Let’s Focus on Classrooms, Not Consultants

June 24, 2021 Updated: June 27, 2021

Commentary

The COVID-19 pandemic is nearly behind us, and it’s about time, too. Hopefully when the school year begins in September, all K-12 students will be back in school on a full-time basis.

There are a lot of things that we don’t need to see again. Mandatory masks, remote learning, hybrid classrooms, and “quadmester” timetables for high school students are but a few of those things that belong in the historical dustbin of this pandemic.

But not everything about this past year has been bad. There are, in fact, some changes that we should keep. One of those is the renewed focus on actual classroom instruction that developed over the year.

During a normal school year, school boards typically spend huge amounts of money on professional development sessions for teachers. These sessions, often called in-services, typically involve teachers taking time away from teaching their students to attend presentations delivered by external consultants.

Revealingly, a lot of these consultants haven’t been in a classroom for many years. Some of them have never taught in a public school at all. Their theories are often impractical and unworkable, but these baseless ideas often get imposed on teachers, nonetheless. Ideas that sound great in theory are often considerably less useful when implemented in actual classrooms with real students and teachers.

For example, over the last 15 years, many Canadian school boards became enamored with the no-zero assessment philosophy promoted by Ken O’Connor and Damian Cooper. Even though the vast majority of classroom teachers could see the absurdity of banishing zeros from teachers’ mark books, far too many administrators jumped on the no-zero bandwagon.

It took a long time and significant public pressure before most of the no-zero policies came to an end. Imagine how much grief and controversy our schools would have avoided if administrators had listened to their classroom teachers instead of to their consultants.

One thing the vast majority of classroom teachers can agree on is that they haven’t missed attending the mandatory in-service sessions over the last year. In most cases, teachers’ time is far better spent working with their students.

Most teachers want to return to what was normal. It would be nice if they could remain in their classrooms during the upcoming school year and not be regularly pulled out for in-services that benefit no one except the consultants who get paid for their high-priced services.

In addition, school boards need to take a careful look at their own payrolls. During the pandemic, many consultants and “learning coaches” found themselves redeployed to K-12 classroom teaching positions. No doubt most of them are hoping to return to their non-teaching roles. This should not happen.

There’s an unfortunate trend in education circles for teachers to move out of the classroom in order to advance their careers. While a certain amount of movement is understandable (schools obviously need principals and vice-principals), there are far too many cases where teachers move into non-teaching positions as consultants. But this deprives students of experienced teachers.

When it comes to why teachers get moved into non-teaching positions, there are two main possibilities. One possibility is that these teachers are moved because they were outstanding educators. If this is the case, they would obviously benefit students more if they remained in classrooms. Being good at your job is a poor reason to be transferred into a completely different job requiring different skills.

The other possibility is that these teachers are being promoted because their performance is mediocre. This is an even worse reason to promote a teacher. If they’re poor teachers, they’re unlikely to be good at educating their fellow teachers. It also breeds cynicism when people who cannot teach end up in leadership roles in school boards.

The COVID-19 pandemic has jolted the education system from its normal state. Now is a prime opportunity for school divisions to reevaluate their priorities and ensure that K-12 classrooms are receiving the attention they deserve. Imagine how many resources could be poured into classrooms if school boards no longer paid for high-priced consultants who typically give poor advice.

If we want to improve student achievement, we need to empower classroom teachers to do their jobs well. As we head into a more normal school year, let’s focus on classrooms, not on high-priced consultants, as the best way to improve students’ education.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwaagstra
Michael Zwaagstra
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”