It’s a common theme among those who are not fans of Common Core to use sarcasm and derision when talking about teachers who attribute a change in their practice to those same standards. (I weighed the pros and cons of linking to particular writers who practice this habit and decided no. It’s about patterns, not personalities.) The refrain is usually:
Educator: As a result of Common Core, I started doing this.
Response: Scoff. You needed Common Core to do *that*? Why weren’t you doing it before?
A recent article in the NYTimes about changes in the English classroom has received the same response. Only this time, the subject of the refrain is the reporter. Several teacher-bloggers took to their pages to share their disdain at the reporter’s lack of understanding around English classrooms pre-CCSS and their opinion on her seemingly uninformed understanding of the travesty that the CCSS are.
It’s a provocative writing device as it attempts to establish the author of the response as a voice of authority. A sort of a: *I* knew about this before so my opinion on the matter is more righter than yours. The drawback is the attempt to shame the educator or reporter who spoke about the change in practice. And shame is the really the best adjective as many of these posts imply that the only right thing that teacher can do is hide her head, apologize for not knowing about *that* and rescind all support for the CCSS.
When I read posts with that tone, I’m reminded of Ignaz Semmelweis. Well, not him personally, I had to Google his name, but of his work. Prior to Mr. Semmelweis, midwives and doctors would rotate between deliveries without washing their hands. Mothers were dying at high rates and it was seen as just one of the consequences of giving birth. So these medical professionals were doing the best they could with the information they had and along comes Ignaz and they discovered they needed to change something in their practice. They weren’t bad before, they weren’t uninformed. In fact, they likely thought they were doing everything in their power to keep the mothers alive.
There are two connections I see to the education profession.
First, why the disdain? Why the condemnation of teachers who come forward to share how they’ve reflected and evolved? Going after individuals who share stories of how their practice has changed is a bit like claiming you’ve been washing your hands all along. It’s possible some doctors were. It’s possible some had Clean Room Level 4 birthing suites. At the same time, when the profession realized a change was needed, the doctors who didn’t know about hand washing weren’t bad doctors the day before the “wash your hands because ew…” staff meeting and then good doctors once they started washing their hands. One would think we’d want to elevate the voices of teachers who share their thinking, not shame them back into silence. More to point, it’s possible some doctors never lost a mother or a child. To their thinking, they didn’t need to wash their hands as their practices were just fine, thank you very much. To those teacher bloggers, good for you but why not dial up the pride in reflective practitioners and dial back the disdain?
The second, more important, issue is race and social justice in education. Mad props to #educolor for their work on the matter and for offering a place for educators to listen and learn. The conversations about race and social justice aren’t always smooth. They’re not easy and people are going to get it wrong. 80%-ish of educators are white women, many of whom were good students praised for being well-behaved and doing the “right” thing in school and speaking up takes an incredible amount of courage. To reveal a past mistake in pubic? Not easy for anyone – especially teachers that are in predominately white schools where students are most often introduced to Black Americans in the month of February or via the Social Studies curriculum and slavery. When teachers are getting scoffed and derided for sharing their thinking around pedagogy, what’s the benefit to sharing their thinking about the really hard and important stuff?
Teachers are increasingly asking. “Here’s where I’m struggling. Where am I stuck?” or sharing, “Here’s what I’m trying now. It was hard to get here but I’m glad now that I’m here.” It baffles me that anyone would respond in any way other than, “Thanks for sharing. That must have been hard. Can you tell me more about that?”This isn’t about protecting delicate white lady feelings or otherwise suggesting teachers can’t handle critiques. (I’ll refrain from commenting on the patterns when some bloggers are offered critiques via Twitter.) It’s about saying, “Dude. Don’t be such a jackass.” Or fine. Be a jackass but take a moment and consider what happens when that teacher Googles her name.