Tuesday, June 3, 2014

If you want innovation, get a young idealistic teacher..and other damaging myths..

I recently read a post about edtech startups and the presence and role of teachers in them. There were a couple of assumptions that just..well.. let's just say "ruffled my feathers". (And before I get started, I must note that I know many innovative, excellent teachers of all ages, so I have no bias for young or old)

  • One assumption was that if education companies were going to "transform" or disrupt education, having teachers on board was not (necessarily) going to help since they(teachers) have a vested interest in the status quo and because companies have had teachers writing curriculum for years with "no change happening." Um, do we think that the big companies, the great big arms of the edu- machine are going to listen to a teacher, a marginalized professional who is writing that curriculum to supplement his/her measly income? Let's be clear: I gain no financial incentive nor personal satisfaction from perpetuating the bureaucratic machine of education. In fact, I've spent most of my years as an educator fighting and advocating for kids' rights, and when I believed I could no longer effect change, I left my school( to the detriment of my own financial security/retirement plan) for somewhere I could make a bigger impact. 

  •  The writer went on to talk about other industries where the people who made the innovations came from outside the industry. He talked about how teachers are prone to cognitive biases and distortions. Isn't that true of all of us humans? Now this is all fine and good for those on the outside to chime in with ideas, except that education isn't necessarily like the auto industry. We are talking about the lives of children. We are talking about developing not only skills and competencies but BELIEFS about what kids think they can do in this world. Those of us who have been around for awhile understand that many aspects of education are not best suited for the learners in our classrooms. We spend our own money, our supposed "vacation" time, and every moment we can trying to find new ways to meet the needs of our learners. We eat, breathe, sleep, and dream about our students, especially when they suffer hardships beyond our control. 

  • In education, teachers are tasked with being counselors, mentors, teachers, surrogate parents, nurses, caregivers, and so much more. To actually think that we who live within the world of education don't believe that it needs to change is crazy to me. To think that we who are veteran educators don't want it to change is even crazier to me. We have seen more, experienced more "pain points" as they like to say in business. We know what we need for tech in the classroom, just as we have strong pedagogical views shaped by years of experience. We know the damage caused by inequity; we witness the institutional racism that leads to higher rates of formal discipline for children of color. We do our best to intervene. We know the tools we would invent if we knew how to code or had the time to develop these tools.  We feel the pain, and feel it deeply when our children, aka, our students, suffer. 

  • The author also mentioned that perhaps younger, more idealistic teachers are going to be the ones who just might make an impact in edtech startups. He then goes even further by saying that maybe it won't even be those teachers, but the tech savvy students who will enter the workplace.  I'm all for student voice, but guess who will know best how to give those students the microphone? Teachers who get it and, "get them." 
I wrote this post weeks ago, and put it on hold to see if I would feel equally passionate as my anger died down. I am choosing to post it as it is, without editing further, as I believe that as my "nice teacher" self, I tend to make peace more often than I should.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we can all be heard as the important voices of advocacy for our students. 


Shari said...

Thanks for expressing this. I have taught for almost 30 years and all I've done during my career is to change how I teach to better reach my students. But as a veteran teacher, I know how to get things through administration filters, work with parents to help them understand why & how I'm teaching their children...not an easy task to be sure. Sometimes changes work great, sometimes not but I've persevered. I LOVE teaching MS kids and the challenges they present. I'm proud to say my entire professional career ( far from over) has been in education as a teacher. Thanks again for your post.

Keri said...

As a new teacher of only 4 years, that is one pd I'd pay - getting through admin filters and translating the schoolroom for parents! But even with only four years, the point of this post is passionately, patently true. I wish schools, parents, business, edu-preneurs would realize that a dislike for YOUR change does not mean a dislike for ALL change.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Shari and Keri. I appreciate your feedback. I think it's important for us to speak up!

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