“I know that we haven’t always agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here this evening loves this country, and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point of every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.”
- Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, Tuesday, February 4, 2009
I remember watching the State of the Union address in the late winter of 2009. A paragraph toward the tail end of the speech caught my attention. The message was poignant and powerful. I have thoughts of the sentiment often in the years since. The message is that we have competing visions for success. We can focus on the competing methods, or we can focus on the ultimate goal: a safe and prospering nation for all.
Politics is not the only field in which this message applies. It applies to all arenas of life that have competing methods. In my chosen career there are no shortage of competing methods. Proficiency, tracking, charter schools, weighted grades, merit pay, school choice vouchers, STEM and common core all have their evangelists. These advocates of methodology argue and persuade that their method is the ideal to help students. These issues are all battlegrounds for competing visions. We find ourselves in a perilous situation in which we may lose our train of focus. Some in the field of education have chosen to devote themselves to the method, minimizing their focus on the underlying mission.
What is the mission? While our mission is not easy, it is clear. I believe my mission is to care. I care about the students in my classroom, both their wellbeing and their academic growth. I care about them as people. That is why I teach them about government, economics and history. I also care about students progressing toward the acquisition of new content and skills. I truly believe that being in my class will help them to become the people that they want to become. I have opinions on many of the controversial topics and methodologies in our field. But, my hope is that my opinions on various methodologies will never supersede my mission to help every student.
Three years ago I dropped my son off to begin his kindergarten year. I want him to have twelve years of passionate teachers who care. I want to continue to work hard to be the kind of teacher that I hope my own children are taught by.
In what ways have you seen methodology trump mission in education? Do you see similar issues in other fields? In what ways can we protect the mission, while still pushing for the most effective methods?
Tyler Nice has been teaching for over ten years in the Springfield School District. He started his career at Hamlin Middle School. Tyler is currently teaching economics, government and history in the Social Studies department at Thurston High School.
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