[Note from Dave: This is a guest essay by Bill Curtin, Illinois educator and VP of the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. I’ve been in contact with Bill for a year or so regarding the upcoming IATE conference (details here; registration here), and I was struck by the piece that he wrote below. I see it as an example of the sound, sane thinking our schools, educators, and students need most — not on either side of the pendulum’s swing and far away from the cups of Kool-Aid that turn off our minds with sweet, non-nutritious fads or philosophies.]
Any of your students can probably tell you that the prefix RE- means “again,” but before we borrowed it from Latin, the same prefix had another meaning: “continuously.” Remnants of that alternate meaning remain today, like frijoles refritos. Refried beans aren’t fried once, and then fried again. They’re fried just once, for hours — continuously.
For years politicians, business leaders, administrators, and even fellow educators have been telling us we need a REvolution in education. We need to REvise our standards, REwrite our lesson plans, REdesign our assessments, and even REstructure our classrooms. They tell us we must REbuild our schools, REevaluate teachers, and REnegotiate tenure… all so we can REgain our standing and REclaim our place as the world’s best!
What if they’re all using the right prefix in the wrong way?
We all know that education is an extremely complex profession, on par with others like law, medicine, and accounting. It takes years of study and practice just to be competent, and much longer to master. No education policy is going to make our classes better overnight, no unit plan will transform our students into polite little scholars tomorrow, and no amount of teaching strategies will put food on their plates when they go home. There isn’t a magic wand we can wave to make our students more successful, and there isn’t a microwave in the world that can transform a can of industrial refried beans into abuelita’s frijoles refritos.
Good teaching, like good refried beans, requires patience and persistence. We don’t need a revolution, but RE-evolution: continuous growth and improvement driven by the accumulated wisdom and dedicated efforts of highly accomplished professional educators. The 2017 IATE conference challenges us to REimagine our teaching — not because the teaching of English is broken, but because we must REimagine continuously to keep pushing our students, and ourselves, further tomorrow than we believed was possible yesterday. To that end, we hope that this conference will lead us to REdiscover strategies for the classroom, REthink what we can accomplish with our students, and constantly REkindle our passion. Together, we can REimagine what it means to be a respected member of the most important profession in the world as we help REbuild the future — year by year, and student by student.
Thank you to Bill Curtin for letting me repurpose his essay for the readers of this blog. If you’re near Illinois, I’d encourage you to ask your administrator about sending you to IATE this fall. I would be excited to meet you, and based on Bill’s description of what this conference is about, I think we’re in for the right kinds of professional learning.