Education Classroom Competition Teaching Teachers Students Schools – No

It’s always surprising to me when I run across a classroom (K-12) teacher who is competitive and in favor or competition. Even more surprising, given my experience in the public schools as a teacher and then a substitute teacher, is a teacher who actually understands and (claims to) has somehow been able to implement any level of competition in his or her classroom.

Let’s be honest: doing so in a gifted and talented program is not exactly the same as doing it in the “sweat hogs” program. And I am not only talking about the reception a teacher will receive from the kids. The biggest hurdle to just about any classroom innovation, including competition (yeah, I know…that was not an “innovation” 40 years ago) is the administration and the “educationalists” at every level from the district to Washington D.C. who insist they know how to educate kids.

They might. Who knows? It’s hard to tell judging from all the nonsense they’ve been foisting on schools over the past forty or so years. Worse is the fact that teacher education colleges have got to be the least competitive of any higher learning institutions. While teachers like to believe that their teacher ed creds are the equivalent of a masters degree in anything else, that is, frankly, laughable. Not even close. As a teacher ed “candidate” you really don’t face the same sets of rigors and the competitive atmosphere someone seeking a MS in bioengineering does, nor even those seeking an MA in any of the liberal arts. In a teacher ed program, you learn educational theory, primarily. You don’t learn epistemological approaches. You don’t learn critical thinking. You are put into a classroom for some hands-on experience, but that’s hardly the same as being asked, as a grad student in math, to teach an advanced calc class for a semester.

Honest teachers will look at this honestly. And honest teachers will admit that they have not themselves, typically, been taught in a competitive environment. Indeed, the union that teachers must belong to fosters about as anti-competitive environment as you can imagine. When’s the last time a pay-for-performance approach suggestion was not angrily shouted down at your school? When was the last time anyone there even considered it? If teachers themselves are not competitive, how on earth can we expect them to know how to run a satisfactorily competitive classroom? Add to this the “district” imperative that no child’s parents complain, and you have an environment that virtually bans competition. The way school districts avoid any parental confrontation is to “equalize” all the students. This means that no child is permitted to learn any faster than the slowest learner in the classroom. And then we wonder why the moderate to bright kids in our classrooms lose interest and end up sleeping through most of their classes or why the exceptionally bright kids (not identified as gifted/talented) end up being such “troublemakers”?

Competition in life is a given, whether you are an amoeba or CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Why should it be any different for kids in a classroom? Or for their teachers?