In The End of Average, Todd Rose writes about how the process by which we sort and rate everything, from pilot size to student achievement, is built upon faulty premises of what it means to be successful. Specifically, that the manner in which we define “smart” is brutally flawed, allowing for only one specific type of intelligence to reap rewards, while the many other ways in which intelligence manifests itself in people is either not rewarded or sometimes even punished. Schools have become efficient factories in which students with this specific type of intelligence emerge, identified as “smart kids.”
Because most teachers were successful in schools themselves, the students that they reward as “smart” (i.e. Who get the best grades) tend to demonstrate the same types of intelligence the teachers themselves have. Not surprisingly, they also tend to come from the same background and socioeconomic level as the teachers as well. This narrow view of intelligence thus continues to be rewarded, as flawed as it is. The system perpetuates itself, leaving students with intelligence that doesn’t fit the narrow academic definition of “smart” to spend the first 14-20 years of their lives doomed to be considered failures.
So how does the system fix itself?
First of all, we teachers must recognize that, for all our righteous anger and disagreement with the standardization of education, we are part of the problem. Our reliance on this narrow view of intelligence (demonstrated by our willingness to give letter grades, have tests, not allow revisions, etc.) does real damage to our students. Regardless of our feelings about teaching “the whole child,” when we participate in this process, we are only slightly better than the testing companies we decry. We must first recognize that we are products of an inherently unjust system that rewards a very specific group of kids, and openly challenge this system more directly on a regular basis.
Second, at the administrative level, we must reconsider the qualities we look for in educators. Success, as defined by GPA, advanced degrees, and academic experience, is important, but we must be willing to consider people who were unsuccessful within this system, as they will provide a perspective that, right now, is sorely missing within schools. People who were unsuccessful students, who don’t see themselves in the “A” students in their classrooms, or who see the education system as one that is limited could play a valuable role in a school community. A successful school will likely be one in which the experience of the teachers varies dramatically, creating healthy disagreement among adults in the building about the best way to engage learners.
So what might a new teacher job description look like? I took a crack at it. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Interest in/Experience working in teams, especially design teams
Interest in/Experience designing project-based learning
Interest in/Experience in competency-based learning
Successful Experience working as a mentor/advisor to an adolescent within an academic setting
Interest in/Experience designing innovative and experimental curriculum in a collaborative setting
Knowledge in and passion for at least one major academic discipline
Commitment to ongoing professional development
Strongly Preferred Qualifications
Experience in or passion for multiple content areas across traditional silos (Math/History, for example)
Experience designing online learning experiences
Fluency in Spanish
Interest in Learning Science/Science of the Brain
Working knowledge of the field of design, especially design thinking
This might just be a beginning, but educators and schools throughout the country need to begin to reconsider the qualities they want in their teachers. If schools continue to be populated by people who are there because they were good at “doing school,” we’re doomed to continue making the same mistakes, and, more problematically, hurting the same students year after year.