Walter McKenzie

Association Staff

Woodbridge, VA

Interests: 21st Century Learning,...

  • Joined 4 Years ago
  • 1880

Thrive and Drive

As a teacher, I always had a busy, engaged classroom. My kids loved me, therefore their parents did too. My administrators never worried about me and my class. When standardized testing came into play in the 90s my students continued doing hands-on project based learning tapping into all the intelligences, and my kids’ achievement scores rocked. Many of my colleagues were equally as successful. Their teaching styles varied but they all knew how to support their kids to learn and grow, no matter what the grade level or subject area. Good teachers know how to do this regardless of the local, state and federal expectations that are in place at any given point in time during their careers.

So….all these programs to test and assess and gather data and close gaps….who is it for if good teachers know how to reach their students regardless of where they are “at” instructionally, personally, developmentally….?

Classes exist today, right now as you are reading this, where students are not engaged and supported to successfully make connections across the curriculum. So why don’t we just say that? Is that OK to state the obvious? If we acknowledge that all of the programs and requirements and money put in place are meant to improve those classrooms where children do not succeed, can we sit still with that thought, as uncomfortable as it may be? We all know these classrooms. Colleagues within the profession know it. Parents know it. Students know it. So why look away from the unspoken truth?

Maybe it’s because once we start down that road, we Americans will ultimately have to look at ourselves in the mirror. While other nations were building systems that recruited their best and their brightest to teach their children, the U.S. teaching profession has been left to market forces. The best and the brightest in the U.S. are lured into higher-paying professions that have more opportunities for advancement and less scrutiny in the public eye. The biggest lie about American education – that those who can’t cut it in other professions become teachers – is also our uneasiest truth: American society does not value its educators as much as other societies value theirs.

So….I’m asking….what if educators really aren’t at odds with technocrats and taxpayers? What if the single key determining factor in the success of American education in the twenty-first century isn’t our ability to reform on old, outdated model? What if the biggest change that has to take place is a cultural shift:  how we look at and think about public education:

  • Schools tightly aligned with all other community agencies  in concert to support all the needs of our children. 

  • Communities valuing education as the engine for their economic future.

  • Teachers no longer acting like civil service employees working to a contract.

  • Unions no longer pretending that one teacher is just as good as another.

  • A respect for education and the service it provides to a free and open society and a competitive global economy, both by educators and the American public.

You can’t legislate that. And left to our own devices that kind of culture only thrives in very select pockets in public schools around the country. Private school alternatives offer opportunities to buy into that kind of culture, creating elite communities that demonstrate success because of their value and commitment to their children’s’ education. But that's not a free public education is all about.

So….how do we redefine public education in the U.S. so that it can thrive and drive our economy for the future?


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07 Feb 2011, 10:51 AM

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03 Feb 2011, 01:06 PM

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03 Feb 2011, 12:47 PM

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03 Feb 2011, 12:39 PM

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02 Feb 2011, 02:40 PM

Walter, much of this resonates with me, but I want to focus in one of your assertions: "Unions no longer pretending that one teacher is just as good as another."

I make a concerted effort not to disparage unions in my online activities, regardless of how I feel about them. I work nationwide, but much of my local work is in the context of the unions and what teachers are committed to within their contracts, which is sometimes in stark contrast to what is good for kids.

I've seen some unbelievable realities over the years, where a handful of teachers get away with the most unprofessional behaviors that tarnish the perception of everyone else. All too often, districts would rather overlook a few things rather than spend the money to go through the egregiously difficult process to get rid of a tenured teacher.

Besides the paradigm shifts that education in this country needs, we also need to step up to the honesty plate. In my experience, teachers that are the most militant about the protections afforded by the unions are the ones that need those protections in order to keep their jobs. I'm not saying that all unions are bad or that teachers are misguided for participating in them, but there are definite opportunists that take advantage of the system for their own benefit. Which is sad. And bad for kids. And it makes everyone else look bad.


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01 Feb 2011, 12:58 PM

Teach that we are global citizens first. After that comes national and local. Shift the curriculum towards a world view to build empathy in our young people so they can see the world from the point of view of China, for example.


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01 Feb 2011, 11:27 AM

I think you make a great point. That we have to look ourselves in the mirror. I would only quibble with one thing you mentioned. I'm not quite convinced that other countries necessarily send their best and brightest into the profession or that they are necessarily valued higher than here. When I taught in Japan years ago, the Japanese used to spread this idea that the country had a high regard for teachers -- they do it in China and South Korea too. But the kids don't necessarily hold that view and I'm not sure parents share that either. The best and the brightest in those countries still go to the highest paying professions. And in Japan, teaching isn't one of them. Hence, I'm not sure it's really high regard for teachers as much as a more general respect for authority, which is both good and bad, right? The cultures there are much more authoritarian and the kids are raised differently to respond to authority (in general). Teachers are allowed to be much more strict too, but what often happens is that the kids stay forever kids. Having been told what to do forever, they always look to others to solve problems. Despite the test scores, it's not all it's cracked up to be. In lieu of better, parenting, I think your suggestions are great. More professional development for educators too.


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