We are the Future of Adult Education in New York
By Elizabeth Hayter, Administrator, Adult Learning Institute at Dutchess BOCES
April 12, 2019
Well I never prepared myself to write a blog. After all, back in the dark ages, when I went to school, blogs did not exist – but here I am! I also never thought I would quote Bob Dylan, not one of my favorites, but the lyrics from this song set the tone for this blog!
“As the present now will later be past the order is rapidly fadin' and the first one now will later be last for the times they are a-changin'.”
"The Times They Are A-Changin'" was written in 1963, a time when I and many others were excited about the future and all the possibilities. It was also a time when great changes were occurring and many people were afraid for our society and our way of life. In 1964 with the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, federal legislation was formalized to address adult illiteracy and in 1966 adult literacy programs were moved to the newly formed U.S. Office of Education, under the Adult Education Act. Imagine the excitement in the air as projects and funding started to flow to support all adults with high school equivalency programs, and English as a Second Language programs. We know that learning opportunities existed earlier, such as settlement houses, but it was the late 1960’s and 1970’s that formalized our chosen profession in a way that still holds today. Clearly the program managers of those days were embarking on new territory.
When I think back to those times I envision smoke filled offices of grey desks, grey filing cabinets, lots of rules, clocks that needed to be adhered to, carbon paper, maybe electric typewriters and secretaries that brought coffee. I don’t think of the creativity, leadership, and most of all courage that must have been there for leaders of the day to set the direction of adult education through to the present.
Think about how change happens so slowly, maybe you were around to say something like, let’s use computers instead of typewriters, and then computers changed everything? Or, maybe, more recently people around you are asking why aren’t you using Google Docs instead of MS-Word and email to share documents? Slowly the work changes and the “cheese” gets moved. Did you always think there must be a better way, but now you are not sure? Do you feel the fear of those who can’t change, who are stuck in the “This is the way I’ve always done it” mindset? Is this your fear now, that things are moving faster and faster? Maybe you should be humming “the times they are a-changin?”
Here we are in 2019. We are the ones making the changes, setting the goals, solving the problems. Even when the rules don’t make sense we find a way to help a student, teach a subject area, run a class – we think creatively and push the boundaries for those who need our assistance. Yes, it is not easy when one more change comes from our agencies, our partners, NYSED, or one more demand from our students, staff, teachers or supervisors. We can get discouraged and we can feel defeated. How do we build our courage and be like our predecessors in difficult times?
Sometimes it takes some reflection around vision and purpose. We need to refocus on our students, who with each individual story remind us that they benefit from the work we do. I think about the student who tried to pass the former GED test so many times, but never did it before cancer took her life, the student who came to class after a lifetime of not being able to read or write, the student who was afraid, or lost, or had been told they could not do it, and then proved they could! I remember the students from other countries who fought through trails we could not imagine to get to the United States and into our classes, the students from all the Student of the Year ceremonies and their families, their children, their parents. Our programs affect these students and I resolve to continue to do my work no matter what changes I experience because the need to learn does not change!
Richard DuFour and Robert J. Marzano in “Leaders of Learning” wrote “Effective leaders recognize that they cannot accomplish great things alone.” To do this work we need each other, we need NYACCE, we need supportive supervisors, NYSED representatives, and elected officials. We need professional development that allows us to reflect, to network, to communicate with each other on a purposeful level to build courage in the face of constant change. “It requires effective leadership to create a shared vision that addresses the hopes and dreams of people within the organization.” (DuFour & Marzano). It takes work, and it takes courage and what I know of adult educators is that neither of those things are in short supply. I can do it, and you can do it! Just think in 2030 they may look back at this time and say, “Wow, what great student centered programs came out of the 2020’s.”
This month we are gathering at our annual NYACCE Conference, let us commit to being courageous, positive and enthusiastic about the future of our programs and support each other in our collective mission to serve adult learners. I will see you there!