Why I Decided to Climb the Mountain of Education?
It’s part of the American story to go through a journey and then to sit down and write about it. Maybe one person reads it. Maybe not.
But the key is for the person who went on the journey to retell the tale.
What happened? Why did you go on the journey? What problems did you encounter along the way? Did you make it in the end? or did you fail?
This is my journey up the Mountain of Education. I hope that I can retell the tale well enough for people to want to read it and share it with others, but who knows?
Maybe one person reads it and says “that was interesting” but then its lost to the millions of other stories published every minute on the internet.
Or maybe this resonates more with people who are struggling with the same problems and issues. Be it a parent, a teacher or an administrator who is just fed up and frustrated with the American educational system.
I call this the Mountain of Education because after spending the last 20 years of my life and career in education, I feel like I climbed Mt. Rainier.
Why is our educational system so difficult and challenging? Not just for students, but for the teachers and administrators that work inside our schools. And let us not forget about the parents who are left out in the cold most days wondering, “does anyone care about my kid?”
The answer to that question is a resounding “YES!”
But the problem is that the K-12 system as a whole prevents teachers and administrators from implementing initiatives that help your son or daughter directly.
The system has created a shield between educators and parents and between educators and students. It’s an invisible shield, so you can’t see it, but you know it’s there.
My career experience is very unique. It’s so unique and coupled with my unique career journey that after 20 years, I have learned tricks that most educators never stumble upon.
Over the course of 20 years, I have become an expert in multiple areas of educational knowledge, namely student behavior expert.
I am also an expert in time management, organizational structure, the development of “highly effective” teachers, and how kids learn.
Twenty years ago, I asked this question, “what makes a $50,000 private school tuition better than a public K-12 education?”
And after 20 years, researching, studying and observing classrooms, students and teachers, the answer was shocking!
I sometimes don’t believe it myself. I have conducted well over 10,000 classroom observations and spent more than 20,000 hours of research and data collection.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he suggests that the 10,000 hour rule is a benchmark for people who are true experts in their fields, well, I’ve doubled that.
I don’t know exactly where this blog is going. This is my first post.
But what I can promise you is that I will try and communicate as much as I can as I write it.
That’s the hard part.
As human beings, we have millions of thoughts running through our mind in a day and the challenge is to slow our minds down enough so that we can pinpoint one clear thought and then communicate it to someone else before our mind races off to the next idea and thought.
What I can relate is that this blog post is about a journey. A journey up the Mountain of Education. So what I can do is just tell you where the journey started.
Hopefully you like the beginning enough to want to go on the journey with me, and to see what I’ve learned. What I’ve observed and maybe we can fix the K-12 system together.
That’s the hope at least.
This story begins like so many. I was in a classroom. I was a teaching assistant in a school for special needs kids. The lead teacher had ten years experience and seemed to know what she was doing. I was assigned to her classroom, the early stages of a computer lab, and we were trying to use technology to assist students in the learning process.
It was groundbreaking at the time, since most public schools in America did not have computer labs, so we were pioneers in this new world of education.
I learned a lot from the lead teacher and the following year, I was given my own classroom, this time as a co-teacher. The school had expanded its technology lab into two separate classrooms, and I was assigned the elementary students.
This presented more problems than I anticipated, since the majority of my students were reading below grade level, and in many cases that meant that most students were on a kindergarten or first grade level.
As a teacher, you have to be able to think of a lot of alternative methods to teaching, when your students cannot read a textbook, homework sheets or anything that is written down. You learn the art of differentiation pretty quickly.
After a year and a half as a technology teacher, one of the high school social studies teachers got very sick and had to take a leave of absence. Because my Bachelors degree was in American Studies, I was asked to teach high school social studies for the rest of the year.
Moving up from elementary students to high school students was another challenge that I had to overcome.
I’m sure that any teacher reading this knows this story all too well. Teachers are asked to take on challenges without prior experience and without being given a framework or roadmap to success.
For non-educators, if this isn’t clear yet. Teachers are expected to learn on the job for every little aspect of everything they do. And there is no guidebook. There is no training manual. There is no roadmap given to us.
Every teacher is out there by themselves. It’s a solitary profession.
Or at least that’s what the K-12 system wants. It doesn’t have to be solitary. Teachers don’t need to be isolated. The way the K-12 system is designed is backwards and unnecessary, but that’s how the system is designed.
And no one wants to touch it or change it.
In fact, in my 20 years of experience, the reluctance to even examine the K-12 system makes it seem like the system is electrified and if you attempt to touch it — you will die.
But moving up to high school I was faced with a bigger challenge, student grading.
In high school, grades mean everything. I have learned since then that using grading rubrics is the best method to grade students accurately and also provide them with opportunities to achieve higher scores, but I didn’t know that then.
Twenty years ago, no one told me, “use rubrics.” I had to figure that out on my own. And the fact is that hundreds of thousands of teachers in 2021 do not use rubrics to grade students.
It’s not the teacher’s faults. They just don’t know the benefits of rubric grading.
It’s really hard to be a teacher when your students fail. When they can’t pass a test you gave them. When they can’t write an essay you assign, or complete a writing report they have to do.
What do you do when your students fail? They don’t teach you that in college. And no one seems to have a good answer for you when you ask colleagues or administrators.
But what do you do?
The system isn’t supposed to let children fall behind, but that’s exactly what happens every single day. That’s where the Mountain of Education comes into the picture.
We are all climbing this mountain together. The teacher acts like the shirpa, but the students do not have a harness, they have no safety net. They are free-climbing up the side of a mountain and everyday, someone falls off.
There is nothing you can do. The system does not have any safety measures in place. The system has no contingencies planned for students who fall off the side of the cliff.
They say they do — but they don’t.
In March 2020, I had enough.
I couldn’t stand watching kids fall of the side of a mountain and no one catching them. No one even giving a second look, “where did that student go?”
The world shut down. Schools shut down.
But I was not going to shut down.
I decided it was time to teach.
I had been an administrator for the last ten years, from 2009 to 2019, I was a Principal and Superintendent, but in March 2020, I decided to become a teacher to educators.
I am looking up at this mountain with all of you, with teachers, with administrators and with parents. We are all looking at this mountain asking the same question, “how do we get to the top?”
I think I have a way.
I am going to be using this blog to outline what I know, and what I’ve learned over the last 20 years.
Maybe it makes sense, maybe not.
But I will promise one thing, it will be honest and sincere.
I believe in America. I believe in our democracy. I believe in the right for every kid to receive a high quality education. I want to create a K-12 system that delivers on that promise, that belief system.
Right now, our educational system does not deliver on that promise — not even close to it.
We keep sending kids up the mountain and watching them fall without a net and without a plan to help them get back up.
I hope you will join me in climbing this mountain together.
I’ll see you at the top!