Monday, January 10, 2011

“Industry vs. Education” Are we just spinning our wheels?

Imagine you own a factory that produces radios. You receive parts from all over the country. You notice one day that productivity has slowed down to a point where profits are affected. In fact you are now considered to be below proficiency to sustain your business. Upon investigation you realize that all the parts you are receiving from your distributors were meant for many different types of radios. Your company only has the blueprint for the one type of radio you sell! Moreover, your workers have been working feverishly to try and assemble the radios anyway. This has caused the “gap” in proficiency.

Quick Quiz….Do You?

A. Quit

B. Fire the workers

C. Fire the distributors

I think the answer is clear. At first I’m sure the surmounting work that it will take to reform the problem, would make you want to choose “A” and quit. However, the easy choice here is “C” fire the distributors and find someone who is going to send you the exact parts you ordered. You need identical parts to fit the blueprints you have to produce identical, proficient radios.

Now imagine that your business is education and your trying to produce proficient learners based on standards provided by the Federal Government. The children who you have been told to turn into identical proficient learners have all been sent to you differently by their distributors….their parents.

Should we fire the parents?

Time and time again I constantly hear the echo of criticism that pins the blame of partial proficiency on the educators. Though not completely in the clear here, I think it is apparent in my example that we, in education, face a variable that will always affect the outcome of children.

My best reading teacher can spend hours upon hours with certain students but if they walk in the door at two completely different levels regardless of ability and the concepts and importance are not stressed or valued at home, the progress will be slow and sometimes could reverse itself.

The same can be seen through another analogy, childhood obesity. We, in schools, standardize the lunch program according to Health and Wellness regulations to produce healthier children. So, why do all of our students look different? Why is childhood obesity still and issue? The answer is simply because we cannot control what happens before they enter or when they leave our buildings.

Now I mentioned that we, the educators, are not out of the clear yet. In a true industry analogy, none of us would have tenure. The workers in my example above could just as easily been fired for not recognizing the dilemma of different radio parts. Maybe those workers became comfortable with their perceived job protection and lost sight of responsibility. The same has been said about teachers who have slid into the anti-progressive abyss of tenure. The repeated phrase that is spoken after the start of year number 4, “Phew…Now I can relax!”. Why? Why should anyone, in his or her profession, relax or loose the initiative to grow? How does this phenomenon affect student growth? Moreover, I think in education we do know that we are dealing with students who come to us much different than the next and like the workers in the radio factory, the pressure to keep our jobs makes work feverishly to make the standards fit regardless of if it makes sense.

What about the boss in my industry example? Should he quit or be fired? I was watching Lou Dobbs on CNN a while back. He was doing a story about the exurbanite drop out rate facing our high schools. His angle was that our schools are “failing a generation of children”. His solution was that he would fire all the principals of those schools that had the highest drop out rates and hold them responsible. Now according to the industry model that could hold some merit because a leader should know what’s going on in their organization. However, in industry a leader has the opportunity to deal with nonliving components that can be tailored to fit the desired blueprint. We are not in the business of machines. In education we are dealing with people, which comes with an ethical variable to difficult to control.

Should we be trying to run our schools more like industry? How can we do so when we are dealing with a human factor, which is out of our reach? Can we truly make change or are we just spinning our wheels?


  1. No, schools should not be run like industry. We are dealing with children and the many facets of teaching those children. We are also dealing with the perception of the parents of those children. Yes, we can make change happen. But, we need to be in the right mindset to do so. Through the many years that I have been teaching, I have learned some very basic things that I would like to share, in keeping with "mindset" and its' effect on change.
    1. Treat every child as you would have your own child treated.
    2. Know that learning happens at different rates, so give each child the benefit of time and understanding.
    3. Make learning an exciting thing for children.
    4. Share stories of your own with the children. They love hearing stories about their teachers--it makes you more human to them. It also makes them want to share stories about themselves. We can learn alot about each child through their own stories.
    5. Never give up on that child who is the most difficult. The reward of reaching that child is worth far more than the effort involved.
    6. Reach out to parents. Make them know that you are working for the benefit of their child and not against them. Phrase your words carefully to make them know that you are hearing them and hope that they are hearing you.
    7. Teaching is a professional calling!! It isn't an easy job, but a very rewarding one. Stay positive. If you do not love teaching, then do yourself and the children a favor and leave. This is not a job to have for "the money." I wouldn't want a doctor who did not like what he was doing. Your attitude is sometimes a determining factor for success.
    8. Plan ahead!! Don't wing it. The satisfaction of knowing you have it all under control is also very rewarding and necessary for success.
    9. Keep monthly files. Include books, activities, ideas, and notes on lessons that were successful and those that were not.
    10. Remember that you are touching the life of a child. Know that somewhere in his/her future you might make a difference and hope that it is a good one!!
    11. Seek help when you need it. Share with your colleagues and help each other win your battles. Remember, "united we stand, divided we fall." Some of my most successful ideas and activities came from my teaching friends. Teaching is not a competition. It is a unified effort to work together to reach all children so they can be successful adults.
    12. Treat yourself kindly for your hard work, especially now with all of the negative attention being thrown at us. We all work very hard to do a job that, in my nephews words "would bring down ten warriors." Pat yourself and your colleagues on the back and keep up the good work!!

    You all probably know these things already, but it doesn't hurt to spell them out. I tend to be a little "wordy" at times.

  2. One more thing--teachers need to be given the chance to grow and learn. I was oblivious when I started teaching. With the help of my colleagues and some very good administrators, I was able to grow and learn, just as the children do. I was given the time and understanding that I needed to be where I am today. And, I might add, I am still growing and learning everyday! That should never end.

  3. Bravo Ellen! I do not think you were wordy at all! Your comments were perfectly written and I couldn't express my thoughts about this topic any better. Through my many years of teaching and experiences these last 41 years, I completely agree with Ellen. This should be sent to NEA and NJEA to be published, so all teachers can read, learn, and be proud!

  4. Ellen, Thank you for describing your feelings about the teaching profession so eloquently. I agree with Rosalie - your experience and your words would benefit many! Your love and respect for all children is a gift to all.

  5. Well said, Ellen. :) I love your #1,2, and 5 especially!

  6. I love your comments, Ellen! Very well put!