow because it’s too hard today.’' That’s what’s going on. It’s not that they don’t realize the world is changing or that they don’t know they ought to change; it’s a general societal unwillingness to make basic and painful changes.
Teacher Magazine: You all seem to agree that there are indeed serious problems in our schools, but how about your colleagues? Do they share your view?
Pat Averette: My staff realizes that there is a need for change. But what we are finding is that various people think that that change should happen in different ways. It’s a problem because there is no map; there’s no blueprint for how to restructure successfully. As a result, there is a lot of walking through the dark and bumping into things and saying, “Maybe we should turn here.’'
Teacher Magazine: Are you suggesting that a substantial proportion of the present teaching force in the United States does think that there is a need for change?
Carol Lacerenza: In my part of the country, which is not very far from this very big urban center, the consensus is that the clientele needs to change--that as soon as society fixes the kids, my teaching is going to be fine. I’m near a small urban center that is racially and economically divided, and all of the bad teaching is blamed on the portion of our community who does not come to the party with the right equipment. There is not universal acceptance of the notion that we need to change. In fact, there’s a universal resistance. There are some little things done and minor adjustments made, but we are still expecting society to give us better kids.
Marian Finney: Teachers who have been teaching longer think there is nothing wrong with their practices; there’s something wrong with the students. And teachers who are new to teaching come with no baggage. In Baltimore, we’re slowly moving to the point where we realize we do need to change. It’s painful, it’s time-consuming, but it must happen. Still, there are folks who feel that if they wait long enough, this too will pass, and mothers will send me better children or something else will happen. Some magic wand will be waved. Teachers may realize something must happen, but it doesn’t necessarily have to happen to them.
Simon Hole: Pat’s “walking through the dark’’ statement is exactly what it feels like. And, unfortunately, the majority of teachers aren’t walking--they’re paralyzed. It’s dark, and to move, even if they recognize that they should be moving, is just too scary. The isolation just makes it too hard. Any moving they do attempt tends to be tinkering around the edges. It’s not transformative in any way. Reflective practice is not a norm in most schools. You’re too focused on the here and now to look backward at what you did yesterday or to try to look forward to what you can do tomorrow. There’s just no time to do anything except to look at where we are right now. So most teachers don’t. On the intellectual level, they’re aware that change needs to happen; but on a gizzard level, it just can’t be done. There’s not enough time.
Lisa Hirsch: You really can’t make any changes until the whole faculty feels as we do. It’s easier for one person to go over the high bar than it is to get 30 teachers in the school moving in the same direction. But change isn’t impossible at all when you have a whole group of people working together. It’s really not impossible.
Teacher Magazine: If you start with the assumption that no significant, enduring change is likely to occur without a substantial majority of the teaching force behind it, then the question becomes: How are we ever going to improve schools? You’ve sketched out a spectrum of attitudes: There are those who don’t realize the need for change; there are some who might accept minor changes but don’t realize the need for profound change; there are those who may acknowledge the need for significant change at the intellectual level, but, since they’re scared and don’t quite know what to do, they’re paralyzed. Are there also teachers at the far end of the spectrum who are actively resisting, who have dug in and are ready to fight? If so, what motivates them? How big a problem are they going to be in the effort to really reform schools?
Steve Cantrell: Change for most teachers isn’t a new idea; they’ve been told to change for all of their teaching careers. Some of the most resistant teachers are often people who embraced earlier models of change, and it didn’t work out. So they’ve been burned, and they are angry because they put their hopes in something that didn’t work. Then there are those who didn’t buy into that particular change, whatever it was, and they pointed their fingers afterward and said, “Told you it wouldn’t work.’' So they’re really resistant this time around, as well. They say, “I’ve seen changes before; they come and go, and this isn’t going to work either. I’m not going to be burned like the rest, so I’m going to take myself out of this argument altogether.’'
Bill Chaffin: Society in general does not see educational reform as one of its priorities and doesn’t see teachers as professionals. If we were true professionals, we would be given the time to engage in some reflective practices at school that would make it much easier for people to go through a change process. We’re not given that time because it costs money, and taxpayers have to pay for it. The public doesn’t think this is really important; the educational health of children is not as important as the medical health of children.
Bil Johnson: That characterizes a lot of people out there who are resistant in one form or another. But the changes teachers have experienced over the last 20 or 30 years have always been mandated from the top down. Changes haven’t generated from grass-roots movements of teachers who felt the need for change or thought the school wasn’t working. Either the federal government, the state government, or the local district said, “Here’s what we’re going to change.’' There was token input from teachers, at best. And the change hasn’t been at all connected to real classroom situations. Some of the negative attitudes and resistance result from teachers feeling like we’re always being told to make this or that change. In the Coalition of Essential Schools, we’re involved in something that is grass-roots and teachergenerated to a large extent. But, for many teachers, there are all kinds of reasons not to go along. They will need a lot of administrative support and vision. This is a much more difficult kind of change to implement than things that have happened before.
Lisa Hirsch: It’s so incredibly difficult. Even in a school like mine, where the sky is practically the limit, there are still strains on us. I can say to myself, “I’m going to be totally different; I’m going to do this wonderful thing and this and this,’' but I still have the Regents competency test to contend with, and I have to teach about the Babylonians. We can try a new paradigm, but, when student scores don’t go up on standardized tests, people will say, “I told you.’' And then it’s back to the drawing board and no more money for these “foolish little things’’ that you’re trying to do.
Cheri Dedmon: For some teachers, change means moving the desk or rearranging the room; that’s a change. Or if they move to another room in the course of their lifetime at school, that’s a big change for them. Teachers don’t get into the teaching profession because they like change. People get into teaching because they don’t like change.
Tony Hoffmann: When I first walked into a classroom, I had no baggage. My colleagues and I were idealistic. I tried everything in my classes and got shot down by the administration, even by parents attached to the old system. Some of us have maintained our idealism, but a lot of people got molded into these intractable people who consider moving to a different room the major change of a lifetime. Somehow schools have to be organized so that people feel comfortable with change rather than comfortable with the status quo.
John Larmer: A whole lot of people go into teaching because they like to be on their own, and they like the independence--"This is my only domain, my classroom’'--and so they think, “Why change?’' or “Why work with colleagues?’' or “Why expand?’' They just have a Lone Ranger mentality.
Carol Lacerenza: We’re a bit on the radical side in this room. Not everybody wants to reform and restructure all of education from the top down or from the bottom up. A change or two here or there is OK, and, if that’s the beginning of the larger change, that’ll take place. We need to encourage people to begin somewhere and to help people experience small successes and have the early conversations around the things that can be read and shared. It’s OK not to be radical.
Teacher Magazine: Let’s talk for a while about the things that have to be done. You’ve alluded to problems such as isolation, the culture of the schools, structural problems. Apart from waving a magic wand to improve the children who come to school, what would you do to make schools better?
Bil Johnson: Year-round schools.
Cheri Dedmon: You have to teach teachers how to work with adults. We were trained to work with children. You walk into the classroom, shut the door, and you’re the boss; you make all the decisions. If that’s going to change, we have to learn how to work with other adults.
Carol Lacerenza: And we have to teach teachers how to take initiative. A lot of teachers did not sign up to take the initiative, to change course.
Bill Chaffin: We have to create situations in our schools where we’re teaching kids about the same issues that we’re talking about ourselves: what we have to go through to change as teachers and what we have to go through to change schools. All the issues that are involved have to be brought down to the students--not bringing them down as in simplifying them but engaging students in these same issues. Instead of expecting society to change itself so that we have better students, we have to act now to change our classrooms and give our students what they need to change society.
Carol Lacerenza: Teaching as a subversive activity.
Bill Chaffin: Exactly. As I work at team building, as I reflect on practice, I bring it to my own classroom and involve my students. And I find that I can do the same things with my high school students that I do with a group of adults. It makes no difference. They attack the issues the same way adults do and get the same things out of discussions that adults do.
Simon Hole: It goes the other way, too--what we do with kids in the classroom are the same kinds of things we should be doing with our colleagues and with the community. I know a teacher, for example, who does the best job I’ve ever seen teaching kids how to work in cooperative groups but who had never thought about using those same skills to create a staff that learns how to work together. It’s not the norm of the school to do that. So she teaches in isolation, which just strikes me as crazy. We’ve got to change that somehow.
Karen Coleman: We also need to change our concepts, our ideas of where learning can occur. A lot of people--parents, kids, teachers--come to school with the idea that learning can only occur in the classroom. We need to look at school more as a lab that isn’t confined to one structure or one space.
Tony Hoffmann: One of the most important ways of getting kids to succeed is to create schools where they want to be, places that are good for them. We need small schools; large schools are impossible. We create small schools first, and then we create small classes. There is no single model for what makes successful teaching and learning, but you’ve got to go with smallness first.
Marian Finney: We must not only make them small and more personal, but we also have to make schools people-friendly and include parents in that picture. Parents must know what we’re trying to do in schools, must feel that schools are people-friendly and that they’re involved. We need small schools that are attuned to students’ needs and parents’ needs. Many parents, especially in secondary schools, feel that they no longer need to be part of their child’s daily educational endeavors.
Tony Hoffmann: As I go around to different schools, I am impressed with the quality of the teachers. The quality of the teaching staff is very high in this country. The key to reform and restructuring is trust. If there is a sense of trust throughout the school, whether it’s the students’ trust for the teachers or the teachers’ trust for the administration, then things will get done. If there isn’t that basic trust, things won’t get done. Where there is good leadership, you will find a sense of trust.
Steve Cantrell: Tony’s right. It’s trust; it’s attitude and character and, I would add, honesty. When communities are surveyed as to how they think their schools are doing, they say their own school is fine, but all the others are in trouble. Teachers also tend to think their own school is doing well. But deep down, there’s a real fear that if their practice is exposed, they’ll be in trouble. Because they work in isolation, they really don’t see other teachers’ classrooms. They know things aren’t perfect in their own classrooms, and they know that they could probably be doing things better. But who are they going to tell if they think that everybody else is doing it right? If there were trust, if there were honesty, teachers could first of all look at themselves and at their own practice and then be able to seek help in the same way that professionals do. They could get together and talk about serious issues that they face in their own practice.
Cheri Dedmon: What we’re talking about here, in a sense, is power. Most teachers feel they are powerless in this process. That’s ironic considering that they are the people dealing most directly with the children. I don’t think that says we don’t value education in this society; it says we don’t value children. Most teachers feel like the principal has the power. The principal feels like the superintendent does. The superintendent says the school board has the power. The school board says it’s the state department of education. So who actually has that power to do all of this? If we can convince teachers that they have the power themselves to make a difference--that one teacher can make a difference--then we have something to build on. But most teachers feel like, “Why should I change?’' Or they think that they aren’t going to make any difference, that this is going to be the same old thing. So the issues of who has the power and what do we value in our society come back to the classroom. And that’s where you see what we do or do not value.
Bill Chaffin: At the classroom level, the basic change would be a curriculum change. What do we teach or what do we think is important? To make systemic change in a school or in a school system, one of the first decisions that has to be made is what are we going to teach kids? What are they going to have to do when they leave school? How are you going to get them there? We need to rethink that.
Teacher Magazine: Many of the people who are really pushing for systemic reform have the notion that it has got to be curriculum driven. You define what it is you want kids to know and be able to do, you craft a teaching force that knows what it should teach and how to do it, you devise a set of curriculum frameworks that give teachers a tremendous amount of flexibility, and then you develop an assessment program that enables you to really measure whether or not the kids have accomplished and can do what you say they should be able to do. On paper, that makes very good sense; it’s very logical. Theoretically, if you could do that, ev- erything else in the system could change--the structure, the calendar, the use of time, the use of space, the relationships between people, the power distribution throughout this system. That’s the theory.
Carol Lacerenza: That’s all true and very wellstated, but the problem comes when people have to decide what they want students to be able to do or know at a given point in the learning process. In order for us to make classroom changes and to make them meaningful in the future lives of these students, we have to have a constant conversation about what it is that’s essential for these teachers and students to share. That’s a conversation that should never end, but it’s difficult to sustain because we are not in the habit of self-analysis. We’re not in the habit of baring our souls even to one another because we have this strange idea that there’s one right way to teach, that we learned how to be teachers, and this is how you do it. There’s great trepidation about a conversation that says, “I really stink at this. I need to think differently about how I can better interact in this particular scenario. Can you help me?’' That’s a difficult conversation to start, and we can’t get at all of those systemic issues until that conversation can thrive.
Pat Averette: I agree; it’s about the lack of reflective practice. One thing about being reflective is if you find something wrong, then you have to do something about it. You may have to change. Part of the reason education is in the situation it’s in is that we’re not accustomed to looking at what we’re doing and saying, “Oh, maybe that’s not working so well. How do we change that? What’s the best way of going about it?’' And without that, I don’t think it makes a difference what curriculum you’re teaching.
Bil Johnson: We’ve had a conversation about change for the past six years in my school, but it has mostly consisted of one-hour department meetings or monthly faculty meetings. How do you sustain that kind of conversation or really get involved in talking about reflective practice with colleagues if you don’t have the time and the structure? People want the quick fix-- “You’ve got nine common principles, put them into practice, and let’s see the test scores next year.’' If you want teachers to be reflective, then you have to give them time to do it.
Simon Hole: Who’s in the conversation is really important. We have to work hard to go out and get people who are not in the conversation, who’ve never been in the conversation. And I’m not talking about our colleagues on the staff, I’m talking about the community. There’s a huge risk in that, but, if reform is going to work, everybody has to buy into it. That doesn’t mean we have to sell it; it means we have to develop it with everybody.
Teacher Magazine: Isn’t it likely that changing practice would also provide more time for reflection and professional growth? Why shouldn’t schools operate like other organizations do? Take a newspaper, for example. Writers have great autonomy. They’re responsible for beats. When they are working, they’re also learning. Editors supervise, teach, and correct. They make sure that what reporters do is right and that they are staying on course. The people in a newspaper office work every bit as hard as teachers and students do, but, because of the way they work, there is time for communication, interaction, and thinking. If a school functioned more like a newspaper, students would be involved in authentic projects that give them a chance to learn and produce real work. And teachers would work together and with students to oversee and coach students. Wouldn’t there be more time? And wouldn’t that time be used more productively for everyone?
Lisa Hirsch: Three other teachers and I are advisers to the school newspaper. The students are workers producing the paper, and we get to communicate. We spend hours planning, and then they’re off. They are working on a project and learning. They all learned how to use the computer, and they are doing the layout themselves. I have to get a student to teach me what they have learned. And we do start building in time for thought and communication. It still isn’t enough time. I don’t think there ever will be enough time. Let me mention another change that helps. We use student advisory groups or family groups in our school. Teachers have responsibility for keeping in touch with 15 or 20 students and being concerned for their welfare in and out of school. That’s an incentive to work that much harder. In our school, a teacher stays with a group of students until they graduate, so there’s less chance of a student falling through the cracks.
Bill Chaffin: Having an authentic work situation for kids is a nice goal; that’s where we should be heading. But we can’t send our kids off all the time to work by themselves and then check on them every once in a while. We have to be sure they’re mature enough and selfdisciplined enough to go out and do that. We have to start putting things in place in school that get kids to the point where they feel that they’re responsible for their own behavior, so that you can leave a group of kids to do something and meet with a group of teachers and engage in some kind of reflective practice while the students are working on something else and not worry that something horrendous is happening.
Tony Hoffmann: At Middle College High School, we’ve been able to restructure the time schedule so that we have the time to communicate. We have professional committees that help set policy. But the main thing is we restructured the school so that there is a time during school hours when there can be extensive dialogue.
Teacher Magazine: Some people think that the problem in education is that American students are not working hard enough and are not expected to work very hard. Do you agree?
Simon Hole: I see kids in 1st grade who are naturally curious and have an ability to see a whole picture. And we train that out of them. One of the things that happen is that elementary schools--even in a self-contained, isolated classroom--try, perhaps not even consciously, to become like a high school. Like, “Oh it’s 10:15, we have a 15-minute spelling lesson now.’' So we’re compartmentalizing stuff in ways that feel like a high school model.
Teacher Magazine: And is it possible that students lose the desire to work because they’re just bored and not interested?
John Larmer: There’s no reason for them to work. They can get by with a D average and graduate with a diploma. They’re never forced to really show that they can do things. You’ve got to up the stakes on kids. Get them to give public performances and that kind of thing. The credit system instead of the competency system. We need to get away from the idea of seat time. Kids need to feel that their work is valuable, that they’re doing things that are valuable to them, not to some adult.
Carol Lacerenza: Right. Schools aren’t really for kids. They’re for the adults who are in the schools running them. And they’re a place to get kids ready for some artificial next step. Either Algebra II or 7th grade or the test--and that’s all artificial, and that has nothing to do with whether students are being asked to think and to engage in meaningful experiences for them. It has to do with teacher measurements. Am I a good teacher if I send those kids off to 7th grade? What will the 7th grade teacher say about me? And how can I prepare my students to be my spokesperson? All kinds of things obstruct that natural curiosity and natural learning because the adults are there for different reasons than they should be.
Bill Chaffin: How are kids’ values any different from ours? We talk about kids coming into school and not working hard. Look at society in general. Do we value hard work in society? Look how it’s set up. We have this “instant society’’ where you get most of your information from TV. You don’t have to think about it. They tell you what’s going on. You see it as it’s happening. You don’t have to think about it. Why would we be surprised that our kids come into our schools with the same values that we live with every day? I think that we need to start changing society from the school out instead of worrying about changing the society before they come in.
Karen Coleman: What we’re talking about is work that’s quality. A lot of kids work hard, but they settle for a product that’s not a quality product when they could do better. But as long as they get their A or their B or whatever grade that we assign them, then they settle for that. It may not be the best work that they can provide us with.
Cheri Dedmon: What is the definition of work? I see it change for my students, and I guess it’s the best change. I’ve got two sons, fairly young. This fall, we were going to rake leaves--a job I hate. My younger son is just raking and raking and working so hard. The older one comes out, cranks up the blower, and he’s done his work in 10 minutes, and he’s back inside. And I’m thinking, He’s using his mind well; he has his technology together. But is he lazy? He got his job finished; he didn’t use as much time as we did or as much effort, but he got it done. In other words, he’s going to have to find a career one of these days where he can use his mind well because he’s not going to do a lot of physical labor. The other child out there raking and raking, now he’s going to rake all day long, but he’s not questioning. That reminds me of the kids in the classroom. They’re doing the drill sheets and the memory sheets. They’ll work as long as they need to, and they’ll play that game. They’ll please the teacher. But are they using their minds well? I see work being defined differently for kids because they come in and say, “Why should I have to go through all these hoops teachers set up for me? If I can get from here to there doing it a different way, why does it matter?’' The definition of work for kids is going to change. We don’t have to change it for them. They’re going to change it for us.
Steve Cantrell: Cheri’s story about raking leaves prompted me to think that teachers generally work very hard, but I wonder if they don’t spend most of their time raking. We’re all talking about creating time for all the things that teachers need to do, the real intellectual work. I don’t see a lot of intellectual work on my campus, and I include myself. I think a lot about pedagogical issues but not enough about my own discipline, and that’s sort of a choice; that’s what my interests are. But if we’re not learning, if we’re not actively engaged in learning about something, we’re hypocritical to think that the kids are going to do what we tell them to do.
Teacher Magazine: That leads to the subject of teacher professionalism and teaching as a pro- fession. What can teachers do to make teaching more of a profession, irrespective of the system or perhaps despite the system or as part of an effort to change the system?
Bil Johnson: The problem starts with education schools. The focus of teacher training is not on reforming and restructuring. I constantly berate college teaching because I don’t think it is teaching. It is a holdover from a medieval system where somebody who could read the book stands there and presents it to the people. And that kind of didactic example is what I hear from people who are going through education school. If we’re talking about long-range change, the conversation we’re having here today has got to take place in ed schools. We can’t continue to turn out generation after generation of teachers who basically are going to say, “Well, this is the way I was taught, so we’ll just perpetuate the system and not rattle the cage.’'
Tony Hoffmann: Instead of getting students as student teachers, we should get the professors as student teachers. They should be the ones who do their year internship with us. Some of them taught a few years a couple of decades ago and haven’t been in the classroom since, other than to follow up on their students for an hour or so to tell them what they’re doing right or doing wrong. It’s very important to establish a much better collaboration between the schools and teaching colleges. And not only should the college teachers become student teachers--I was not being flippant about it--but also teachers in the schools should be in the colleges training the future teachers.
Simon Hole: I don’t disagree with the idea that teacher preparation has to change, but you train those kids and give them all these wonderful ideas, and then you’re going to put them out into the schools. What happens is they come in and spend that first year or two just being overwhelmed with what’s going on in the classroom. If there aren’t support systems built in to help those new folks maintain those ideas and ambitions, they’re soon gone.
Marian Finney: Support groups are needed for people who are entering the teaching profession. But people who’ve been teaching for a while must take the initiative to establish reading groups, to be more involved in professional organizations beyond just getting the subscriptions and putting them on the shelf, to do some writing, to develop more of a voice. They have to be more active in the profession, as opposed to letting other people tell them what to do. Teachers are the only professionals who let everybody else in the world tell us what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
Steve Cantrell: We’re talking about teacher training as it happens at the college, but we’re forgetting about what happens with that firstyear teacher. One of the reasons I took my current position was that it had built into it a structured way for me to continue to develop professionally. There’s somebody on the site full time whose only job is currently to develop teachers. And I thought that’s a place where I could go and learn. In addition, he directs the professional development on-site, and that’s all led by teachers, teachers serving teachers, saying, “What are needs that you have?’' Unlike the doctor with a problem who goes to another doctor, we’re doing the reverse. We’re going out to our people and saying, “We know you have problems.’'
Marian Finney: Teachers have to demand to be considered professionals. That’s something that we have to work through and talk about and come to some action plans where we can demand that the public see us as professionals and treat us as such.
Cheri Dedmon: I’d like to see my workday designed a little differently--to be more professional, like at the college level, where you have teaching days, and you maybe have afternoons when you can get together with colleagues or do research or whatever. I’d like to see a different work year, so I’m teaching part of the year and have three to four weeks in between so I can work with somebody on an idea or a plan or go someplace and get renewed. We can’t count on changing schools simply by changing the teachers coming into the profession; we’ve got to change what’s there right now.
Simon Hole: Teacher-leaders are asked to do so much. It drove me out of the classroom. I’m on leave because I just couldn’t take it anymore. It wasn’t fair to the kids. The true culture of most schools has a norm of faculty equality, that all teachers are the same, that the only differentiation comes from seniority, and that’s it. Until we begin looking at each other and are able to say, “John, you know stuff that I don’t know; help me learn,’' until that happens, we’re not going to be a profession.
Paula Evans: For most of 17 years, I taught in an upper-middle-class suburban school--lots of money in the school budget, a parent community that cared enormously, and continues to care, about the education of its kids. I was allowed to do basically whatever I wanted to. And for most of those 17 years--I’ve been out of the classroom since 1983--I team taught my courses. I didn’t know the words or the language then, but my courses, as I look back on them now, were exhibition-based. I taught kids for three-hour blocks of time at night instead of the four or five periods during the week. I was considered by some of my colleagues to be radical. And I would go to the principal and say, “Look at how this works; isn’t it terrific.’' And he would say, “Yes, it’s terrific; continue doing it.’' But it never spread to the rest of the school.
Recently, I went back to the school after being out of it for 10 years. People told me how much the school had changed--my former colleagues, the population, the way people were approaching kids. I figured I needed to go there and look at this place with fresh eyes because I obviously didn’t know this school anymore; it’s not the school that I taught in. I went in and sat through four classes, and I felt like I had been out for one week with the flu. Nothing had changed about that school; it is as heavily tracked, it is as fragmented, it is as teacherdominated as it always was. And the things that I did that were radical 15 years ago would still be considered radical today.
I think that those of you around this table are in a different place. I hope you are, and I hope that the coalition helps put you in a different place and gives you authority and leverage to really make a difference. Because what I realized when I came away from that school was that I had some terrific experiences, but I never made a difference to that school. I may be naive, but I hope and feel that you will and can make a difference.
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1993 edition of Teacher as Resolved: Change the System!