Let’s talk about prejudice in education. I am not talking about race, religion, or sexual preference prejudice. I am going to discuss a prejudice that I believe is prevalent throughout our educational system. Of course it will be denied by most educators, but that is a tell-tale symptom of prejudice. Most people will not admit to it. They may recognize it in others, but they will never admit their own engagement in this biased philosophy. I have no idea where this prejudice starts, or how it is driven, but its existence is undeniable. No, not every educator is prejudiced in this regard, but many, too many, are.
The prejudice to which I refer is that of grade level. Many educators look to other levels of education attributing expectations or disappointments based on nothing more than unfounded misconceptions and believing it to be truth. Let’s at least state the myths, and misconceptions to get them out in the open. Elementary teachers tell students that what they are doing now is nothing compared to what middle school teachers will demand. Middle school teachers say the same thing to their students, implying that high school will be more demanding. Of course high school teachers defer to the difficult paces that college professors will put students through when they get a hold on them in college. These are all points that teachers often tend to focus on with their students especially toward the end of the year.
Now let us examine the blame game based on this prejudice. The big myth is little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. This implies that secondary is much more difficult than elementary. Many secondary teachers have little appreciation for the job of elementary teachers. They have little understanding of the consecutive hours spent in the classroom focusing on the needs of kids, emotional, as well as educational. Secondary teachers tend to think in 42 minute periods, five classes a day, with little understanding for a one-class, all-day-long environment. Of course, the view from the high school is that Middle School teachers have a much easier job than the elite High school positions. High school positions are of course the crown jewel of jobs in education.
Of course many secondary educators tell students, “wait until you deal with professors in college”. Most educators hold Higher Education as the holy grail of education. They also hold Higher Ed accountable for not turning out super teachers to lead us out of the forest. What many educators fail to understand is that Higher Ed teachers are really content experts. They are experts of their subjects, but not experts on education. The greatest problem with new teachers is their tendency to teach, as they recently learned from college teachers, relying on the lecture model. Elementary and Secondary teachers need to do more than lecture.
High school teachers have a difficult job, because of what the middle school teachers failed to do. The Middle school teachers have a difficult job, because of what the elementary teachers failed to do. The elementary teachers have to deal with whatever the parents give them to deal with. This may be a cynical attitude, but it is not far from the truth from the attitudes of many educators. It is something which needs to be addressed. Educators need to view themselves as a part of a complete education of a child in partnership with parents. Too often teachers teach “Their subject” and not kids. It is this fiefdom mentality that is one of the things that gets in the way of learning. Some teachers play the blame game to deflect responsibility for not adequately addressing the learning needs of students. This post of course was not directed to you. It was for all those other educators out there.
I recognize the fact that many teachers have to deal with impressions previous teachers have made on students. At the beginning of every school year I would give a writing assignment. With that one assignment I could identify who the previous English teacher was. If the topic or introductory sentence started out a certain way I could identify the teacher. “In this paragraph I will describe…” was an indication as to who taught writing to that student. It took a number of conferences with the teacher involved, but eventually the problem was resolved. The teacher retired, but that is not the point. I reached out to discuss the implications of what was being taught in a previous grade affecting what came next. That was not a prejudiced judgment. It was a real teaching impediment that I attempted to deal with.
We need to discuss more about what we expect and what we need from teachers of other grade levels. It would also be great if we could all spend a day in the shoes of an educator on another grade level. We need to understand where our students came from in order to take them forward. We cannot be drawn into this teacher against teacher battle that is being stoked by politicians. Sharing and collaborating amongst educators is much more positive than the alternatives. Those who close themselves off and engage in empire building hurt all educators. We need to consider the whole picture in education for our students. We need to be educators first and not grade level labeled. We need to enter kid’s lives as a team, not have kids meet us as separate entities. I know this is the ideal, but shooting for higher goals beats where we many view us today. Again, this post was not directed at you but all those other educators who fall into this description.
I await your comments.