Students are not inanimate outputs like machines or software. Schools are not factories. Students are living and breathing individuals. Each student comes to the school with a unique personal history and personality which plays an integral role in his/her education process.
After a twenty year career in business, I decided to become a mathematics teacher. I returned to school to obtain another master’s degree in adolescent education. I was convinced that my management expertise would be readily transferable to teaching. I had managed an international staff, how hard would it be to manage a classroom of thirty or less students? Needless to say, I quickly learned that teaching students was far more complicated than managing adults. Why, you may ask? There are three simple reasons that I would like to share with the business intelligentsia:
1. Your employees are paid to listen to you, your students are not.
2. In business, employees are selected based upon a search and interview process. Teachers do not select their students.
3. In business, an insubordinate employee is fired. An insubordinate student is merely one more challenge for a classroom teacher.
To judge the effectiveness of teachers based upon an annual high stakes test would be comparable to judging the effectiveness of a business leader based upon one meeting or one memo. A business leader may have an ineffective meeting because of a variety of reasons. Similarly, students' test scores on a particulate day are influenced by a host factors including their home life and social interactions.
Today's education policy appears to missing the mark. Vilifying all teachers will not rectify the problems which plague a subset of this country's education system. The current ineffective policies have been developed by individuals who lack experience teaching and are removed from students.
Nonetheless I do recognize that there are certainly lessons from business which are applicable to education. Here are a few for the NYS Education Commissioner and his colleagues to consider:
1. Those who are closest to the customer should provide the necessary feedback and market information so that sound strategies can be formed. Using business terminology, teachers with years of experience working with students are your best source of market intelligence.
2. Any large scale implementation requires a detailed project plan. It must be effectively managed as demonstrated by adhering to published deadlines and commitments.
3. Communicate clearly and effectively to all your customers, colleagues, and staff. Listen to their concerns.
When I left the business arena to become a teacher, I naively had no idea of the complexities and challenges faced by teachers each day. Teaching is one of the most rewarding and challenging endeavors I have undertaken. Even though the career is much more demanding and complicated than I anticipated, the satisfaction I receive from a job well done more than compensates me for the effort I invest in teaching
my students. I hope that the numerous problems accompanying the education reforms now underway in New York and across the country will be acknowledged and appropriately addressed before the
education system is bankrupt.
Beth Goldberg is a Middle School Mathematics Teacher at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Beth has been teaching for eight years since obtaining her Masters of Arts in Teaching at Bard College. Prior to earning her MAT, Beth was a senior executive at JP Morgan Chase where she had global responsibility for a suite a payment services products. Beth holds an MS in business from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BA in Mathematics from Wellesley College. Beth has seen how mathematics skills can create transformative opportunity and she is dedicated to providing her students the solid mathematics foundation they will need to succeed in life.