Reflections on a Career – So Far

End of school year reflection time, this title could become a theme for the next few musings.

Looking back on what hasn’t changed during my lifetime as a learner:

  • length of the school day
  • length of the school year
  • schedules of the school day – self contained classes are still the predominant model in the younger grades, Frederick Taylor’s bell schedule still dominates the middle and high schools
  • teacher certification and endorsement still dictates who can teach what
  • Andrew Carnegie’s units are the measure of achievement

My lifetime as a learner began in Unified School District #443 in Dodge City, Kansas, very early in the 1960’s. Thanks to Jamie Vollmer, here is a short list of things we have added since I started:

  • In the 1960’s, we added AP programs, Head Start, Title I, Adult Ed, Consumer Ed, and Peace, Leisure and Recreation Ed.
  • In the 1970’s, we added Drug and Alcohol Abuse Ed, Parenting Ed, Behavior Adjustment Classes, Character Ed, Special Ed, Title IX, Environmental Ed, Women’s Studies, African-American Heritage Ed, and School Breakfast.
  • The surge tide came in during the 1980’s, we added Keyboarding and Computer Ed, Global Ed, Multicultural/Ethnic Ed, Nonsexist Ed, ESL/Bilingual Ed, Teen Pregnancy Awareness, Hispanic Awareness Ed, Early Childhood Ed, Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, Prime Start, Full-Day Kindergarten, Pre-school programs for at-risk children, Alternative Education in various forms, and many more.
  • We didn’t slow down too much in the 1990’s, we added, among other things, Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation, HIV/AIDS education, Expanded Gifted and Talented Opportunities, Death Education, Tech Prep and School to Work, At Risk and Dropout Prevention, Homeless Education, America 2000 and Goals 2000 Initiatives, Distance Learning, Expanded Computer and Internet Education.
  • In the first decade of this century, we have added No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Bully Prevention, Anti-harassment policies, Early Childhood Wrap Around Programs, Health and Wellness Programs, and Media Literacy Development.

What have we taken off of our plates? Or have the serving portions just gotten smaller?

I have seen two significant changes during my career.

The first is the changing expectations of our graduates. Career/job opportunities for students leaving our schools without, or with only a high school diploma are almost non-existent. The American Dream in increasingly out of reach for many. Strange as it may sound, the outlook isn’t much better for college graduates. The percentage of careers/jobs that require a baccalaureate degree has remained constant at about 20% since the 1960’s. Balancing the salary of an entry level position with the student loan re-payment schedule is a challenge for all of us.

I have been able to spend more than a little bit of my time in the profession examining and working with those who will ultimately employ our graduates, be they from high school or post-secondary. At some point, all of our graduates need to be employable. There have been some very fascinating conversations about what the prospective employers are looking for in new employees. Academic GPA and class rank are not very high on the list of traits being looked at, the “soft skills” are at the top. Has your school made any changes to reflect the changing expectations?

I have kept my elementary school report cards. It is fun to look at them every once in a while. No letter grades were given, instead, we had the following “proficiencies:”

  • a Check in column 1 indicates child is doing outstanding work
  • a Check in column 2 indicates child is making satisfactory progress according to his ability
  • a Check in column 3 indicates child is making slow progress according to his ability
  • a Check in column 4 indicates child is making unsatisfactory progress

Pretty simple, but focused not on where the child is, but where the child is going, according to his ability. And Mom and Dad easily understood what it meant.

The Reading/Language Arts “standards” for grade one were:

  • Understands what he reads
  • Reads with good expression
  • Works out words independently
  • Knows letter names
  • Knows letter sounds
  • Shows ability to organize what he reads
  • Speaks clearly and distinctly
  • Expresses thoughts well orally
  • Takes effective part in discussion groups
  • Expresses thoughts well in writing
  • Learns words in spelling lesson
  • Spells correctly in written work
  • Is neat and legible in all written work
  • Forms letters correctly

Here were the arithmetic “standards,:

  • Knows number facts taught
  • Works accurately
  • Shows growth in reasoning ability
  • Finishes work on time
  • Understands meaning of numbers

Pretty basic stuff, and Mom and Dad understood all of it.

By sixth grade, a few things were added, and a few taken away. We were expected to know letter names and sounds, that wasn’t a 6th grade standard. Dictionary skills were expected, as well as following grammar and punctuation rules. In arithmetic, we were expected to be gaining skill in use of the fundamental processes. Mom and Dad understood that 6th grade math and language was certainly different from 1st grade math and reading, but the report card focused on how well we were applying what we were learning, they really didn’t need to know what the specific standards were. Like parents today, they were more concerned with what we were able to do with what we learned. And like today, the language of the standard would not have been understood by them.

The biggest change is the Kindergarten report card. No letter grades, but same rubric. The standards, however, look nothing like what my district shows on our Kindergarten report card.

We were scored on the following:

  • Be friendly
  • Respect the rights of others
  • Work and play well with others
  • Expresses himself
  • Keep emotions under control
  • Follow directions in work and play
  • Takes part in activities
  • Listens well
  • Recognize colors
  • Count
  • Color, cut and use materials
  • Adjust quickly and calmly to a new or unusual situation

Pretty much what employers are telling us they are looking for in prospective employees! They will teach the job specific skills, they are looking for the ability to continue to learn, and to work well with others.

The Kindergarten report card also had the following Message to Parents:

“The goals and purposes of the kindergarten are so different from those of the six elementary grades as to require a distinctly different kind of form for reporting the child’s progress to his parents. In the kindergarten we are not concerned with achievement in any formal body of subject matter; the kindergarten is designed to serve as a socializing agency. Its purpose is to teach the child to adjust himself easily and happily to group living. The kindergarten year is one of the most valuable and important years for building the foundation for a wholesome and worthwhile school life. If there is anything which you would like to talk over with the teacher please come to your school, visit the class, and ask the teacher to help you understand the kindergarten program.”

Needless to say, those days are long gone. But should they be?

The second big change I have seen through my years is in the way our current generation of students learns.

They, and their parents, no longer buy into the compliance model. They are not asking for relevance or engagement as much as they are demanding empowerment. The one-size-fits-all model is finally, hopefully, going by the wayside. We have the tools to individualize the experience for every student, or as was said in Dodge City, Kansas, in the early 1960’s, “making satisfactory progress according to his ability.”

We have the tools, do we have the commitment?

More to follow.

And so it goes…

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