Response to “Teachers’ Unions are Obsolete” by Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail (January 13, 2013)

Welcome Guest Blogger – Jessica PatrickMy Avatar

Jessica Patrick is a teacher-librarian from Upper Grand DSB who, like many Ontario teachers, is diligent about keeping up with the constant learning that is required of educational professionals.   She has given me permission to publish her response to Margaret Wente’s recent article from the Globe and Mail which is Jessica’s attempt to share some of the real facts about the transformation that is occurring in education.  Ms. Wente chose to quote Salman Khan as her one and only expert on education…hmmm…I bet there will be teachers who will have a comment on that.  A better source might be Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley in their most recent publication called The Global Fourth Way, where they highlight Ontario as one of 4 outstanding educational systems along with Singapore, Alberta and Finland.   Thanks so much for sharing your letter,  Jessica!  

Re: “Teachers’ unions are obsolete” Saturday, January 12

Margaret Wente’s commentary is just one more example of the uninformed media coverage surrounding teachers and education.  She states that “[a]lmost every aspect of our lives has been transformed since grandma went to school.  Yet the education industry is remarkably impervious to change.”  Perhaps Ms. Wente’s ‘extensive’ research for this piece involved peeking her head into a classroom and observing that yes, students do still sit in desks (some of the time) and yes, they still listen when the teacher talks (most of the time).  However, I’m not sure this means that education is “impervious to change.”

Is Ms. Wente aware of the significant movement from teacher-directed towards student-directed learning?  Does she know what project-based learning is?  While “grandma” most likely completed her work on her own, students are now involved in collaborative learning.  Completing research through inquiry circles, discussing and dissecting literature through literature circles, solving math problems, and completing science experiments are just a few examples of the many ways in which teachers now have students learning from their peers and thus enhancing their own learning.  In addition, there is an emphasis on learning that is authentic, meaningful, and rooted in students’s own interests.  For teachers who for decades planned their units down to the fine details, they have had to make huge changes in their pedagogy and leap into the unknown and unpredictable world of student-directed learning.  Today’s story has led to a question about why some communities can’t access water? Okay, well then how are we going to answer that?  And suddenly today’s teacher is off and running with the students, finding resources, helping groups form questions, and later trying to figure out how this exciting research might fulfill some of the many, many expectations of a constantly updated curriculum.

Is Ms. Wente familiar with the massive changes in assessment that have occurred over the past few decades?  As well as huge changes in teaching and learning, approaches to and regulations about assessment have been, and continue to be, transformed.  Again, in her ‘extensive’ research for this piece, I’m sure she read the entire document Growing Success, which all teachers were expected to learn and put into practice beginning in 2010.  I’m sure she spoke to teachers and administrators about the importance of focus boards, immediate feedback, success criteria, and differentiated instruction.  And let’s not forget the huge amount of testing required by the provincial government, including the annual grade 3 and 6 EQAO tests (which, incidentally, the government will not release the cost of), the recently required 6-week cycles under the School Effectiveness Framework, and much, much more.

Finally, I wonder if Ms. Wente ever goes on-line to research her opinion pieces.  She mentioned in her commentary that “[o]ther fields have been revolutionized by new technology and new ideas.  Why can’t education do the same?”  Is she kidding?  She only has to do a simple Google search to find some incredible examples of how technology is being used in schools.  At my elementary school alone, students are responding to literature on their own blogs, creating graphic novels on Comic Life, completing math problems on the Smartboard, checking their homework on our school wiki, and deconstructing ads on-line.  Two of our grade 3 classes just used ipads to film t.v. commercials about the importance of going to school.   And it’s not just the students learning technology; it’s the teachers too.  Last year, as many teachers do regularly, I spent $700 of my own money to pursue an Additional Qualification course. This one was about technology.  In the course there were several teachers who had been teaching for decades.  They were intimidated by technology but they knew how important it was for them to integrate it into their practice, so they spent the money and the countless hours necessary to make this happen.  Ms. Wente might want to have a look at the ECOO web site to see how teachers are embracing technology and using it to engage and challenge their students.  While she’s at it, Ms. Wente should try googling Royan Lee, Aviva Dunsiger, Colin Harris, Brenda Sherry, and Peter Skillen (or follow them on Twitter).  Education absolutely is being “revolutionized by new technology and new ideas,” and it’s because of teachers such as these who continuously go to great lengths to change, adapt, and improve the education that we provide to our students.

To suggest that our education system is “impervious to change” is an absolute falsehood.  I wish I could say the same about newspaper editorials.

Jessica Patrick

Elementary Teacher-Librarian