Get Teachers Out Of The Classroom

We need a revolving door between business and schools

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Ten years ago, I took a very long journey. I traveled from my 8th grade writing classroom at a suburban middle school to a seminar room at a large manufacturing company where I had been hired to teach writing. At first, I was stunned by the similarities between my middle-aged and my middle-school students. All struggled to make their writing clear, to make it flow, to escape writer's block, and to find the time to write.

But for me as a teacher, there was one critical difference: If I didn't make the course relevant to the lawyers, engineers, and managers in the seminar room, I would lose the hard-won contract. It was something I never had to worry about in a public school. I returned to my 8th grade classroom with a new perspective on teaching.

I've shuttled between schools and businesses ever since and have become convinced that both teachers and businesspeople would benefit from a revolving door: Business executives should be given time off to work in a school classroom, and teachers should be given leaves or short sabbaticals to spend time in the business world.

Businesspeople working in classrooms could energize students by bringing current and practical applications to art, chemistry, mathematics, and other disciplines. Customer-service personnel, for example, could offer short courses in the business department. Systems analysts could teach computer courses. Businesses would benefit from teacher input, as well. Most teachers can effectively explain or clarify a process or procedure and take complicated material and make it understandable.

But most important, a revolving door would help schools and teachers overcome one of the most critical problems facing education—a resistance to making changes to meet the needs of the “customer.” The schools' real customers, today's students, have only their chronological age in common with their counterparts of 20 years ago. Today, the family is in crisis, drugs are rampant, and our schools are struggling to cope with the needs of underclass and immigrant students. While yesterday's students dutifully regurgitated whatever was given to them, too many of today's students ignore what they are taught, just barely get by, or drop out altogether.

Although their customers have changed, many teachers and most schools cling to the methods of the past. Particularly at the secondary level, too many resist innovation, such as small-group instruction, heterogeneous grouping, and new instructional technology. They don't change because—as I realized during my first trip to a business seminar—they can afford not to change. Comfortably tenured teachers do not lose their contracts and public schools do not go out of business if they fail to respond to student needs. The result is the crisis we face in education.

A sojourn in business would place teachers in a much different environment, one where survival depends on responding to a changing customer population. Revolving-door teachers would bring lessons learned in this environment back to school. The businesspeople working in the schools would also help spread the idea that when the customers change, the product and delivery systems must change.

Some small but promising steps have been taken toward setting up the revolving door, but it's time to do more. Leadership must come from the top. School superintendents and local corporate CEOs should set up teams of business leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students to design effective revolving-door partnerships on a school-by-school, business-by-business basis. Corporate managers, professionals, and support staff could teach courses for a morning, a week, a month, or a semester. They could work alone or they could team teach with the regular teacher. Meetings could be set up between teachers and their counterparts from the corporate world to encourage dialogue and mutual problem solving. Teachers could be given mini-leaves or flex-time so that they could shuttle between the corporation and school.

Teachers are at the heart of our educational system. If they continue to live in splendid isolation from the world of business, more and more students will drop into the abyss. I would like to see many more people go through the revolving door. Crossing over may be the way to help the nation's schools move up.

Vol. 02, Issue 01, Page 67

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