Don’t scoff at the need to change


This Faculty Meeting Bingo card (from showed up on my Facebook feed last week, one of many ironic commentaries on back-to-school season.

It’s funny, of course, and I could easily fill it in during our first all-staff meeting later this month.

“The phrase ‘college-ready’” – check

“An internet meme is used in the presentation” – check

“The phrase ‘rigor’” – check

Even as I was laughing, though, it bothered me. I suspect (given the source) that the creator meant it playfully, but the bingo card is symbolic of how superficial our efforts at school improvement feel these days.

We probably wouldn’t laugh at “rigor” if we were truly expected to do something rigorous. Instead, what the bingo card implies is that while we talk about rigor constantly, it’s just another meaningless word now. More edu-babble. Another fake promise like “no child left behind.”

There’s also the implication that none of what will be said at a meeting is ever new or important. None of it matters because we’re just going to go back to our rooms and do the same thing we always did.

Believe me, I’ve sat through many pointless meetings, and it irritates me to learn information that easily be shared by email — or listen as an administrator admonishes everyone for something only a few teachers do. But I don’t like the assumption that we don’t have more to learn, that we couldn’t benefit from changing the way we operate. It’s the underlying cynicism, which is all too prevalent in education, that bothers me.

This summer, I’ve talked to countless recent graduates of public schools who have had terrible experiences in our classrooms. Alex, who was told in 8th grade that he “might as well drop out now” because he wasn’t going to make it anyway. Marcus, whose history teacher simply wrote notes on the board, then talked in monotone from behind his desk and expected kids to learn. Hannah, who (in her teaching practicum) observed a class where the teacher read aloud from the textbook, while students slept.

When we tell ourselves we are “good enough” or that anyone who isn’t learning doesn’t care, has a bad home life, etc., we are wrong. When we brush off new ideas because we’ve already “been there, done that,” we might be wrong about that too. We let way too much pass in our profession.

In a class this summer, I was asked to explain my “theory of change.” Like most teachers, I don’t believe in change that starts with legislation or with a new rock star superintendent or with a test-development company. But I do believe in change that starts with us, with teachers who know they can do better and who are willing to try new ideas, to read research and listen to their colleagues. Teachers who have open minds and open hearts and won’t settle for OK.

There’s nothing wrong with laughing at some of the bureaucratic nonsense and trivial sideshows that characterize staff meetings, but we must be mindful not to scoff at the underlying truth: Our schools aren’t good enough, and we must be voices for change, not obstructionists.