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The culture of teaching and mentoring for compliance.

As the effects of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and its ensuing mandates for compliance are felt in classrooms across the United States, the issues of high-stakes testing and rigorous benchmark paradigms are becoming a daily challenge for teachers. Teachers strive to do the right thing, because one of the hallmarks of good teaching is to model what we want our students to do. In this case, the right thing is to comply with the new NCLB law and related regulations. Yet, keeping up with the external testing and bench marks required by this law impedes the most basic aspect of the culture of teaching: the desire to help people learn. As the high-stakes paradigm becomes a focus for teaching content as opposed to teaching children, the culture of teaching will be drastically affected.

NCLB mandates rigorous testing for every child in grades 3-8 in reading and math. Children who do not pass the tests will not move on to the next grade. Schools that do not improve their test scores every year by the federally determined increment called adequate yearly progress (AYP) also will face consequences. These schools may lose federal funding, and the federal government may ultimately restructure them. The federal government's Web site maintains that NCLB "provides teachers with the very best tools for teaching, such as scientifically proven methods, lessons, materials, and professional development" (U.S. Department of Education, slide 29). It remains unclear whether the government will require scripted state or federal lessons to be taught to every child, in every classroom, in every state.

There are three related postulations that can be made about the culture of teaching. These assumptions honor the individuality of students and teachers, and have emerged from decades of research and practical implementation. They emphasize the unique problem-solving ability that has been shown to be a standard of good teaching. I hope to articulate how NCLB affects the values from which these assumptions stem.

The Culture of Teaching Honors Children, Not Content, as the Focus of Learning

The NCLB mandates will challenge one of the most important aspects of the culture of teaching--taking children where they are, and extending their learning as far and wide as they can go. When this gain is measured as too small to meet the bureaucratic data-point expectation, the child, according to the law, is left behind--to repeat the same grade another year. As these children are left behind, they are separated from the emotional and social attachments necessary for optimal learning. Such unsettling events will occur in the midst of some of a child's most delicate developmental periods. These developmental milestones, in which children attempt to maintain and clarify attachments, and engage in successful initiative and industry, are critical to lifelong success (Boeree, 1997).

Both the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) (Perrone, 1991) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) have published position statements that warn of retention's deleterious effects on children. NAEYC's statement rejects retention as a viable option for young children, because

it is not perpetuated on the basis of false assumptions as to its educational benefit. The vast majority of control-group studies, which are structured to measure this comparison, come down clearly on the side of promotion. Students recommended for retention but advanced to the next level end up doing as well as or better academically than non-promoted peers. Children who have been retained demonstrate more social regression, display more behavior problems, suffer stress in connection with being retained, and more frequently leave high school without graduating.

The ACEI position statement "On Standardized Testing" (Perrone, 1991) further warns of the likely consequences of the whole testing movement. While it pre-dates and therefore does not specifically address the sweeping NCLB requirements, it does lay a research-based foundation from which to predict the consequences of high-stakes testing. Beyond such consequences as harmful tracking practices, ill-advised placements, and lowered self-esteem, high-stakes testing is likely to:

* Compel teachers to spend time preparing children to take the tests, rather than providing developmentally sound programs that respond to children's interests and needs

* Limit educational possibilities for children by distorting curriculum, teaching, and learning, and by lowering expectations

* Fail to set the conditions for cooperative learning and problem solving.

These results alter the daily routine, focus, and pedagogical decisions in classrooms across the United States. When 1st-grade teachers are required to teach pages 230-245 on Monday morning, that is exactly what they will teach--those pages, not the child.

Highly qualified teachers know about children, their development, and their needs. They also know the content a child must master to pass required tests. The ability to apply knowledge about children is a highly prized skill in the teaching profession; it is through this skill that teachers unlock the treasure within each child--the treasure that is each child's capacity for learning. The culture of teaching honors children as the focus of learning, not the content ... and certainly not the test.

The Culture of Teaching Honors Continuous Learning, Collaboration, and Mentoring

Teachers are lifelong learners. Summer workshops and continuous professional development are trademarks of the culture. Scouring summer garage sales for supplies, perusing stores for new materials, and spending many hours in the local library and bookstores are simply what teachers do. This resourcefulness will enable the profession to accept and manage the changes needed to meet the NCLB mandates. No doubt, there will be many opportunities to take formal seminars, workshops, and inservice training. Formalizing the mentoring relationship, however, could prove to be a more effective approach to readying teachers to meet these mandates.

The culture of teaching embraces the notion of mentoring. It focuses on helping people--including students and professional peers to reach their personal best. Many successful mentoring programs for induction-year teachers demonstrate this tenet. While many of these programs are now required by law, their origins are rooted in the idea of informal mentoring, which grew from the aspect of the teaching culture that embraces optimal learning for all (Sweeny, n.d.). Teachers are predominantly passionate about learning and are eager to help others learn--including each other.

The Culture of Teaching Honors Collaborative Problem Solving, Goal Setting, and Assessment

The mentoring culture of teaching can address the high-stakes testing challenges of NCLB by voluntarily formalizing a collaborative process to fit each school. Since the culture of teaching also values the application of goals and objectives related to assessment, it would not be a leap for teachers to create compliance goals and objectives, and then assess them against self-imposed benchmarks. Already, the profession is a culture of problem solving, goal setting, assessment, continuous improvement, and mentoring. The last thing it needs is more mandates with which to comply. Why not highlight, draw on, and promote mentoring and self-assessment, rather than rely on external requirements, as ways to comply with NCLB from within the profession and culture?

The biggest challenge in this process will be to remain true to the culture of teaching, instead of collapsing the profession into a politically expedient, short-term fix of relying only on test-focused, rote learning. This kind of shortsighted response will not elevate the profession, nor raise children's thinking and problem-solving skills. Sound pedagogy must remain at the forefront of planning and implementation. The children deserve no less. A benefit to capitalizing on the mentor culture of teaching is the recognition of the close bond s of support encouraged by successful mentoring. During times of change, a network of support cannot be overrated. It can mean the difference in prematurely cutting your losses or maintaining a steady path in the face of obstacles. Mentoring could become a critical element for successful compliance with NCLB.

Although much of the research on mentoring involves induction-year paradigms, it also can apply to seasoned faculty (Feiman-Nemser, 1996; Sweeny, n.d.). The key will be to identify what works in induction-year mentoring, and then use it in new ways for new purposes. Finding better ways through collaborative problem solving will ensure successful compliance with NCLB and, even more important, will lead to a focus on children's learning, rather than on testing abilities. Complying with NCLB could be facilitated by using the deep-seated professional models of honoring a child's learning, rather than focusing on content, and by demonstrating the continuous learning and collaborative problem solving that can drive goal setting and assessment in the culture of teaching. It is time to highlight the best of the culture of teaching and commit to the common purpose of holding on to what we know is best for children and learning through solid mentoring programs.

Let us come together as a learning community to mentor our professional peers, and be mentored by our professional peers, to create optimal avenues to meet the requirements of NCLB high-stakes testing. This can be done while elevating the pedagogy that we know helps children learn not only isolated content and test-taking skills, but also the

collaborative problem solving that is so urgently needed in the world today. Let's see ... how can we test that?

References and Resources

Boeree, C. G. (1997). Personality theories: Erik Erikson. Retrieved February 1, 2003, from www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/erikson.html

Feiman-Nemser, S. (1996). Teacher mentoring: A critical review. ERIC Digest. Retrieved December 1, 2002, from www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed397060.html

Keegan, L. G., Orr, B. J., & Jones, B.J. (2002). Adequate yearly progress: Results, not process. Prepared for the conference sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation: Will No Child Be Truly Left Behind? The Challenges of Making This Law Work. Washington, DC. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2002, from www.edexcellence.net/NCLBconference/Keegan,%200rr%20a nd%20Jones.doc

Madaus, G. (1994). A technological and historical consideration of equity issues associated with proposals to change our nation's testing policy. Harvard Educational Review, 64(1), 76-95.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2000). Unacceptable trends in kindergarten entry. Retrieved February 1, 2003, from http://naeyc.org/resources/position_ statements/psuncc.htm

National Commission on Testing and Public Policy. (1990). From gatekeepers to gateway: Transforming testing in America. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Neill, M. (1996). How the principles and indicators for student assessment systems should affect practice. American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, New York.

Retreived February 1, 2003, from www.fairtest.org/k12/ How the Prince._&_Ind.htm

Perrone, V. (1991). ACEI position paper on standardized testing. Retrieved February 1, 2003, from Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) Web site: www.udel.edu/ bateman/acei/onstandard.htm

Sweeny, B. (n.d.). What's happening in mentoring & induction in each of the United States? Retrieved December 1, 2002, from www.teachermentors.com/MCenter%20Site/ StateList.html

United States Department of Education. (n.d.). No Child Left Behind: A new era in education" Retrieved February 1,2003, from www.nclb.gov/next/overview/presentation/index.html

Paula E. Weaver is Assistant Professor, EC-4, College of Education, University of Texas at Arlington. She is a founding board member of The North Hills School, and a leadership consultant to major corporations.
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Author:Weaver, Paula E.
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 6, 2004
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