Any Kansas farmer knows not to “put all your eggs in one basket.” It is risky and unwise to plant thousands of acres with just one hybrid. And with a variety of crops, they don’t provide the same treatment. Sometimes, spring is too late or the soil is too moist to repeat what you did last year. That is why you see a variety of cropland as you drive across Kansas.
To use just one practice is to invite disaster. In the 1840s, Ireland planted just one variety of potato and the potato blight wiped the whole crop out. In the 1960s, a new corn rust changed the green fields of the single popular hybrid corn into a sea of orange. We have learned the hard way that monocultures—big uniform systems—are not good. By growing a variety of crops using a variety of methods ensures our future in changing times.
Not so in education, the educationists tell us. Not only are all students to meet uniform standards using a common core curriculum, all teachers should adopt uniform “best practices.”
Now most of us can remember that special teacher who really helped us in school. But if we stop to think about all of our classmates, it was rare that a “special teacher” for us was a special teacher for everyone. You remember Mrs. Jones, but Joe remembers Mr. Smith.
I have met many exceptional teachers in Kansas classrooms. But if we selected the very best one of all, and cloned him or her to make a whole school full of teachers identical in personality and teaching practice—we would have a disaster! Why? Because a teacher that is excellent for one student may not be excellent for another. Teaching is not just about the math problems or English grammar or physical education exercise, but it is also about personal interrelationships and expectations: honesty, carry-through, work ethic, respect for others, etc. Different students respond to different teachers. A teacher who can encourage one student to work hard may not reach another student.
A school is very likely to have some quiet intellectual teachers as well as some outgoing teachers. I am not stereotyping all math or English teachers or coaches, but merely describing the variable teaching personalities in a school. A mild-mannered student will likely relate to the first, an athlete perhaps to the last. It takes a diversity of teachers to help a diversity of students.
Even more, this diversity in the school community is important because the school is a microcosm of real life. Aside from formal academics, students need to learn how to get along with a variety of personalities in the community later in life, and the school needs to provide that diversity in interactions.
So, does “anything go”? In a school, there is no room for dishonesty, disrespect, demeaning others, laziness, etc. In teacher training, we weed out those who are not good company for our students to keep. Yes, there are “bad practices” that we do not tolerate.
But to insist that all teachers adopt so-called “best practices” of a particular teaching model? No. That would be, as any farmer knows, a monoculture producing a uniform product. Students are not uniform raw material coming in, nor should they be uniform at graduation.
We need variety in teachers in order to produce variety in students. Now that is a “best practice.”