by Ryan B. Jackson, Ed.D
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an underdog. Today’s teachers are faced with some of the most complex, unforeseen challenges the world has ever known: It’s no secret that today’s students are continuously disengaging from the archaic school-model that has cramped creativity and problem-solving while force-feeding standardization and the overuse of assessment tracking. For teachers, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What typically goes unnoticed are the countless hours working from home, the selfless sacrifices for children we’ve just met and the ever-increasing demand to simply give more.
Yet, in the midst of a seemingly barren academic future, there lies unbridled hope – hope that takes the shape of every teacher and educator reading this today. I used to think it was only the students I served, most of whom come from severe poverty, that were the underdogs. Their challenges are so great, their adversity insurmountable. I positioned myself as the underdog’s advocate because as a teacher and then an administrator I wanted nothing more than an opportunity to fight for these students, helping them push through, overcome, and persevere.
However, like any reflective practitioner I soon realized how shortsighted this mindset was. Yes, today’s students are underdogs there’s no question about that but they’re certainly not the only ones – because being an underdog is more than just your financial status or test-taking ability. It’s more than what school you attend or what zip code you call home.
Being an underdog is a state of mind. A state of mind that positions one’s self as the challenger. The challenger who faces brooding forces with unyielding courage. As I work with teachers today, the spirit of the underdog is palpable – it’s electric. And as I participate in Twitter chats like #Leadupchat, the ideas and visions of committed teachers and educators affirm this undeniable energy. We, too, are the underdogs. We are the challengers fighting for every inch of academic progress, fighting for every new idea that pushes the limits of curriculum and expectations — fighting for our future.
We’re fighting for our future because for too long now quality education has been crushed by the immense pressure of standardized testing – the effects of which have left teachers, students and families suffering from the strains and anxiety of a system that values statistical data and the stoic, robotic-nature of pre-programmed teaching methods instead of a nurturing, creative-centered teaching approach that would position teachers as instructional designers, organically crafting inspired lessons used to spur student engagement while fostering a coveted sense of belonging in the classroom.
Furthermore, it was Chip and Dan Heath, in their landmark book SWITCH that asserted that “Self-Control is an exhaustible resource” which so fittingly lends itself to the current educational landscape, where teachers are forced to abandon creativity in order to meet the confines of standardization. The fallout has resulted in low teacher morale, plummeting teacher retention and an overall decrease in young professionals even pursuing what was once considered one of the most noble occupations on the market.
Thus, the impact on teacher-effect and its correlation to student achievement and, more importantly, students’ love for learning has bottomed-out. Even in schools where the stressors of poverty don’t create infinite barriers and head-banging challenges, these schools, too, suffer from a passive-compliance epidemic because students now merely see school as a means to an end, forgoing inspiration and intrinsic motivation for mind-numbing drill and kill, multiple-choice based teaching prescriptions that have all but choked the last remaining breathes out of learning’s last attempt at life.
And so the question now becomes what fuels our fighting spirit? What drives the underdog deeper into education’s new frontier after years of confinement and complacency?
Typically we’re taught to fear the unknown. We shy from strangers, avoid darkness. Even more so we’re psychologically hardwired to avoid change. We like things the way they are, comfort provides security and security ensures our safety. But there’s a shift happening in education. In fact this transformative shift is happening as you read this blog. As ironic as it may sound, there’s never been a better time to be an educator, a teacher, a life-changer, an underdog.
Education itself is changing – the shift is happening right before our very eyes and it’s playing out in schools and classrooms across the planet. See, no matter how hard the forces that be hold onto the archaic model of education, where group think and standardization rule the day, there’s an even more powerful force surging headlong into education’s new frontier, already carving the proverbial path for a new generation of inspired underdogs. Whether it’s the advanced momentum of cutting-edge technology, practical approaches like Project-Based Learning, or how Nashville is revolutionizing the high school model with our Academies of Nashville, this bona fide shift takes the shape of each and every student that steps foot into a classroom searching for something new. This overwhelming force is slowly but surely causing educators everywhere to rethink what a great education looks like. It’s forcing us to analyze our teaching styles, redefine our measurement criteria, and above all – to listen.
That’s the beauty of being an underdog, we don’t allow our ego or complacency to stand in the way of appreciating what truly matters: And what truly matters is creating inspired educational platforms that allow students to embrace the technology they were born with while providing experiential learning opportunities they crave. This doesn’t mean Education 2.0 comes without reading, writing, math, poetry, or the Gettysburg Address.
Not at all.
Everyone reading this knows a teacher who incorporates all of the indelible academic pillars into forward-thinking, engaging lessons where a student-centered approach lifts learning beyond rote memorization and blends technology with inspired pedagogy. These teachers – teacher like you — are leading the underdog’s new charge to transform teaching and learning in one of the most pivotal points in history. Globally we’re shrinking. Platforms like Twitter and YouTube have made the international exchange of ideas as simple as the impact of a 140-character tweet! Economically we’re expanding. Look no further than the city I live in as Nashville booms its way towards a tech-rich economy.
And so I’ll reiterate: There’s never been a better time to be an educator. We stand on the threshold of a new era where the only certainty is that change is inevitable and the need for progressive teaching undeniable. History has called us – it demands our service and implores us to commit our efforts for the betterment of not only students but all of mankind. Will this challenge be easy? No. Will our adversity be great? Yes. Yet let’s not forget who we are…
As underdogs we’ re built to persevere, born to overcome and destined to make history. So, I leave you with a final call-to-action – embrace your teaching passion, connect with other inspired educators and together let’s show the world that the spirit of the underdog is what’s driving us forward into education’s new millennium.