Teachers Aren’t Allowed to Pee and 9 Other School Exasperations

I don't want to come off as sanctimonious (see a list of 20 mistakes I've made as a teacher), but some problems exist in education that don't make sense to me, things related to classrooms design, institutional and teacher practices, and educational policies. Some are nagging little things that make me go hmmm, while others are egregious. I've never really discussed these at length...until now. 

1. Making Teachers Use Instruction Not Supported by Research

A school principal and literacy coach that I know both insist that teachers use round robin reading instead of silent reading. When asked for a rationale, the instructors were told that silent reading "is not engaging." 

The idea that round robin reading is useful at all should be dismantled; in fact, I looked at the research closely in a previous article:

"Of the thirty-odd studies and articles I've consumed on the subject, only one graduate research paper claimed a benefit to RRR or its variations, stating tepidly that perhaps RRR isn't as awful as everyone says. Katherine Hilden and Jennifer Jones' criticism is unmitigated: “We know of no research evidence that supports the claim that round robin reading actually contributes to students becoming better readers, either in terms of fluency or comprehension."

Other mandates not supported by research include:

  • Don't smile until Christmas (or students will perceive you as having weak classroom management).
  • All students, regardless of ability, should read textbooks at their grade level (or else you aren't being rigorous enough).  
  • Don't use cooperative learning with groups over two (because kids can't handle being in groups).
  • PBL doesn't work with struggling learners (so give them traditional worksheets and exercises until they master the basics).
  • Only let high achieving students use technology because under-achieving students don't benefit from using tech.

If you are going to tell teachers not to use an instructional approach, please have some research that supports your conclusions. 

2. Can We Stop Talking about Growth Mindset?

Growth mindset was coined by Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology for Growth almost 10 years ago: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.”

Is this an important idea? Yes, but it's only a small step forward from what good teachers have been saying for decades: "I know you can do it if you try."  

I too often hear growth mindset used as a reason for not addressing bigger learning issues. For example, instructors are dismissed when they talk about the strong link between poverty and low test scores with with, "You've got to encourage a growth mindset." 

Growth mindset is not a silver bullet. 

3. Teachers Who Are Insulated from Their Students' Concerns

Some teachers have good hearts, but fail to empathize with the different experiences of students who don't look like them.  

5. Restroom Problems for Teachers and Students

I know of some elementary teachers who literally have no breaks. Yes, they get to eat lunch. However is eating with a gymnasium full of children a break when you are also in charge of managing cafeteria conduct? Because of these conditions, teachers' health is further compromised, as discussed below.

No Bathroom Breaks for Elementary School Teachers

Elementary teachers often are not allowed to leave their classrooms for a bathroom break. To avoid emergencies, they avoid drinking water, leading to dehydration, lowered cognitive functions, and an inability to concentrate. (Source) Try not drinking while actively helping students in an overheated classroom.

Lack of Privacy for Students

Boys and (especially) girls in middle school and high school don't eat or drink during the day to avoid the unpleasantness of doing their business in toilet stalls where the doors have been either broken and not repaired or removed to prevent vandalism.  If you can have bathroom monitors in airports, you can set up the same system for schools. 

"I Don't Know, Can You?"

When a student asks if they "can" go to the bathroom, it's a jerk move to humble them in front of their peers.

6. Team Meetings Where Only 1 Person Talks

If something is called a "team meeting," more people than the chair of a department or principal should talk. If it's a PLC, that's the same deal. Here are some strategies for planning meetings that go beyond transmission of information.

7. Poor feedback

In my area, teachers complain that formal observers in their classrooms leave without giving them any feedback. Or the instructors only receive "corrections." We all need positive feedback to motivates us to continue desired practices.

8. Micromanaging Classroom WAlls  

Putting up photos of students' pets, their heroes, their birthdays, or their plans for college helps form community. Consultants who argue that only academic content can be posted on classroom walls don't understand classroom culture. 

9. Dumb Posters

In my visits to classrooms, I see snarky signs and posters that infantilize students.

Snarky Posters

Classrooms should not be confused with the employee cubicles at the DMV. For example:

  1. "If everywhere you go, there is a problem...guess what?"
  2. "I attach Burger King applications to failed tests."
  3. "Math is hard. So is life. Get over it.
  4. "Today your dreams will come true if you choose not to be a miserable cow."
  5. "I love math. It makes people cry."

Instructors who put these kinds of posters up in their classrooms are riding their anger ponies too hard. 

Posters that Insult Kids

There is another kind of poster that frames childhood in a way that is too precious--ignoring the richness and complexity of youth culture. 

  1. ​"Ignore the rain. Look for rainbows."
  2. "No whining. No complaining. Absolutely no frowning. Only hugs, smiles, and warm fuzzy feelings are allowed."
  3. "Do your best. Always."

10. Evaluating Teachers Solely on Test Scores

The widespread use of value-added modeling to identify weak teachers is a big problem.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, "VAM estimates have proven to be unstable across statistical models, years, and classes that teachers teach. One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%. Another found that teachers’ effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in the following year." Numbers are a very convincing  for reformers and the public, until they look at the statistical chaos. 


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Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at www.todd-finley.com || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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