Why “playing nice” may doom education

I started thinking about this post after a twitter post I made about a week ago.  I have felt this way for quite some time as I have consistently run into bad teachers who never get called out for any number of reasons (union, friendships, professional courtesy, etc).  But after reading a recent post by Aaron Eyler, the fire was fueled once again.

In order for change to happen, their will be disagreements.  For some reason educators avoid these disagreements like the plague.   We constantly hear phrases like “teaching style” or “that’s what works for me”, almost as though there is no consensus from education research regarding best practices and that teaching is a series of “guess and test” strategies to develop strong pedagogy. Don’t get me wrong, I believe many teachers have wasted 10 years using this strategy to build competent pedagogical understanding.  I say wasted, because they could have built this knowledge much more quickly had they made the decision to actually read an education research article or two. Of course the ability to actually implement research based strategies may require years of practice, but that is another post.  In my humble opinion (ok, it’s not so humble), teacher prep programs ought to more forcefully engage preservice teachers in locating and reading research to inform classroom practice.  Anyway, back to my point.

When our rhetoric about teaching comes off as relativistic, we are not doing ourselves any favors.  If teachers who teach in a manner not consistent with best practices are allowed to continue along their merry way, we bring down other teachers who are working hard to implement best practices.  When “taking the easy way out” is not looked down upon, more teachers are tempted to follow that path.  Even worse, our dialogue around the “easy” teaching might move from non-judgemental to positive.  Essentially, allowing bad teaching is not far removed from encouraging bad teaching.

We have to stop playing nice, we need to speak up (loudly) in opposition to bad teaching and in favor of good teaching.

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16 Responses to Why “playing nice” may doom education

  1. Nancy Devine says:

    if our doctors didn’t use the best possible practice(s) we’d go crazy. yet it seems to be okay in teaching.
    i’m with you.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Not only would we as patients be upset, the doctor would be brought up on criminal charges. Yet, bad teaching persists–no wonder the public/politicians are saying “enough is enough”.


  2. Suzanne Rogers says:

    I’m game. How to we speak up loudly in opposition to bad teaching? Modeling works, encouragement works, but bad teaching remains.


    • jerridkruse says:

      The how is quite a bit different than the why. I have found myself speaking up in committee meeting at my school-then the committee notes include these statements that go out to whole school. When I speak up in a small group setting, my point can be built on or clarified (not as easy in really big group). Also, since voicing my concerns to a group, I am not singling any one person out, but I am forcefully making my voice heard.


  3. “If teachers who teach in a manner not consistent with best practices are allowed to continue along their merry way, we bring down other teachers who are working hard to implement best practices.” Not to mention hurting our students…and the next generation of teachers. Dan Lortie’s idea of the “apprenticeship of observation” says that so many educators’ teach in ways similar to the way they were taught. Until THIS cycle is changed, I’m not too optimistic our profession will be embracing any second order pedagogical shifts in the near future.

    To add to the chicken/egg argument formulated here…what role should building administrators play in a) modeling effective pedagogy b) helping his/her staff locate research to improve practice and c) removing educators who aren’t responsive to a & b?


  4. Michael J says:

    Any thoughts about the recent firings in Rhode Island. Principal and all the teachers put on notice that they have to be rehired. This was a demonstrated dropout factory.

    And yet most of the conversation among teachers on twitter and blogs is how this was a “terrible” “heartless” thing to do. At the risk of ruffling feathers, I think it was just about right.

    Imagine if a hospital only cured 50% of the incoming patient population. The correct thing to do would be crystal clear. Yet when it comes to a high school for some reason it’s an ambiguous judgment. I think it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the larger non teacher community sees this as unprofessional behavior


    • jerridkruse says:

      I tend to agree with you about the reaction to the firing by the twitter education community. I posed the opinion that the school board may have done what is necessary to move forward. Several people responded that the teachers were part of a system that was broken, not that they were necessarily broken. I would argue that we do not have to perpetuate a broken system as teachers, we can always do better. Yet, if you are just one person “doing better” the difference may not be measurable.

      As to your hospital example. The analogy makes sense, but there are some hospitals that do have very high mortality rates because they might specialize in terminal deseases (ie: cancer centers). Therefore doctors are not judged solely on patient death rate, but on the treatments given. The education community must adopt a similar view. Yes, “success rate” is important, but even more important is the strategies and treatments given….100% is a nice goal, but there are some things beyond teachers’ control (importantly, this is not an excuse to put forth best possible effort!


      • Michael J says:

        No doubt that teachers were in a broken system. But as professionals it would optimal if they took the leadership in fixing it, instead of defending the failure and blaming it on the kids, the community or the parents.

        I acknowledge that there are some things “beyond a teacher’s control.” In fact i might go further and say that the performance of a school as whole, as opposed to a classroom is mostly beyond the teacher’s control.

        The fact is that a change of principal – middle management -can radically change the results with the same teaching staff and the same student populations.


  5. Ian Yorston says:

    Hmm. Leeches? Blood letting?

    There is evidence all over the world of teaching practice that was “known” to be right – and then found to be ineffective.

    The only genuine failure in education is when teachers stop asking how could I do better – for my students – in my circumstances.

    That’s a crime worth calling.


    • jerridkruse says:

      I’m not sure what your point is. So you think we shouldn’t implement research based practices and just allow anything as long as the teacher claims to be trying to get better? I don’t think you are saying that, but that is what I got out of reading your comment.

      Of course education research will be modified, but there is research that is nearly 100 years old that is not being implemented in a large scale. That is just shameful….what’s the research for then?


  6. Michael J says:

    “Hmm. Leeches? Blood letting?” I agree that is way over the top. But it should be taken into account that when schools have graduation rates close 50% that is the real failure in education.


  7. Liz P. says:

    I recently spoke up to administration on this issue and started rethinking if I should have when my colleagues gave me grief…especially because I’m young and “just don’t know how the world and system works.” I knew I was in a position to advocate for quality teaching and that it needed to happen because no one else would have said anything. Thank you, if for no other reason than for making me feel better about speaking up.


  8. Brunsell says:

    Kudos for a strong blog post. I am slowly increasing the amount of educational research my undergrads are reading in my methods course. The challenge, of course, is that a lot of the research is inaccessible… We need to do a better job of communicating research in a manner that can be acted on.


  9. Michael J says:

    Just want to chime in with “Education researchers need to stop worrying about building their own name and remember that the goal ought to be to improve education. :)”

    Instead of reading the research you might want to consider research on twitter and the now many blogs (such as this one ) that bring a fresh view to the problem. A little time at twitter on #edchat or #education will allow the students to find the fresh authentic voices to finally get this all on the right path.

    Today the President made it pretty clear that the health care debate is over. Given that earlier this week the White House began a serious focus on the “dropout crisis” with Colin Powell as the lead spokesperson my bet is that between next year and the year after at least that part of the problem will be fixed.

    Just a paraphrase of a quote by Albert Einstein, The thinking that produced a problem is probably not going to be able to find solutions to that same problem.

    I would recommend that your education students take a look at Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class. His is the best analysis of the problem that I’ve seen so far.


  10. LJ says:

    Amen ..tired of people spewing rhetoric and not doing anything to help children. If children were truly first then so much would get done.


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