Teacher Autonomy

Let's put teachers and students at the front of the educational parade!

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Solution: Teacher Autonomy

Started by Anne Pemberton. Last reply by Anne Pemberton Mar 29, 2009. 31 Replies

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Comment by Tammy Moore on March 25, 2009 at 7:34am
Many elements of the discussion revolve around a quest to 'fix education' with autonomy being one possible way to do so. The flows of brainstorming this topic has kept my brain percolating. I am one of those intutive-style processors of information and it can seem random and chaotic initially and then crystalize in a flash, so I have learned to let the brainstorm rabbit trails lead where they will. Though, normally I do the brainstorming alone and don't utter a peep until everything is clear and soundly formatted. It has been fun to feel like I can brainstorm with others. :0)

Here are some of the elements that have been running through my head in this brainstorming phase ...

The mention of the 1950's teacher having respect and autonomy leading to the prosperity and innovation of the 60's and 70's Sputnik and technology era lead to the following meanderings ...

The children of the Sputnik era where enthralled with the chemistry set, took stuff apart to see how it works, dreamed of space travel, and lived in a culture of respect toward all adults - parents included. Popular magazines showed kids how to do experiments at home. Teachers of science where a means to learn more about something naturally and culturally fascinating at the time.

How are things different now? Chemistry sets now typically include only about 5 simple and safe chemicals to prevent being sued or to comply with new laws intended to combat terrorism and drug making. I heard yesterday that youngsters with the hobby of chemistry in Texas cannot legally buy a flask without a special permit because laws to discourage meth labs were passed. Amateur chemist students are even staying quiet about their hobby with even the science teachers for fear of being turned in for having chemicals that were legal to own just a ten years ago.Most chemicals can no longer be aquired without a permit The fireworks and rocketry hobbies have all but been destroyed because of their explosive (read as 'terroristic bomb-making capacity) connections. Can the culture of science with our kids survive when they cannot pursue their interests in depth instead of a mile wide and an inch deep? Have we become a culture of over-reactors that immediately turn to passing poorly thought out laws that do nothing to deter the real criminals but destroy the good things that used to grow in our culture?

Another meandering - Are we yearning for the good ol' Sputnik era without realizing that our kids are right in the middle of an equally amazing revolution? Computers! Why is it that we do not see the computer revolution with the same sort of acknowledgment that space travel and beating Russia to the moon had in yesteryear? It is just as amazing and just as powerful. Instead we browbeat the gamers and find that adding computers to the traditional curriculum comes with great resistance and pain from multiple elements (some teachers, budget committees, and even IT departments). Might I suggest that if you look deeper and a large percentage of those gamers you will find that they are knee deep into modding those games and with it they are turning in to the next generation programmers, movie animated effects designers, developers of web 3.0 and 4.0, and pushers of the envelope of software and hardware envelopes. They will be our IT departments that instead of being overwrought with worry about being sued, how to protect the machines, and the kids will remember their days at school and open the channels for their children's generation to better blend education and computers.

more meanderings - Teachers used to only have to focus on pleasing the few (parents, principle, school board). She had a say because she had access to those few to help them understand the needs of the classroom. Teachers of today have to please the many. Beyond the few of yesteryear you add an amazing array of regulatory laws from state and federal levels that she has to please. These are ones to please that she cannot talk to in her community to have much influence with. She is now burdened with layers of paperwork because that distance means she has to now prove she is in compliance because the ones she is to please cannot just see the fruit of her labor right there in the community.

How about the community? School was typically seen as the focus and the hub of community. Has that changed? If so, why? Is it because so many moms work now that they are too tired and cannot work out schedules to be active participants? Is it that our culture has encouraged kids to be 'individualistic and now' focused and less mindful of family, community, respect, and long-term goals? Is it that teachers and school administrators have lost the respect of the community? If so, when and why did that happen? Is school seen as doing too much beyond teaching the 3-Rs and families are upset with some of the moral and social issues that they feel the school falls on the other side of the line on? What other questions can be brainstormed and explored?

Another meandering - If education worked entirely in a business mindset with competition for local students being a major element, what would education look like right now? Would the openning of that market bring about innovations that we could never have imagined before. What if it were not school-level businesses but teacher-level businesses. How would teachers change what they do to make their teaching marketable if they had to compete directly fr the students in their classroom and their paycheck? Would that bring the innovation all the way into the children's hands without it getting sidetracked at some roadblock along the way?

Safety and Freedom - have you noticed that they are inverse relationships? To get more safety it is often necessary to give up an equal amount of freedom. To get autonomy back for the public school teacher, will it mean the teacher will have to face that inverse relationship of giving up some safety? Will the system let the teacher make the trade off if she wants it? Will it only happen when a consensus is achieved or can a teacher make that trade off on her own? If it can be an individual teacher's choice, will *you* be willing to sacrifice safety for that autonomy? If you say no to the trade off, is it right to complain when *you* made that choice yourself? (please don't read any accusations here. LOL. Brainstorming flows all over the place and is a messy process)

If a non-autonomous teacher could 'job-shadow' an autonomous teacher would that help with making the trade off seem less frightening and more do-able? Would that provide some how-tos to make it easier?

Well, gotta get started on my school day. I hope some of the questions and meanderings provide for interesting discussions.
Comment by Anne Pemberton on March 22, 2009 at 5:17pm

Thanks for sharing that! It is relevent, as one of the things that teachers have lost control over since losing autonomy was grading students and determining which students had mastered the material to a level to continue on, and which needed some assistance on some parts of the material before they could move on (I don't want to say retention, because I really don't think that retention is better than ongoing individualized help for needy students.) But the decision who needs special help and how to provide it needs to be put back in the teacher's court.
Comment by Bob Zenhausern on March 22, 2009 at 5:08pm
Not sure if this fits into your theme, but let me post something from the Enabling Support Foundation. Is this what you mean by autonomy? Or is it something different or something more?

Teachers must be held accountable

There is no question that teacher's must be accountable for their performance. Why should they be different than anyone else? Easy to say but more difficult accomplish.

How do we measure performance?
Performance is usually defined in terms of the students performance. So far so good.

How do we measure student performance?
By using multiple choice tests!

If you use a test score criterion to judge a teachers performance, the teacher will make sure her students pass the test.

Why have multiple choice tests replaced teacher evaluation? Has this emphasis come at the expense of a broader education?

When did we stop trusting our teachers? Why?

Are there active groups who think that teacher evaluation is more important than scores on a multiple choice test?

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