Author TL Zempel

An unnerving

 peek inside our 

non-sensical  education system

A Little Background

In 2014, I began to write a book, intended at first to be an expose on the back-stage doings in public education, the things the public doesn't know about and might be shocked to learn.  At that point, we teachers had become inundated with so many non-teaching requirements in our daily jobs that we had become almost numbed to the effect they were having on us.  Every time I sat in a faculty meeting and listened to the new edict issued from on high, I thought, "This is ridiculous.  No one can actually do all these extra things and still teach.  Who do the higher-ups think they're kidding?  And why do we all just sit here, listening and nodding our heads even while knowing that we're 1) being tasked to do the impossible;  and 2) implicitly encouraged to engage in fraud and subterfuge?"

The result is the book I now share via this website, one that is actually still a prototype, and has become more of a satirical commentary on our public education system.

The bottom line is that my book is not finished;  it is in need of a partner to make the most of its comedy.  If you have graphic art skills and want to be that person, explore my website to its fullest.  Then contact me, and let's get this done.

The Plan
The Book
Create all characters in comic form. 
Incorporate comic strip panels throughout the story. 
Revise and edit; make it two books to stretch out the fun.
The Website
Make Wendy's online magazine (Sunnygrins.com) a must-read, based on Wendy's personality and hobbies from the book:
  • daily word puzzles
  • radio-style music track of Wendy's favorite artist and genres
  • animated vignettes both from the book and inspired by ludicrous happenings in education
  • Wendy's blog
  • guest contributions
  • interviews with noteworthy people
  • online store for Wendy merchandise (calendars, mugs, pen/pencil sets, aprons, refrigerator magnets, teaching supplies, t-shirts, ...)
Wendy's Follow-up Book
After she is railroaded from education, Wendy engages in her other passion, writing.  She produces a book of short stories, one of which appears on this site as a preview (The Dance).  She also keeps up her website, which she ostensibly created in the first segment of Finishing School.

How to turn a prototype into a best seller

So what's the book about?

  • the hypocrisy of class sizes that are incompatible with collaborative learning;

  • teacher evaluation schemes that are touted as 'performance-based' but are actually more about subterfuge and stroking egos;

  • students who skate by because the idea of placing expectations on them has become 'passe;

  • public policies and laws that reward scalping the system;

  • principals who have so much power they can sink a teacher's career with little to no actual evidence for doing so.

A Teacher Opines

People like to complain.  Indeed, it seems to be human nature for some of us.  My complaints all have to do with education.  Unlike many folks who rant, however, I propose a solution. Read on:

Researchers who spend their careers in carefully controlled laboratory-esque settings have tried to change every aspect of education over the last fifty years.  Except one.

 

Why has that one aspect been ignored by the education elites?  Could it be because their bottom line would be upset?  Only those inside the world of public education can even come close to understanding how money has become the final arbiter in every decision made.  It's not what's best for students, regardless of what the politicians may say.  It's money.   Money in the form of discretionary funds, publishing contracts, cherry-picked programs, and the ability to say, as a principal, "My teachers can do miracles with their students, just because I have inspired them to do so."

 

So what's that aspect of education that is routinely glossed over as inconsequential?  Why, class size, of course.  Teacher - to - student ratio.

 

Here's a plan that no one in power wants to consider:  Get rid of the

one-teacher-per-class-of-30 idea that has permeated

public education for the last 100 years.

In a world where kids sit, teachers present lessons, and parents are informed of the results a few times a year, it might be fine to have a ratio of 30 students to one teacher.

In today’s world, that ratio is not workable, and the only ones saying it is are those who don’t have to actually perform the impossible: principals, district elites, education researchers, and politicians. The result is that we now mostly pay lip-service to the idea that we’re providing quality learning.

 

Current education philosophy ask teachers  to perform these tasks:

  • design instruction individually according to every child’s level of ability and interest in the subject;

  • engage collaboratively with learners, individually and in groups;

  • hold regular conferences with learners to determine what they think is important for their learning;

  • create individual tests that are based on a kid’s abilities, intellectually and emotionally; analyze assessments so we can improve them;

  • analyze data from tests so we can improve what we do tomorrow;

  • document every kid, every day;

  • give instruction individually, to small groups, and to the entire class, based on the subject matter and each child's preferred mode for learning;

  • correct misbehavior positively, without interrupting instruction and learning;

  • turn the classroom into a gaming situation so that kids will increase their ‘engagement’ in their learning (there are online programs for this, all of which take time to implement and manage).

 

These bullet points may have merit, but they’re not doable when you’re working by yourself in a classroom full of kids, many of whom appear to have a different agenda for their school day than what the teacher has envisioned.  What we need to do is change the paradigm of one teacher to 30 students.

Here's my plan:

  • Arrange students in classrooms of 20 learners

  • Assign three adults per classroom: 2 teachers and an aide.

  • Have the adults work together to group the kids within their class, deliver instruction, design activities, and assess progress. Build in planning time both before and after school to accommodate this.

  • Diminish the need for documentation — the rationale for it was mostly to keep teachers honest about what they are doing, anyway.

  • Install cameras in classrooms to monitor how teachers are working with children and how children are behaving. Discipline for improper behavior choices should be swift and concise. Kids who can’t or won’t learn in a general setting should be removed. Imagine how much better your child’s classroom could be if an adult came to the classroom to remove a misbehaving student based on the surveillance from a CCT! The teacher didn’t even have to stop teaching — someone just came because the cameras were being monitored.

  • Make standardized tests count for the kids. At this point, the students, generally, don’t care while the teachers obsess continually over them.

  • Abolish complex and arbitrary teacher evaluation schemes that require a lot of time, paperwork, and people power to administer. These schemes are a waste of money and only encourage corruption, among teachers and administrators. See my book for more on this.

I know what you're thinking: Where will the money come from to devote 3 adults

to a group of 20 students?  Redistribution, that's where.

When we eliminate the (usually high-paying) non-teaching positions necessary to administer the elaborate teacher evaluation schemes detailed in my book, we'll find most of that money.  When we add in the funds recovered from eliminating wasteful programs that do nothing for learning, we find even more money.  When we reform our school disciplinary systems to put the onus for good behavior back on the kids (using modern technology to help us minimize the "he said/she said" conundrum we now find ourselves in), we regain even more funds.  

Schools should be in the business of educating children.  That's it.  But where we find ourselves, currently, is that schools seems to be in the business of lining the pockets of people whose thirst for money is eclipsed only by their ambitions for power and glory.

Caught in the middle are the teachers, thousands of them, who want only to educate our nation's young but find themselves unwilling participants in the fraud and corruption hidden within our school systems.  For more realities of education, gleaned from my 27 years as a public school teacher, please see my many columns posted to Quora, the online question and answer forum.

Education researchers have been trying to change how we deliver instruction and how we work with children for the last 50 years, at least. In our frenzy to enact meaningful change, however, we’ve forgotten to employ honesty about human nature: when we require people to do the impossible, they’ll figure out how to do the end-around instead.

Impossible is impossible, after all.

T.L. Zempel, teacher and author
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copyright 2020 by TL Zempel