Stuck in Isolation

There’s a lot wrong with the traditional structure of most US schools, little changed in the past sixty years. But a recent article in The Atlantic hits on the piece that’s number one on the list of problems: teacher isolation.

A recent study by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that teachers spend only about 3 percent of their teaching day collaborating with colleagues. The majority of American teachers plan, teach, and examine their practice alone.

The problem is not that American teachers resist collaboration. Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that nearly 90 percent of U.S. teachers believe that providing time to collaborate with colleagues is crucial to retaining good teachers.

Interesting that many of our national education “leaders” (like Gates), the ones who believe kids don’t take enough standardized tests, are also pushing more teacher competition in the form of merit pay. Unlike in those high achieving countries like Finland that they like to use for comparison where “collaboration among teachers is an essential aspect of instructional improvement”.

Anyway, identifying teacher isolation as the problem is a good start. However, from there the writer goes on to suggest that a national curriculum, such as the Common Core, “could be a major step towards productive teacher collaboration”. Which completely ignores the fact that time is a bigger impediment to teachers planning together, especially at the elementary level.

Long before we standardize (and homogenize) the curriculum any more than it already is, we need to rethink the whole structure of what we call “school”, an institution that hasn’t changed much in a century.

School need to organize the relatively scarce time available around the idea of teachers – and students – working in teams to achieve everyone’s learning goals. Not entirely different from the way people work in Mr. Gates former company, and other parts of the real world.

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