Reality TV, Reimagined

By Mary Tarashuk

October 2021

Seven years ago this month, I wrote an article about an idea for a reality television show. Okay, it was more of a frustrated teacher rant than an actual television show pitch, but I was having an emotionally allergic reaction to standardized testing at the time. 

Ever since then, I’ve been fantasizing about this idea, especially when I am sitting on the couch in a state of dull videocy, television remote in hand, clicking through options and hoping against hope that the emergency alert system will interrupt to inform me that the world I am observing on the screen is, in reality, a freakishly elaborate episode of Punk’d

Politics and misinformation about education and the teaching profession has spread like the virus, across the airwaves and into our communities. This is all too real. Its long-term effects are unknowable. Its short-term impact on our classrooms, our neighborhoods, and our collective psyche as a country, however, is palpable. Just tune into your favorite news source and watch in horror at the state of our union (pun intended).

Perhaps more reality television is the solution. 

Oh, I just heard your eyes roll. But please indulge me for a minute. I’m not talking about finding true love in a bikini. I’m talking about a show that will focus the camera lens on what is really happening in schools across America, a show that will capture, for ourselves and our posterity, the nitty gritty of what teachers and students actually do, each and every day. Maybe it’s time for a new breed of reality TV.

Welcome to Survivor Classroom. If you actually survive, perhaps you’ll leave with a different perspective than the one you walked in with. 

Here’s how it works:

We invite elected government officials, school board members, district administrators, and parents into the classroom to serve as teachers for one month. Contestants will spend six hours a day in a room that has an area of approximately 600 square feet with twenty-five kids. 

And we film it.

The first episode will begin three days prior to our real-life students arriving for their first day of school. At that time, contestants will be granted full-access to their classrooms to unpack supplies, familiarize themselves with the curriculum content, review the Teaching Editions provided by the district, create bulletin boards that will be useful and engaging to students, create a class website, memorize the names on their class lists (and read all related IEP’s), complete lesson plans for the first week of learning, and review the  master teaching schedule containing the exact times they are expected to teach each content area (scheduled times can be expected to change without notice).

During this four week, My Classroom: Survivor Pedagogy challenge, participants must complete all of the following tasks:

  • Administer a formal pre-assessment to each class member that identifies their individual abilities in reading, writing, and mathematics (no substitute coverage will be available while the contestants work to gather this data from each of their individual learners). 
  • Design a plan of action to ensure every single child in the class will be successful “at all times” (See the requirements for a teacher rating of Highly Effective according to the The Marshall Plan).
  • Create a method of tracking individual student progress.
  • Host Back-to-School Night
  • Prepare for and facilitate twenty-five Parent-Teacher conferences (contestants must make themselves available for evening conferences to accommodate working parents).
  • Practice fire drills, evacuation drills, and shooter drills with class
  • Create a website for helpful home~school connection
  • Read all novels, picture books, and articles suggested as mentor texts by the district
  • Complete one day of self-guided PD using district-provided materials about the newest initiative that has been identified as a goal for the year
  • Watch and sign off on all videos related to blood-borne pathogens, allergies, and student safety protocols
  •  Respond to all district and parent emails and communications within 48 hours.  
  • Oh…and teach the kids…we don’t want to forget that, right?

These courageous contestants will spend the entire month in a school located within their own district or constituency. A panel of education professionals will select the school that will become each policy maker’s home for the duration of the show. 

Participants may be lucky enough to be placed in a school like mine, with plenty of supplies. They may, on the other hand, be placed in a school that does not have textbooks, Chromebooks, Ipads, or paper for that matter. Our scholastic survivors may find themselves in an urban, suburban, or rural setting, or in a school that welcomes refugees in an ESL environment. There may be parents picketing in front of the building. There may not be. 

You get the idea.

In addition to their school assignment, each contestant must complete all related paperwork required by the district within district-determined deadlines. This may include spreadsheets that assign numeric percentages and values that identify reading fluency, accuracy, comprehension, and reading rate, writing capability and grasp of mathematical ideas and concepts

*If contestants don’t know how to create or use a spreadsheet, or any other tech-related requirements, they will be encouraged to look for a tutorial online.

A show like this would definitely involve the signing of multiple waivers. I’m not an expert in that area. I’m a teacher. I’ll leave that to the experts in the field and stay in my lane.

Unlike the original Survivor, however, there will be no elimination process. Contestants can’t leave until the month is over, barring a medical emergency or a death in the family. Six days absence from the show will be granted if the deceased is a close family member.

The evaluation criteria will be based on what our viewers see when they tune in each week. I’m sure some of us could also work together to create a rubric to evaluate our contestants’ performance. Maybe the audience could vote for their favorites from home? 

Here’s the thing. If I’m going to ask another to step into my shoes, I better be willing to do the same. I am.

My students and I have often discussed strategies we can use to try to better understand the characters we read about in class, whether we are exploring a fictional novel, reading a non-fiction excerpt from our social studies textbooks or scrolling through an article online. Exploring a character’s views about the world and trying to understand their individual reactions to it allows us to apply that old ideal of putting ourselves in another’s shoes. It sure would be nice if the grown-ups of today could apply some of these simple wisdoms of youth.

So if the loudest voices in education reform really want to evoke positive change, perhaps they need to be brave enough to step into the classroom for a month. And if those in government are not willing to volunteer to be a contestant on the show, maybe they shouldn’t be afforded the privilege of running for public office.

ABC? CBS? NBC? FOX?…SNL? Anyone interested in some reality, reality TV? Have your guy call my guy. We’ll set up a meet. 

Stay tuned.

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