22 Things We Do As Educators That Will Embarrass Us In 25 Years

vancouverfilmschool-grit-in-the-classroom22 Things We Do As Educators That Will Embarrass Us In 25 Years

by Terry Heick

Saw a picture today from the 1970s of a mother driving her car with her newborn baby in the passenger seat (no car seat). This, like pretty much everything else, got me thinking about education. What do we do now that in 25 years we’ll look back on and shake our heads? What are our “doctors smoking cigarettes while giving check ups” moments? I have a feeling we’re going to look back and be really confused by quite a bit. There’s probably a lot more than this, but I had to stop somewhere.

22 Things Education Does That Will Embarrass Us In 25 Years

1. We separated literacy from content.

And were confused when we couldn’t properly untangle them.

2. Meter progress by grade levels.

Right now, progress through academia is incremental, like inches on a ruler. These increments are marked by “grade levels,” which really has no meaning other than the artificial one schools have given it in the most self-justifying, circular argument ever.

3. We frowned upon crowdsourced content (e.g., Wikipedia)

Even though it has more updates and cross-checks than more traditional sources of info. It’s not perfect, but it’s the future. Err, present.

4. We gave vacations.

Why do we feel the need to provide months off at a time from learning to read, write, and think? We made school so bad that students couldn’t stand to do it without “vacations”? We cleaved it so cleanly from their daily lives that they “stopped” learning for months at a time?

5. We closed off schools from communities.

Which was the first (of many) errors. Then we let the media report on school progress under terms so artificially binary that we ended up dancing to the drum of newspaper headlines and political pressure.

6. We made it clumsy and awkward for teachers to share curriculum.

Seriously. How is there no seamless, elegant, and mobile way to do this?

7. We turned content into standards.

This makes sense until you realize that, by design, the absolute best this system will yield is students that know content.

8. We were blinded by data, research, and strategies….

..so we couldn’t see the communities, emotions, and habits that really drive learning.

9. We measured mastery once.

At the end of the year in marathon testing. And somehow this made sense? And performance on these tests gave us data that informed the very structures our schools were iterated with over time? Seriously? And we wonder why we chased our tails?

10. We spent huge sums of money on professional development.

While countless free resources floated around us in the digital ether. Silly administrators.

11. We reported progress with report cards.

Hey, I’ve tried other ways and parents get confused and downright feisty. We did a poor job helping parents understand what grades really meant, and so they insisted on the formats they grew up with.

12. We banned early mobile technology (in this case, smartphones).

And did so for entirely non-academic reasons.

13. We shoehorned technology into dated learning models.

Like adding rockets to a tractor. Why did we not replace the tractor first?

14. We measured mastery with endless writing prompts and multiple-choice tests.

Which, while effective in spots, totally missed the brilliant students who, for whatever reason, never could shine on them.

15. We had parent conferences twice a year.

What? And still only had 15% of parents show up? And we didn’t completely freak out? We must’ve been really sleepy.

16. We ignored apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship is a powerful form of personalized learning that completely marries “content,” performance, craft, and communities. But try having a 900 apprentices in a school. So much for that.

17. We claimed to “teach students to think for themselves.” 


18. We often put 1000 or more students in the same school.

And couldn’t see how the learning could possibly become industrialized.

19. We frowned on lectures.

Even though that’s essentially what TED Talks are. Instead of making them engaging and interactive multimedia performances led by adults that love their content, we turned passionate teachers into clinical managers of systems and data.

20. We ignored social learning.

And got learning that was neither personal nor social. Curious.

21. We tacked on digital citizenship.

The definition of digital citizenship is “the quality of actions, habits, and consumption patterns that impact the ecology of digital content and communities.” This is artificial to teach outside of the way students use these tools and places on a daily basis–which makes hanging a “digital citizenship” poster or teaching a “digital citizenship” lesson insufficient.

Like literacy, it needs to be fully integrated into the learning experiences of students.

22. We turned to curriculum that was scripted and written by people thousands of miles away.

We panicked, and it was fool’s gold.


23. We chewed teachers up and spit them out

We made teachers entirely responsible for planning, measuring, managing, and responding to both mastery and deficiency. And through peer pressure, a little brainwashing, and appealing to their pride, somehow convinced them they really were.

22 Things We Do As Educators That Will Embarrass Us In 25 Years; adatped image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool


  • I disagree with the ‘vacation’ part. Just because children don’t attend school each day during a holiday or during the summer does not mean they are not learning. I used to read intensely during my summer vacations. Most people I know enjoy vacations from their jobs; it doesn’t mean they don’t like their careers. Personally, with the focus on standardized testing and data, I can see how children might get really burned out if they aren’t given ‘vacation’ time to learn on their own.

    • The vacation issue represents a lot of class problems. Students with comfortable resources and engaged parents continue to learn through the summer. They have been read to, or are given resources to read, are taken to summer camp, or are involved in other activities that help them grow. Students of impoverished backgrounds or difficult home lives don’t all have these advantages.

      • Often times, these impoverished students are also the ones for who school is not important as there are much bigger, more serious issues going on at home, and school is just another worry…While for others, it can be their only safe place … Arguments could be made for and against all day!

      • The problem of summer vacation is similar to the problem of grade levels. A one size fits all solution was manufactured a hundred years ago and we stick with it even though it did not even match the problems it was intended to solve then. That is unless you happened to be a wealthy urbanite who left the city with your family every summer.

    • Great comment. Lots of feedback on this one. The idea was that in a progressive learning model, school isn’t “school,” but rather something more seamless, natural, and human. A truly progressive learning environment would be scalable–teachers, families, mentors, or the students themselves could make adjustments based on need and and intimate understanding of *that* student in their native environment.

      As it exists, the need for months off makes sense. I guess I’m just dreaming of a format where that isn’t necessary–and always-on, connected, and affectionate model of learning.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • I disagree with the “we”. Most educators, teachers in the classroom, had no choice to most of these things. It’s mainly the districts, state governments and federal governments ideas. Most teachers saw these things coming and embraced the technology. They have signed endless petitions against common core and state testing. I think I will have to pass on sharing this article simply because of who the WE are suppose to be.

  • I disagree with the lament against ‘vacation’. Much learning occurs outside of school. WE would lose summer camps, family trips, lazy days outside dealing with nature, time for big projects, time to take other types of classes- not because the state says so – but because we are pursuing our passions, and so much more. School is not the end all, be all of learning or childhood. Summertime off is a glorious gift of time at a warm, sunny, time of year. Thinking we need year round school is practically the same as saying we need all this testing and common core. Long live summer break!

    • Year round schools have just as much time off as students in traditional schools, just broken up into smaller chunks throughout the year. Most people who have experienced year-round schools actually prefer them.

    • I don’t think the problem is with a vacation per se, but with a three-month vacation. The loss of knowledge during that long of a break particularly hit low and middle income students, whose parents cannot afford summer enrichment opportunities. Make the breaks shorter, but offer more of them through the year.

    • Many studies have shown that long vacation periods result in the memory
      loss of concepts and content, and neuroplastic changes in the brain can
      be reversed, resulting in a huge backwards step for students. If you
      have ever retaught something after a vacatation period you know what I
      am talking about. Divding it up through the year may not be
      something teachers and admins want, but it would be in the kids best
      interest. Same with late school starting times, teens body clocks do not
      support 7-8am starts.

    • I agree with your comments, however your ideas don’t apply to many of the students out there. What about the students who don’t have access to childcare during that time? Whose parent can’t afford summer camps, etc? I totally agree that there is very important learning that takes place outside of the classroom, however there is extremely unequal access to those types of experiences. The achievement gap only widens in the summer.

  • I agree with everyone of these, except for the fact that educators didn’t pick them. They have been choosen by overreaching bureacrats and politicians.

  • Most of these “embarrassments” are requirements made by state and/or federal government. I will not hang my head in shame now or later. I will continue to question why and vote for leaders who will support change.

    • What’s the alternative vote? To overthrow the government? Not vote? Vote for the other guy? Can we even identify who voting for that would be helpful? What if I change my vote and the other guy still wins?

  • Who is “we?” These are generalized misperceptions. “We” didn’t do most of these things, but “the system” “required” us to “comply” with some of these line items. Poorly done.

    • I think “we” are the system. If you choose to work in a school and follow, submit or fail to question these things then you support them through inaction. Granted it can be like banging your head against a wall trying to change the monolith of education..but look at the movement against the Common Core..already some states have abandoned it.

      I think it is the collective “we” of society. If you are moving against the grain power to you, but as a collective the only reason this list exists is because enough people support things remaining so. In 25 years the ‘fashion’ of education will have changed..as a result of educators, parents and other making it so.

  • yes, I disagree with the vacation part too. Free time and play is when a child or anyone can discover themself and develop their unique creativity in ways that school never could. I never learned to read in school anyway. I learned sitting in trees with a book.

  • Homeschooling is the perfect and immediate antidote to so many of these problems. No, it doesn’t fix things for the school, but it fixes things for one family’s children. And as more and more families choose to step away and just say no to the soul crushing industry that public school has become, maybe districts and states will start to wake up and change for the better.

    As for me, I won’t sacrifice my own kids in the mess that school has become. Homeschooling has allowed us to solve virtually every problem on this list, and then some. I educate my own children now, all year round, with opportunities to learn that they would have only dreamed of crammed in a classroom and prepped for testing most of the year.

    • Perfect fix for those able to provide perfect homeschooling 🙂

      The one thing that I sense in many adults I meet who have been homeschooled is that they seem far less constrained. That’s to say they are less likely to say/believe that they can not do something because that is not the way things are done.

      • I haven’t given any TED style lectures, and as far as I know I am not introducing any misconceptions with regard to physics or any other science, at least so far as science has progressed in its discovery of the mysteries of the universe.

        Learning at home doesn’t necessarily equate with a lack of scientific learning, if that is what you mean to imply. Homeschooling has given me the freedom to expand my kids’ education well beyond the boundaries of a typical sixth grade science curriculum, right into college laboratories, science museums, and dozens of other hands on opportunities they’d never have in public school.

        Well, here’s one. You can read about it for yourself if the link goes through. If not, Google “Oklahoma Students Enjoy Encounter with Columbian Mammoth at OSU” and you’ll see what I mean. http://voices.yahoo.com/oklahoma-students-enjoy-encounter-columbian-mammoth-12609559.html

          • she doesnt have to give a TED talk. her kids can sit down at the computer any time they want and watch all the TED talks they want and call it science for the day. That is the beauty of homeschooling. lol

          • And yet you didn’t answer my question. I’m sure in your heads there are benefits to homeschooling that outweigh everything but the reality is there is no one capable of being such an expert in all subjects to be prepared to teach them present company included. I can teach physics and chemistry and have extensive backgrounds in both but would be awful in biology. How would I teach history or english? And yet you took the most difficult thing and best thing about public schools and dismiss it as it is nothing. It’s a naive choice in my opinion.

          • How so? Go read the original post and read through the lens that the homeschoolers bully others when confronted, although these backed off pretty quickly so far.

          • For starters, you’re assuming that the primary goal of a system of education is to promote mastery of an index of academic content. There are other possibilities.

          • Nonsense, you’re making assumptions boldly. I just frequently see that content mastery is far and away the most critical factor to lead to all things learned in education. Our failure to admit it is what will ultimately lead to the new “STEM” craze failing as well as the current failures of the “inquiry labs” failures. Kids don’t learn science and lab techniques because of content struggles. Making a lab an inquiry lab just allows the students that can do the content to be able to do inquiry and others to mimic changing nothing about anything. STEM could expose our issues, but it’s unlikely that this will be the final failed attempt at fixing science education.

          • I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I teach and am very familiar with what is good and bad about it. I read about it constantly, I learn and think about it constantly. I’m not some ignorant fool. It’s a bit insulting that you consider my comments to be assumptions at this point. But you could add to the conversation at any point I suppose.

          • Likewise, I have an extensive background in biology and chemistry, but I am greatly lacking in exposure to English literature, thanks to my limited public school education. Thankfully, the college professor who taught my kids a six week intensive on poetry, focusing on war imagery from the middle ages through the modern area is more than capable of helping me fill that gap.

            In fact, I’m pretty sure she is more qualified to fill the gap in my expertise better than any instructor I would have found in the local public schools.

            Now, let me ask YOU a question, Epicrapbattlechem. What is so superior about a system that would rather employ a basketball coach who can provide marginal instruction in math, or a football coach who knows just enough about history to show a film and administer a multiple choice test than a true educator who can’t coach worth a lick?

            I think the idea that public schools are providing children with “expert” instruction in almost any subject is, sadly, a joke. There may be gaps in the knowledge base of the homeschoolers I know, but they strive constantly to supplement their kids’ education with true experts, including college professors, biologists, engineers, etc. Nothing naive about that.

          • I would be letting the people around me down if I didn’t challenge your 1960s view of public schools. The teachers that surround me are brilliant in literature, in public policy, in chemistry, in calculus. If you don’t think I am an expert in chemistry then go ahead and ask me a question. I’ll start you with an easy one, what about teaching acids/bases through pH to young children is a huge mistake and harms later learning. You said you know biology and chemistry so you should be well prepared to answer about acids and bases. I will await your questions.

  • Wait! What?!?!?! Many of these make sense. Others, not so much. #4 just flabbergasts me. Saddens me actually me. I feel bad for the author of this. Was Terry’s summer vacations so bad that he/she wants to take it away from future generations? Is this even real? Seems almost Onion-like to me. Maybe it is.

  • (in response more, to the comments below, than to the article it’s self – I very much agree with pretty much everything said above)
    wow – so many people clinging tenaciously to the concept of pigeon-holing kids’ free time into the three months of the summer. How about if we stop expecting them to come home every night and spend another three hours finishing up what they were not able to get done at school because there was no one available to help them, or motivate them? That way they can play EVERY day, and sit in a tree EVERY day. Three months off was designed to help farmers on the farm, so that they could have their kids available to help, during the busy time of the farming year. (and because parents were PARENTS back then, and could be in charge of their own kids, and if they were needed at home, they would just stay home – so if there WAS school during the summer, no one would show up! – schools had to work around what the parents insisted on, for REAL LIFE) Our civilization has moved passed the agricultural phase, but our education system is stuck there. We need to get back to having school model after, or follow the patterns of real life in our CURRENT society.

    I had a child in kindergarten that regularly brought homework home from school – PLANNED homework. I asked the principal why and he said “She needs to develop good life skills” – What? That she learn to go to a job for 6-8 hours of the day and then, at the end of the day, bring home work, that she couldn’t get done during the day, to do at home? I think not!!

    Balance should not be stuffed into three months of the summer. It should be a year-round thing. Children should have time available, every day, to explore their world, and relax, and play.

    I understand about wanting the summer off. I understand about needing a change of pace, I’m a teacher and I’ve also homeschooled. As a teacher, the three months off every year (well, two, really) were the one perk, that made a low-paying, thankless job, do-able. As a homeschooler, we learned year-round, but we took breaks, too. Usually every 4-5 weeks we took a ‘week off’ – this week was spent doing any catching up, if we had ‘fallen behind’, and ‘relaxing a bit, from our usually rather rigorous schedule. Learning did not stop that week, it simply took a different form. I see this happening in my husband’s work, too, as they work through ‘projects’ and then have some ‘down time’ between projects (a time of less-stressful work, tying up loose ends, and learning new skills that will be needed to accomplish the next project).

    We need to model school after real-life. And – it’s very true – there is MUCH need for more opportunities for apprenticeship. This is an ideal opportunity to learn, along-side of an expert. WHY are we not doing this EVERYWHERE?? 300 young people in a lecture hall, listening to a professor read over information that could be just as efficiently presented in a text book, is NOT ideal learning. It works, but it is not best-case, by the most extreme stretch of the imagination. DOING the thing they are learning, with occasional ‘information sessions’ (like TED talks) is MUCH more efficient, and much more like what will be happening in the long-term, when they move into ‘real life’.

    (as for the comment that the author is clearly not a teacher – I suspect you are correct, I suspect that he/she WAS at one point, though, and chose to step out of that less-than-efficient system and find some other, more practical way to take part in preparing our children for a future, in the ever-changing world that we now inhabit.)

    • The busy time on a farm would be planting and harvesting which are on either end of and on the outside of summer vacation.

      You do have a very good point about play every day. For some reason schools do not provide this.

  • I think the “we” is a collective one. It is not educators, or even government. It is all of us as citizens who have allowed these to become the rules for our education system in this country. We have some power if we choose to vote out irresponsible legislators, or take to the streets, or even encourage collective bargaining so teachers might have a larger say in their own classrooms. However, we have continued (as a country and a culture) to sit back and let others take the blame. Stand up if you are embarrassed. Its the only way we will ever change any of this.

    • haha. just yesterday I was telling my husband that the real reason for the carefully metered summer vacations is to allow just enough times for teachers to forget how bad it was last year and get their hopes up that something will change this time around. Like the honeymoon phase of a domestic abuse cycle……

  • Bonus:
    1) You created terms understood only by teachers. “Digital citizenship”?
    2) You repeat all of the above knowing that they are errors

  • My daughter and I once spent a good deal of time checking out “houses of the future” as they were imagined in a 1950’s era science magazine. The most hilarious and telling detail of every “house of the future” was that it contained a black and white television. Goes to show that sometimes we simply can’t look forward without being limited to what we think we “know.”

  • I teach at an urban middle school and we’ve gone year round. I’m a big proponent of the system as it fits the more college academic schedule (quarter followed by a short break) and gives kids without structure during the summer less time to waste.

  • Absolutely on board with many of these, but I would challenge a few.
    #15: I think this depends largely on the level, and to an extent on the individual student, but for most high schoolers, I think two parent conferences is too many – the kids need to be learning to take personal responsibility for their learning, and the parents need to be learning to give the kids space.

    #17: I don’t even know what this means – should we not be teaching kids to think for themselves? Are we failing so badly at it that the claim is a joke? My middle and high school teachers absolutely taught me to think for myself, and it was the most valuable part of my education. This is pretty much the point of having public education in a democracy – we need to educate people to think for themselves so that they can make informed, intelligent decisions when they vote. If the comment is we’re failing at this, it may be true in the big picture, but there are an awful lot of schools and teachers that do it well also.

    #19: Lecture can be a good tool, but we have to be very careful with it. For most, the connotation of a lecture is a 40-50 minute talk without questions (the college model). Perusing through the first few pages of TED Talks, they are overwhelmingly 5-15 minutes long, and rarely more than 20 minutes. This is a far more effective length to keep students engaged, assuming you are good at lecturing (or have a good video lined up). But lecture is also best at delivering content; it is not nearly as good at developing critical thinking skills, and it is terrible, on its own, at developing collaborative skills. In the internet and Wikipedia age, critical thinking and collaboration are far more important than the content itself (I think that was true 150 years ago as well, frankly).

    As far as vacation goes (#4), I think it is helpful for students, just as athletes, to have a chance to rest and recover in a lower stress environment. Given what we ask of our teachers, I think it’s crucial for us as well to perform at our best. Of course, maybe it’s better to spread out a few multiple week breaks throughout the year instead of the full summer model.

Leave a Reply