Guest Blogger: The Urgency of Now

335549836_97ee1f1307Note to Readers:  As a guy who has often been driven by challenging thoughts, some of my favorite readers are those who push against my thinking. In recent weeks, that reader has been Nate Barton, the author behind A Drop of Reason.

What makes Nate an important member of my personal learning network is that he steps a bit further than I do when advocating for powerful change in schools—as he does here in the first Guest Blogger post ever on The Tempered Radical.

Take some time to welcome Nate to the conversation by responding to his thoughts in the comment section and by adding his blog to your feed:

The Urgency of Now

By Nate Barton

I have always considered myself to be an incredibly patient person. I can remember distinctly fishing with my mother off an old dock in the Florida Keys, listening to her lessons about the importance of patience in a good fisherman.

Little did I know that she was systematically planting that seed in my brain with the hopes that it might grow someday into a great oak of patience. To this day I can sit for hours on the edge of a dock simply waiting for that small plunk of my line being tugged down.

Occasionally, however, I wonder if I have ever been a patient person.

I remember spending my sophomore year of college railing against the idea that I needed to put in a certain amount of focused study time so that I might acquire a degree.  After all, I felt prepared for my profession long before my senior year. I had worked with children from the point where I was barely discernible from children myself. As far as I was concerned, I was ready to teach from the time that I decided that I wanted to teach.

With regards to the current state of education in America I find myself falling more and more into this same pattern of impatience.

Bill and I seem to disagree with regards to how change within the ‘system’ (our definition) might come. It would seem that I may be fostering an impatience that borders on social unrest–in fact, if you ask many of my closer colleagues about a revolution in education, they would have little difficulty directing you back to me—while Bill is far more willing to be patient and wait for change.

I wanted to highlight our differences so that others might shed some light on the virtues of his patience versus my apparent impatience. Interestingly, though, I find it a daunting task to point out our differences, as essentially I feel that we are standing on the same ground. Here are some examples:

‘…performance measures are never extended to teachers of tested subjects.  No one comes in my room and watches my students interact in meaningful conversations with one another.  No one ever sits down and challenges their thinking about a particular novel or piece of text to see if they can analyze an author’s purpose or notice elements of bias.

Instead, they count on the test to do those things—which I’d argue is simplistic at best.’

‘I think that our nation’s embrace of standardized testing has had the same impact on teaching and learning. We’ve stripped our classrooms of anything that doesn’t have a proven connection to increased scores.’

‘—the community is moving from a system of assessment that completely relied on the professional judgment of the classroom teacher to a system that is more ‘concrete’ and ‘defensible.’  By default, this decision implies that the decisions of teachers are insufficient as accurate measures of student learning.’

Frequently, I come away from a Bill Ferriter blog post with a sense of urgency…a sense of let’s do something…a sense of excitement because I realize I am not alone in my frustrations with what is.  I’ve left him comments on several occasions:

‘Why can’t we challenge the system that is drowning the optimism and creativity of both new and old teachers?’ Generally the reply is, ‘What can we do?’ or ‘Just wait a few years and maybe it will change.’ Even you [Bill] have suggested resilience will be important. This, for me, is a difficult pill to swallow.

I propose a revolution. Why must we sit idly by to wait for some disconnected bureaucrat to change the system that only we know so well? Revolution sounds dangerous but it needn’t be. I believe it begins as a conversation, a meeting of the minds. We’ll likely all begin at the same place. I just feel like there are so many terribly smart teachers who get steamrolled because of the same strongly held belief…

I am here for the children, not the money, not the accolades, not the political system that tells us every year around election time how important we are, but the kids. I’ve no doubt that if we were able to stand up, together, that we could be heard. Let the revolution begin.’

Today I read a Ferriter response to Matt Johnston, over at Going to the Mat, that seemed to highlight the primary difference in our thinking.  He wrote:

‘I also believe that teachers have felt disempowered for so long—in many ways, our work is blue collar in the sense that we do what we’re told and get written up if we don’t—-that we’ve given upon getting involved in the decision making process.’

I agree, Bill, that we have in many ways become affected by a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Education has taken our legs out from under us for so long that we no longer feel enabled to stand up to challenge the decision making process that directly effects our profession, our careers, and, most importantly our children.

Our difference lies in how to affect change in this mindset.

I would propose that change should be radical. Radical to the likes of a revolution—and while I do not have a clearly delineated plan for our revolution, I believe that if enough teachers put their heads together we could save our schools and put our country back on the cutting edge.

While Bill’s patience may be admirable, I believe the time for pragmatism is past.  We owe it to our students to act.

I would however like to thank him for this opportunity to speak out to a broader audience. I hope that I have done the Tempered Radical justice. If you are inclined, please take a look at other thoughts that I have about teaching and learning at A Drop of Reason.

Thanks again Bill.

(Image credit:  Classic Water Drop Shot by Randy Son Of Robert, licensed Creative Commons:  Attribution)

3 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: The Urgency of Now

  1. Nate Barton

    Additionally, I wonder about the idea of the echo chamber. I think it rings true. It made me think about my school and who might be ready for a revolution. Most likely it would only be a handful, and even those would likely be half hearted.
    I do, however, think that in general, the masses are opposed to change, specifically radical change. You’ve got to seek to find a way to help people to see where you are trying to go.

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Kevin wrote:
    The reality, I truly believe, is that if you push too fast, and too far too fast, you will lose that whole middle crowd of teachers who want to learn
    You know, Kevin—this seems like a great point to me…..Driving change in education—regardless of whether we’re talking about Web 2.0 or any change in education—means bringing along a whole ton of teachers who may not be out in front as far as you and I and Nate.
    Which means that change is almost always slower than we want it to be.
    Do you think that the speed of change that we sometimes propose to our colleagues scares away potential allies?
    And to juxtapose that question, do you think the speed of change in schools chases away potential leaders who get tired of waiting for others to catch up?
    Interesting questions…

  3. Kevin

    I admire that Bill allows the competing voices to be showcased here. (way to be collaborative, Bill).
    This concept of change is interesting and it seems to me that out here in the Blogosphere, there appears to be more momentum for the Shift than in real life. We sometimes live in the echo chamber, don’t we?
    For example: there are so few teachers in my building ready to move into the collaborative Web 2.0 World and all of its possibilities.
    Now, you may rightly ask: Well, what am I doing to help them get there? Slowly, slowly, slowly … getting them to trust the possibilities. Working with them to podcast, to blog, to social network. And that is not even my job. I am a classroom teacher like them, not a technology coach. But I want to help them see it all as I see it.
    The reality, I truly believe, is that if you push too fast, and too far too fast, you will lose that whole middle crowd of teachers who want to learn, but are wary of the technological know-how needed. THAT is the group we need to reach. On either ends of the spectrum are the believers (like me) and the doubters (who will never be swayed). We want the middle kids to join us.

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