BY: Kaitlyn Rogalski, Senior MAT Candidate
On Wednesday, October 8, the Quinnipiac community came together for a conversation on public education, led by Diane Ravitch, educational historian, author, professor, and speaker. The more Dr. Ravitch spoke, the more I was reminded that we chose one of the most influential professions in the world. Here are Dr. Ravitch’s most important reminders for teachers:
1. Children are children, and they need teachers who understand that.
I know this seems obvious, but as Dr. Ravitch explained, new educational reforms and standardized testing often ask students to perform and act in ways that they are just not yet capable of. The stress of testing can take the enjoyment out of learning, but it is our job to restore that joy. We have the power to foster creativity, the arts, and individualized learning that brings out the strengths of each child, which is exactly why we all chose to work in the classroom. As Dr. Ravitch reminded us, we may have to roll with new educational standards and reforms, but they will never be more important than the needs and stories of the children whose lives we affect every day.
2. Schools are an important part of the community.
I had the chance to ask Dr. Ravitch what she meant when she advised teachers to invite the community into their classrooms. Her answer? Open your classroom door to the members of your community. Remind them of the part that public education plays in it, and public support for you and your school will follow. She stressed to us that as teachers, we really do have the community behind us, and if not, the best way to change someone’s mind is to provide a great example of what teachers truly bring to the classroom and do on a daily basis. This idea also works both ways. One of our goals as teachers, after all, is to help children grow into productive members of society, who understand the difference they can make. When the community is invited to take part in our classrooms, our students learn that it is not only their school that is important to the community; they also each play a crucial role. Parents and community members should not be seen as obstacles, but as allies who want our kids to succeed as much as we do, and stand behind us.
3. Testing is Only a Small Part of Assessment.
Dr. Ravitch is not a woman to mince words, so when she told us, “standardized tests mean nothing”, it was clear that is her firm belief. She praised the effectiveness teachers of all kinds, those who teach children with special needs, those who work in low-income districts, and those whose kids are simply not developmentally ready to pass standardized tests. She then went on to say that the scores on the page do not determine whether or not a teacher has done his or her job. Teachers know that we have succeeded when the personal goals that we set for each student have been met or surpassed. Testing companies do not have a personal connection with our students and their learning, but we do, and should be the judges of whether or not we have effectively helped our students to reach a new level in their education.
Dr. Ravitch ended our discussion by answering the question of “what’s next for public education in America”. She truly believes that the state of education is going to improve, and that teachers are the people who will be able to effect this positive change by continuing to be nonstop advocates for our children. Diane Ravitch’s optimism is a source of inspiration for teachers to keep being the best at what we do, as we are ultimately the anchors for our students in the current tumult of educational reform.