Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cafeteria Menu

About two years ago, I confessed to one of the experienced colleagues, "I am so disappointed.  I study, prepare, and deliver the best lessons (I believe) everyday.  Kids look so engaged.  But look at this score!  I feel hopeless and powerless.  What am I doing wrong?"  She put her gentle hand on my shoulder and comforted me, "I know."  Then she shared the analogy that her husband (happened to be a teacher) gave her.  Think about the cafeteria.  All the food items are the things we provide.  We think about all students with the best care, select the best possible food, and provide them on the counter.  We believe all food (lessons, guidance, and other educational interaction) highly benefit on students' academic progress without a doubt.  Sadly, though, it's true that kids don't necessarily pick everything.  Some kids pick one while other pick three or more.  Perhaps, all.  In summary, although we do our part (teaching) with maximum effort, the level of comprehension vary depending on the students and other factors, such as family involvement.  "So, don't feel bad.  We all experience your frustrating feelings." Narrowing the academic gap is challenging.  But we have to do something about it, I thought.

Then, just recently, this same analogy popped up again, in my brain.  This time, it is about the teaching gap.   In the international comparison, Japanese math score is higher than the U.S.  Let's say, hypothetically, it is because of teachers' quality.  I implemented the cafeteria analogy when I think of it.  The U.S. technology and research quality are extraordinary.  There are outstanding number of educational professionals and resources are available for 24 hours a day.  Teachers are to access to these remarkable tools that are all research based.  Teachers are provided new ideas and instruction strategies in weekly bases.  What is the problem?  Well, teachers are like students.  They don't necessarily take everything that is provided.  While some teachers implement every resource, other teachers would make a pile of papers at the corner of their rooms.  They pick up all the food, but end up throwing some away because it is too much.  Some teachers try to eat all, however, those teachers have digestive problems.  You have seen overwhelming and exhausted teachers in many occasions. 

Now look at the lunch in Japanese schools.   Everyday menu is designed by the professional nutritionist.  Each menu is selected based on the product that grow during that season.  Also, the traditional festival food menu is considered to learn about their community and its history.  It sounds like the simple lunch is very involved in education beyond just a simple nutrition lesson.  All calories are calculated for the age appropriate amount.  Students have no option to say, "No, thank you," to the server.  (Side note; all servers are student's helpers!)  You must eat all in the menu.  If you are a slow eater, chances are, you would be still eating until you are done during recess.  Not having option is not so fun, but it is evident that everybody is putting what they are supposed to eat into their mouths.   When all food items are eventually digested, everybody becomes content.  Eventually, it is absorbed all over the body organs for millions of different functions.  No food is wasted.

Teachers' Professional Development in Japan is a reflection of their school lunch.  There are not as many choices as the U.S., however, they have to complete (digest) everything that is provided.  There is no opt out option.  Whether if you like or not, you have to eat all and digest until it becomes nutritious.  Teachers celebrate when their time and hard work are finally paid off, even though some teachers might have started reluctantly.  Student's academic achievement is an apparent evidence from the Lesson Study that Japanese teachers have been practicing in their professional development.  This cohesive approach maintains their teaching at high level as their common understanding. 

It is absolutely fine with the idea of "pick and choose", but why don't we do it "together"?  What should we pick?  How should we use?  How can we support each other?  Discussion will be endless.  A powerfully united professional development team will bring the academic proficiency in all students that we are looking for.