The status quo worked for me

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

Early in my teaching career I was very traditional. This was how I experienced education growing up, what I was taught throughout my teacher preparation program in college, and what I observed educators practicing in their classrooms. My evaluations went well, with very little advice given to me as to how to improve my teaching. Students were to show up to my classroom, receive the information I covered, and learn. The process was sterile and the same almost every day. This was (and still is in many places) the status quo of teaching. It worked for me as it does for many teachers…or does it?

Were my students doing more than playing the game of school? No. Was I growing as a professional? No. Eventually I saw this, but because of what I had been taught, the environment and culture of school systems, and the praise of colleagues and administrators I didn’t find reason to change for some time. I was stuck in the box of traditional teaching. The status quo had sucked me in and the grip was tight.

All it takes is one moment in time, one person, one bit of research, or one student to show the way out of this box. I was lucky that a few of these came together at the same moment to point me in a different direction. I was able to make significant change once I admitted to myself that there was a better way. This idea that something works ‘so well’ makes it difficult for many educators to reach outside the status quo and search for something better. When we are pushed and reinforced to head one direction, it takes a lot of bravery to follow another path.

The status quo in teaching would have us make everyday the same. Homework and assignments would be blanket assigned without regard to student readiness levels. Tests would be the primary, if not only, sources of summative assessment. Classes would consistently be driven by textbooks, lecture, direct instruction, and quiet seat work. The file folder would come out each year with the previous lesson plans and activities to be used over and over again.

I realized the status quo didn’t work for me or my students, and I am thankful. I faced challenges with breaking the mold of teaching, but it was worth it every time. There have been bumps and bruises, paths that deviated from my colleagues, and so many questions along the way. All the while, my students benefited and continue to benefit with the changes. They are recognized as individuals and I am seen as a person, not an unapproachable character with a robotic presence…and it makes all the difference.

What was the moment in time that changed you as an educator? How did you break the mold of the status quo? Please leave your story in the comments.

6 thoughts on “The status quo worked for me

  1. I’ve had many turning points in my 18 year career – 6 schools in two countries. I think moving to America 12 years into my career and having to start again allowed me to reconsider what skills I had and how I wanted to best utilize them. The American mindset is different, more reflective and by becoming increasingly more reflective in my teaching I have been able to improve upon my weaknesses and develop my strengths. Not only have I benefited from this but my students also. I’m enjoying my teaching more now, than at any other time in my career.

  2. As most of us were “winners” in the system as students, we begin our careers thinking the way we experienced education is the right way and the only way; it’s not. I cared about grades so I assumed my students would. My pivot point came when I had a student who didn’t and the perceived threat did little to engage him further in the learning. I’m sure I had many more students before that, but early in my career I wasn’t experienced or mature enough to see it for what it really was; it was easy to blame the student. These moments are what strengthen our resolve to provide unwavering support to our students. Thanks for posting!

  3. Great article, Garnet! I hope many, many educators will take the time to read this and take it to heart! The status quo is not, not working (nor does it typically work in any profession for very long). I actually left the corporate world to try and help change the status quo, but as you elude to, I unfortunately got sucked-in to the maw of the machine and before too long was lecturing away to a passive audience, assigning homework that had no relation to student interests, giving tests on an arbitrary time basis (and belly aching about my poor scores), and teaching way too much to standardized tests. The results were pretty bad and my morale was pretty low. And while I can’t put my finger on the exact cause, I simply decided one day about 5 years ago that enough was enough. Now I have a complete student-centered classroom with lots of student choice & voice (they decide if they ever want a lecture – which is rare), full PBL, mastery based learning (vs. time based), authentic assessments, and absolutely no test prep. The cool thing is that my high school math & physics students are demonstrating a much deeper mastery of subject matter, are fully engaged in each class, and they do very well, thank you, on the end of course standardized exam. Oh, and I love my job!

  4. Thanks, Garnet. Good stuff as always. Thanks for being brave, admitting weaknesses, and encouraging others to grow.

    My first breakthrough came in my first year when a team member. Ray Moore, taught me to aim for the heart. This led to a focus on going beyond the content (http://gobeyondthecontent.com)

    My next breakthrough came in year 4 when a colleague, Mark Ingerson, and I started collaborating on how to align grades with mastery.

    My next big breakthrough happened when I started leading our school’s efforts at practicing Assessment FOR Learning.

    If I was back in the classroom today I’d be a very different “assessor”.

    I’m thankful for the breakthroughs!

  5. Well said, Garnet. My experiences through K-16 and pre-service training were very similar to yours. I think, however that I found out early in my teaching that the status quo didn’t work so I was always willing to challenge it mostly in relatively small ways. I have to admit that my biggest challenge to the status quo (traditional grading) happened after I left the classroom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *