Friday, November 11, 2005

Obstacles to Excellence

Being smarter, better, or different are not celebrated in society. Oftentimes, if you are unusual to your approach to things, you are ostracized. Often as a child, I had teachers tell me, "that's not the right answer, we haven't learned that yet". I also heard plenty of "don't get ahead of the rest of the class". I also heard "give the other kids a chance to answer questions".

My wife, received a BA in History. She never took an education course. Unfortunately, she needs to take a few courses to become a teacher. Fine, she'll jump through that hoop. As a HeadStart teacher for Hidalgo County, however, she is facing obstacles. She has a different approach to education that works for her and her students. Yet, the system starting from her aide to administration keep telling her that "we don't do things that way".

My daughter, a young nerd in her own right, faces the same challenges I did as a child. She has enough sense not to make the teacher look stupid in front of the class. She has accepted that she must work with the system handed to her.

Education suffers from this shortsightedness. I have been critical of the President for instituting the TAAKS and the No Child Left Behind initiative. Teachers and school administrations have taken these to be the gold standards for education. If students pass the TAAKS and meet the standards set by No Child Left Behind, they have done their job. I have realized the error of my thinking. Yes, I was wrong. Four words come to mind, and they are very rude.

I completely missed the point of the President's demand for standards. Now, I am more upset at public schools for their soft bigotry of low expectations. Before I start complaining, let me tell you how I realized my error.

I work in retail. I sell stuff. Often, when vendors want to make a point about he quality of their product, they will mention that they "meet or exceed government standards". Most recently I heard this on KURV for Noni Juice at Hector's Health Co. It clicked today that the TAAKS and No Child Left Behind are federal government MINIMUMS. That is to say, the student must master these things or better to pass to the next grade. Obviously, a child who has high aptitude and ability will breeze through the tests. What about the others who have average aptitude and ability? Teachers are spending so much time teaching these average students to meet the MINIMUM standard. Did I mention MINIMUM?

Here is how you should see it. If you know that you will work as a dancer and need to be able to do the splits when you get on stage. When you stretch, will you try to stretch more than your current ability or try to stretch beyond your current ability? There are some people with a good aptitude for stretchy things and will be able to do the splits on the first day or in a short time. There are others who have to work on the ability over a few weeks. Those who need to work on it can't simply stretch their muscles to the minimum if they expect to do the splits. They need to stretch as much as possible without injury. The same goes for our children's brains.

Yet, we don't see teachers or administration telling us that they want to "meet or exceed government standards". They are simply trying to meet the "MINIMUM" standards. Are you getting the picture? They are trying to convince us that if their students pass the TAAKS, they have done their job. Expletives withheld.

We need to demand more from teachers. For a while there, I felt sorry for teachers for all the crap they deal with from Administrators, parents, and government programs. Now I realize that they are not working to make a difference. They are working to preserve their jobs. If you are a teacher and that is you main motivation, you shouldn't be a teacher.

Before you give me any lip about this, my wife likes being a teacher. She likes pushing the 4 year olds beyond expectations. She wants them to give her everything they've got. She doesn't worry about her job because she knows that she can get a better job. I make sure to remind her of that. She knows that if she can't find a job, she can make a job. She knows human resources, payroll, history, childcare, reasearch, catering, sales, and so many other things that we have done together. If you are a teacher and are afraid to lose your job, get over it. Try to "stretch" beyond what you know and push the limits. If you believe that you will not have a job as good as teaching, you are in the wrong job. You are hindering our students. If you know you can do better and are not afraid of pushing the limits, you are definitely a teacher. My best teachers were the ones who expected more from me. My worst teachers were the ones who expected the least (spelled M-I-N-I-M-U-M). What kind of teacher are you?

To sum up, I'm sorry Mr. President for doubting your wisdom. I have seen the error of my ways and will now work to enlighten others.
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