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Jul 19

Chris Smeaton

Renewing public confidence in education

There is no doubt that public education in North America is under attack. The lack of confidence is more pronounced south of the border than here in Canada. But even so, everybody has an opinion on education and more often than not a ready-made solution for our ills. Just because you attended school or you are successful in life doesn’t necessarily relegate you to an educational reform expert.  And I’m sorry, but the media can be frustrating when they headline an issue that paints all schools or systems the same color while neglecting the thousands of good news stories that happen in our schools every single day.

I would suggest that weaning public confidence and lack of respect for teaching in general cannot be simply blamed on government, business leaders, so called educational experts or the public as a whole. Jamie Vollmer’s book, “Schools Cannot Do It Alone” reminded me that WE are also part of this problem! 

I have the greatest admiration and respect for teachers’ professional organizations.  They support education with the latest research, provide excellent opportunities for professional growth and desire the highest standards for teaching. They provide excellent information on current and future trends in education and really promote the professionalism of teaching. However, part of the every professional association includes an union component. It is this part of the “we” that adds to the problem of spiraling confidence and lack of respect for educators.

Teacher unions, like most opposition parties in politics, typically communicate only the negatives. Their rherteric often implies the “if only” mentality as a cure for all education woes. If only teachers got paid more, had more time, had less students, had more support, etc, then education would be so much better. I do not be grudge the union perspective, but it is very clearly and rightfully so, for the sole purpose of the betterment of their members, namely teachers.  While the profession focuses on pedagogy and learning, the union’s mandate tends to be on collective agreement articles.

I learned a long time ago that when you point your finger, you have three pointing back at you. Teacher unions are not the only body that  can instill a lack of confidence in public education. Educators like you and me are constantly articulating changes necessary to meet the needs of our current students. We try to suggest our dissatisfaction with the system we operate within, without being overly critical. The end result however, is a continual decline in public confidence and more importantly a demoralizing of our educators. While I will never admit that our educational system is blameless, I also know that we are a long way from the disaster that the media and think tank organizations say we are.

 Sadly, the words continuous improvement and change have conjured up robust negative feelings in education. The underlying assumption is to need to improve or change means a deficiency. It implies a fixed mindset that education and educators cannot allow to exist. While we must be careful with our language, we must also not run and hide from our responsibilities as professionals to continue to learn and improve. Renewing public confidence does not imply that we not seek  improvement. In fact, it probably suggests that we evolve our practices quicker and more publicly. But we must also be responsive to ensuring that we don’t bad mouth each other and consistently preach the negatives.  Our continuous improvement must not stem from a deficit model but rather built from our strengths.  And although we need to continually evolve and improve, we still have a pretty strong system!

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