As this new year begins and everyone is busy making resolutions, I’m not. Instead, I’m considering the educational changes I’d like to see. While some are the sole province of education’s power brokers—decisions that impact education on a broad scale—others are changes within educators’ grasp. They’re the kind we can enact in our own classrooms, impacting students in ways just as powerful as those wide-ranging changes to education.
So it is with both forms of transformation in mind that, rather than creating resolutions, I have an education wish list. Among those wishes are the following:
- Defuse the power of standardized tests. With the suspension of standardized tests during this pandemic, not one student has been disadvantaged. In fact, removing the specter of exams has enhanced learning for students who previously feared the impact of those exams. Taking a cue from that, let’s use standardized tests solely as a means of determining placement as well as the additional resources needed for each student, not as a be-all-and-end-all means of terrorizing both students and teachers.
- End the school-to-prison pipeline. There has never been a sound reason for summoning police to arrest students for infractions more easily and effectively handled by teachers and administrators. Yet students of color—even as young as six years old—experience this frightening, emotionally scarring situation every day in schools across the country, setting them up to begin the revolving door of interaction with police officers and, ultimately, incarceration. Were the number of such incidents among white students commensurate with those of students of color, this would still be an appalling abuse of authority, worth termination. Clearly, it is neither equal nor appropriate. So it’s time to dismantle that pipeline, allowing school to be a place of learning, not a place for criminalizing kids.
- Make school climates supportive of teachers. Completely outside the purview of teachers, school climate is established by the principal. Yet a good, supportive climate makes all the difference for faculty, determining whether teachers remain for many years, working cohesively, or have a constant turnover, running for the exit to escape the negative environment. Administrators must be advised that teachers who feel valued, respected and appreciated are loyal to that school, working their hearts out. In such schools, everyone benefits. And everyone is trying to get into those schools as well.
- Equalize discipline. As numerous studies have concluded, students of color, particularly African American and Latino students, are not only more harshly punished but also punished for infractions for which white students go unpunished. Admitting the truth of this is the beginning of change. Next, before administering that harsh punishment or rebuke, ask yourself, Would I want my own child treated this way? Let your answer determine your actions. Students, with their strong sense of justice, will note the fairness—or lack thereof—of your actions, which will absolutely influence your relationship with them.
- Make learning an adventure. Every time students say, “It’s boring” in response to the ubiquitous question, “How’s school?” we have failed. The fact is that whether learning is exciting or tedious is our responsibility as educators. And before you even think it, yes, we are there to entertain them. Learning is supposed to be fun. When we find ways to make the same lesson plan engaging, interactive and challenging, students automatically participate and want more. That’s what learning is supposed to be. We can do this.
- Create nurturing classroom climates. Much like plants, students thrive and flourish in the right environment. And what is that? One that provides a sense of belonging, a validation of their worth, an amplification of their voices, an appreciation of their individuality, a celebration of their talents, and a fostering of their growth. Neither a privilege nor an option, each of these ingredients is essential to providing a learning environment that nurtures students. For those who already receive all this at home, it’s a bonus. For those who don’t, it’s a lifeline. For all students it’s what should define their school experience.
While this wish list is not exhaustive, it is doable. None of it requires any economic investment. It’s just a matter of caring and commitment—to our students, to our colleagues, to the ideals of all that education can and should be. Students deserve all that this wish list embodies. So do teachers.