How Would I Improve Public Education?

How Would I Improve Public Education?

Exhausted and frustrated, five years ago I quit public education.  In the years that have followed, I’ve tried to think about ideas which might have improved the situations within which I worked.  I mean for this to be a catalyst for conversation, and I’m happy to have these ideas refuted and/or debated.  I realize I am a person offering suggestions for a field I have departed, but the students in my writing courses are often future teachers, and I am in continued professional conversation with those who work in the public schools

  1. All of the professional staff in the school should be in the classroom teaching students. It’s too bad that just about anyone who displays ambition in public education, anyone who wishes to get a substantial raise in pay, must leave the classroom.  If all administrators (from assistant principals to superintendents) were required to teach, class sizes could be reduced and those who have become administrators because of their dislike for teaching or working with students might be driven from the field.
  2. Decision making power should be given to teachers with the most experience. How should money be spent?  What meetings should be held for what purpose?  What should the curriculum be?  These are questions that teachers should be working together to answer.  When I taught in Charlotte, all of my classes had over thirty students enrolled and in one class many of the students had previously failed the course.  I had a thick grammar manual and literature anthology neither of which was a very effective tool for engaging students who were not very interested in reading and writing.  How much did those textbooks cost?  What else might I have done with the money?  Too often those who had advanced degrees in something besides English Education were driving my curriculum.
  3. Teachers should be the highest paid employees in education. In many of the places I worked, it was too easy to get the job of teacher.  Although some of the smartest and most admirable people I have ever met are teachers, I also worked with people who frequently missed school, wouldn’t bother the students if they didn’t bother them, and were in education because they couldn’t find anything better.  There were times when the school year began and the school was still looking for a warm body with a degree to fill an empty position.  Teachers are often not paid and treated with the respect accorded to other professions, and so those professions continue to draw the smartest and most dedicated people.
  4. School should be process and project oriented. Standardized tests murder students’ passion for learning.  What rewarding job is like taking a multiple choice test?  The more school requires students to sit quietly in their seats working their way through multiple choice tests, the worse off its students will be.

These are ideas I hope to develop, refine, or altogether change, and I’d appreciate your perspective.



2 responses to “How Would I Improve Public Education?”

  1. This is something I think about a lot. I’ve initiated an off-campus discussion group of teachers and administrators at my school to try to tackle some of these issues. For the most part, I agree with your ideas. One thing I’m not sold on is the value of an “education degree.” Maybe I was in weak education classes, but I never had an education class that seemed much more than a kind of formalized common sense. Learning styles, differentiated instruction, classroom management strategies: I never left a class with an idea that hadn’t occurred to me independently. I would prefer to see all teachers have degrees in their academic fields. Post-bac certificates or certificates seem sufficient for the “education” part of the degree. (I posted on my class’s blog about a study in Charlotte that found certification path made no difference in student performance.)

    You’re absolutely right about the quality of classroom teachers. I teach at a “good” school, but there are at least a dozen teachers in the building who I refuse to allow to teach my own children. I think this anecdote sums up the applicant pool where I live: I was coaching baseball at the time, and spent most of a Saturday morning laying sod on the infield. I was covered with clay and topsoil from my feet to my knees and from my fingers to mid-bicep. I headed to the main school building to clean up before heading home. I walked through the front door and met a chipper young woman who asked if I was there for the job fair. She was serious.

    It makes it difficult for me, because I feel like I’m good at what I do. But when I try to advocate for myself as a classroom teacher, insisting that my academic assessment of students takes priority over their performance on multiple-guess testing, I’m hamstrung by the reality that some of our classroom teachers are losers. I think this will be a problem as long as the profession itself is unattractive to most of the top 15% of college graduates. That’s a big tide to stem.


    • Matt,
      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m stuck on the phrase, “education degree.” I didn’t want to say that a security officer at the school or someone who worked in the cafeteria ought to have a classroom of studnets. Probably that would be obvious. I mean that I believe a principal should be teaching classes, perhaps I mean that the notion of a principal should be revisited. At St. John’s, both the director of First Year Writing and the Director of the Institute For Writing Studies, and now that I think of it, the Director of Core Studies, all of those people teach classes. Our staff meetings are collaborative. All of us are experts working together to improve our pedagogy. I’m sure this model exists somewhere in public education. I just don’t remember experiencing it. I remember sitting and listening to people lecture to me, following the old banking model of education. I’m the dummy and the person at the podium is the smart one telling me how the school should work.


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