This piece was originally posted on tnteachertalk.com and is from a colleague of mine from the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows, which is a teacher fellowship organization dedicated to amplifying teacher voice. Kim Pringle is a recipient of the ETS Recognition of Excellence award for Principles of Learning and Teaching and has recently been appointed as an assistant principal at Snow Hill Elementary School in Chattanooga. Before becoming an assistant principal, she worked as a music teacher, a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), and a RTI Coordinator.
The great struggle of educational change is not lack of initiative, or innovation, or standards, or motivation. It is a diversity of resources and cultures. What works in one environment is doomed to fail in another. There is no one-size–fits-all anything when it comes to the very human act of educating the children of a community.
There are many different types of schools. Some are productive and innovative and some crush the spirit of innovation before it can grow and flourish. Some are tech-centered and engineering-minded, while others are pitifully technology poor. Some embrace best practices and collaboration, while others are seemingly stuck in the past with doors and minds closed to one another.
If I could communicate one thing to educational policy-makers, it would be to find room for the human element. So often it seems that educational policy only focuses on data and test scores. I believe this human element is the thing which teachers see so intimately and bemoan as the un-testable variables. It comes in the form of heartbreaking stories: Mom and dad were fighting last night...again...The electricity was turned off three days ago. I hate cold showers...My baby sister screamed all night. Will she ever stop?...We've been living out of a tent, but we lost our campsite today...I wanted to come to school, but mom didn't wake up...My dad died last week, but no one will talk about it...My shoes don't fit, but I don't want to tell my mom, because we don't have any money...And the day-to-day speedbumps in the road of the educator: We're a sub short today, so we had to divide Mr. Allen's class...You're getting 5 extra kids...Fire drill today at 9:30 am!...Cookie-dough sale kick-off celebration in the gym at 2:30 pm...Pep-rally on Friday!...We're experiencing problems with the WiFi again.
We want the best for our kids. We move mountains for them—of fundraiser cookie dough and wrapping paper and coupon books. And we do all of this to get the funds we need to have the right technology in their hands or to have books for them to read. But it isn't equal. Not all communities have the same luxury of time and disposable income to make those sorts of things happen. Title I funds are supposed to reduce the inequity but still fall short. In addition, many schools who do not qualify for Title I funds struggle to provide for their students when the population does not quite reach the poverty threshold for Title I, yet cannot afford to self-fund.
Critics of public education often depict educators as inadequate for the job or unmotivated to teach students properly. I would argue that we are very motivated for our students. Motivation isn't the issue. It likely comes down to resources and culture. Have we enabled the resources needed for change? Have we dealt with the human needs and cultural needs creating barriers to academic gains?
So, though I appreciate the information that assessment data provides, I plead—look beyond the statistics and into the numbers and see the children they represent. Look beyond the school and see the community it serves. Educating our children is a beautiful, human act. Let's keep the humanity in the process.