Charles Dickens begins A Tale of Two Cities asserting, [It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.] Those words ring in my ears when I reflect on recent visits I have made to schools across North America.
Occasionally I visit a school that makes me want to go back and relive my childhood. The unbridled joy of the children and the excitement they experience while learning seems impossible to beat. Furthermore, the professional satisfaction being derived by the teachers comes mighty close to matching the joy of the kids. In these schools I see curious and successful teachers vitally involved in their professional work and in the learning of their students. It is no surprise that these educators are happy and mentally healthy adults. I enviously look and listen as these teachers collaborate, introduce novel strategies, and assess individual and classroom progress, then change strategies based upon the results. Not surprisingly, the hallways and classroom walls are filled with evidence of the consequences of teacher work and student learning.
Unfortunately, I often visit other schools where even the air seems heavy. Students and teachers continuously watch the clock. Students count the days until school is out, and teachers count the years until retirement. Education is something that is endured, not treasured. When I listen to teacher talk at these schools, I hear explanations about why things aren't as they should be: the community doesn't support education, the parents have the wrong values, the administration doesn't support teachers, the facilities are inadequate, and so on. The negative thinking isn't limited to the adults. Students in these schools complain, [I can't do that] or [This is too hard] or [Why do we have to do this?] The attitudes of defeatism are so contagious that I begin looking at the clock myself, wishing that it were time to leave!