A blog from the other side of my life – teaching
July 30, 2013
I’m a teacher. I’ve wanted to teach children since I was in grade 6. No matter what I did, that wish did not waver. Until now. Now, after 11 years of teaching, and 2 years of watching my children go through the school system, I am wavering. And it makes me sad.
I love teaching, I love watching kids learn and have those lightbulb moments, and learn to love to learn. But more and more, I feel we are going about it the WRONG way. This bum in chair philosophy that our school board and education system insists on is pissing me off. Who said that it will take all children exactly 10 months to learn a prescribed amount of information?? What about those kids who were already reading before they entered kindergarten? Are they really supposed to practice letter recognition in kindergarden and grade 1? Or the child who has dyslexia and can’t figure out what all those letters are doing on the page until they are 8? Yes, absolutely, a text book for social studies is REALLY going to add to his/her learning! What about the child who has a knack for math and science, and was doing multiplication in his head, for fun, at the age of 4?! Asking them to practice addition facts and SHOW THEIR WORK, to 20 is stupid and a waste of everyone’s time. The teacher’s, the child’s and the parent’s.
This is what it comes down to. Time. Some people, many years ago, when the 1st world was a very different place, decided that we all needed to put in the TIME to learn a set amount of things. And yes, learning, real, deep, meaningful learning, takes time. But now, we have so many different tools and requirements from our 21st century learners, that the time needed for each child is different!! I recently picked up a school workbook for my son, going into grade 2, to keep the academic brain fires on simmer for the remainder of the summer. He also really wants to learn cursive writing, and it has a section in there for that. Anyways, I digress. I flipped through the book, and realistically, he could have all the curricular requirements for grade 2 completed by Christmas if all his TIME wasn’t taken up at school. That 4 year old who was doing multiplication for fun? That was my boy. He innately LOVES math and just knows how numbers, patterns, shapes, etc. work together. Wouldn’t his time be better used pursuing other interests in his grade 2 year if he already fundamentally understands the math requirements for grade 2? For the sake of a better use of TIME, I’ve even toyed with the idea of home schooling. Something I swore I would never, ever do.
But I really don’t think this is the solution. I don’t even claim to have the solution. But we need to change the way we are doing things. Firstly, we need to test at the BEGINNING of the year, not the end!!! If teachers knew what their students knew in September, then they could tailor their program to the needs of the kids, not the needs of the school system!!! Isn’t this really what teaching is all about? The needs of the kids? In my ideal classroom, kids would be working in small groups, on similar subjects, but at different levels.
Lets look at this more closely. Say testing was done in September (gasp, I know!!). So now you know you have approximately 4 levels of learners in your classroom (HA, if you’re lucky – often its more like 6 or 8). Anyways, group the strong kids together, the 2 middle kids together, and the groups that are struggling together. WAIT! you shout, isn’t this streaming kids!!???!! Well, yes…. and No, because you will test again in November, February, & April. And you will shuffle the kids as THEY need it. So Johnny who just needed another 3 months of phonics before reading “clicked” for him, and then he TOOK OFF now moves into the higher group, and Mary, who is just stuck on Fractions, moves into a group that is more appropriate for her.
This sounds like more work for the teacher, right? Remember, this is a teacher talking to you. Yes, at first, it would be. Setting up the tests, having levelled work for the different groups, etc. But eventually, the teacher becomes more of a mentor/facilitator moving between groups, doing individualized lessons based on what the group is learning about, sharing videos, books, links, websites, etc. with the groups so they can push their own learning even further. The kids then become mentors for each other. The kid who is nuts about dinosaurs and knows so much about them you can’t even keep up? He teaches the group about what he knows, the group develops questions they want to find out more about, and then they come up with a project to show what they know!! And that kid who loves to put everything together? He/she writes a report about dinosaurs (science and language arts), does some calculations about their height, weight, amount of food they needed to eat, etc (math), and shows a topographical map about how the earth has changed since then (social studies). Then he/she talks about how dinosaurs have been found all around the world and how their names are heavily influenced by where they are found (foreign languages).
Now you have kids EXCITED about what they are learning, you are meeting their individual learning needs, they are getting the socialization they require, they are all taking turns being leaders of their peers, they are being self starters and inquiry based learners….. now THAT’s a school I would be excited to have my children in and to teach in.