If you want to start a fight in a bar full of teachers, all you need to do is utter one word: standards. That one little nine-letter word creates more overly-dramatic tension and unneeded suspense than the Friday episode of a soap opera. Teachers are offended by the idea that anybody outside of their classrooms should have a say in what happens there. Parents want stability and consistency. Legislators, as in most cases, just want their say, whether they’re qualified or not to give their opinion.
When I was growing up, I played competitive slow-pitch softball for nine years. My dad was my coach, and I played catcher. That meant I stayed late after practices and came early to games to help warm up the pitcher. To this day, the word “standards” sometimes evokes a different image for me. My dad, the coach, had in his possession two steal poles that could be adjusted to various heights. There was a notch at the top of each pole where he placed a bamboo rod across one connecting it to the other.
These were called “pitching standards”.
You see, slow-pitch softball was governed by two separate organizations with slightly different rules for play. For instance, in ASA (American Softball Association) play, every foul ball is a strike. In USSSA (United States Slow-pitch Softball Association) the first foul with two strikes does not count against the batter. The distance between bases is shorter in ASA than in USSAA. And…the expectations for pitching are slightly different. ASA prefers a pitch with a higher “arc”—the ball should reach a height of at least 6 feet and not more than 14 feet between the mound and the plate. USSAA prefers a flatter pitch—between 3 feet and 10 feet in arc.
This brings me back to my dad’s pitching standards. Much to my disdain, he dragged those things out to help the pitcher prepare for various ASA or USSAA tournaments. For ASA, she practiced making the pitches float over the bar, which was set at a height of 10-12 feet. For USSSA, she practiced pitching under the bar set at somewhere around 8 feet.
Which brings me to my much belabored point (I know what you’re thinking…Finally!)
Regardless of the standards, the purpose was the same: get the ball across the plate.
I teach music (see the name of my blog above). If it were up to me, there would be exactly three standards for music instruction. In my class, students should be learning to:
I don’t need a finite list of vocabulary words that my students should be able to identify. You don’t need to give me exhaustive lists of musical works and composers my students should study. And don’t get me started on yearly benchmarks predicting where students should be in their development as musicians—as long as each individual kid is growing, I don’t care if they all have exactly the same skill set at the end of each year.
Regardless of the standards, the purpose is the same: encourage my students to experience and understand music, and ultimately, themselves and others.
I’m not saying I don’t teach vocabulary and talk about Haydn and Mozart in my classes. I’m saying you don’t need to tell me to do those things. I will teach the language of music, and help my students experience a wide variety of musical literature because that will help them meet the ultimate goal of creating, performing, and reflecting. Furthermore, I believe the increased emphasis on standards has created a culture where teachers feel limited. We should trust teachers to know what’s best for kids. We should trust teachers to help students create, perform, and reflect IN EVERY SUBJECT. And if we don’t, we need to ask ourselves why…and what we can do for teacher training that will create a professional environment in which we don’t feel it necessary to micromanage teachers.
So to sum up…I don’t worry myself too much with standards (shh…don’t tell my boss). Let’s create a culture of autonomy for teachers, so they feel trusted to perform at the highest level of excellence in their calling and reflect on their teaching strategies in a way that leads to growth. Trust in me. Trust that I know how and what to teach my students. Trust in me.