Thursday, September 27, 2007

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Traditional teaching styles conflict greatly with new ideas of what education should be developing. Old styles teach a rigid design where students learn and teachers teach. Students are treated more as animals whose urges and instincts are meant to be penned up. And, it is those student who successfully succumb to these guidelines that are most valued. Subservience. Yet, these actions, based on these systems do not correlate with action that must be taken in the real world. Schools would stress fact memorization and forgo independent thought. It does not matter why the book tells you that the Civil War happened, only that what it is said should be taken for truth unquestionably. Newer teaching styles promote input and break down the wall erected between the students and their teachers.

I believe that school should have purpose. It is not simply a daycare for children. It should be an institute of learning. Learning requires the free exchange of ideas. Therefore, schools should require no less. Questioning the knowledge of the textbook or a paper or even of the teacher should not be seen as detrimental to the learning process. Rigid guidelines and tome-like study guides and notebooks do not create learning they inhibit it. Learning can only take place when a person in interested in what they are trying to understand. Therefore, schools must find ways to cater to the interests of each of its students. An interested student will want to learn. A learning student will give school a purpose.

School must provide students with the necessary tools to lead a successful life. It is necessary to be successful in life to be able to think for oneself. How could you choose a good career, or have the courage and ability to speak up about something that you're interested in, or be happy at all if you do not have the ability to make decisions. Old teaching styles inhibit the growth of thinking and decision-making skills. Class is structured as a one-way street whereby the teacher conveys truth like a military instructor. Likewise, class is set up rigidly using bells to signify the end of each section and the point at which students must as if by magic change the station and turn to a new subject. This sort of division is unnecessary and illogical. Man's brain is not set up to switch gears so precisely. Such techniques foster boredom and alienation in the student's mind. Perhaps most importantly however, it turns them into creatures of habit. You move from class to class without thinking. It becomes increasingly easy to lose yourself in following this method.

In addition to this debate there is the issue of the student-teacher relationship. Under the old method, students were treated on a lower level than teachers. Respect dictated this form similar to the parent-child relationship in a highly autocratic family. The problem with this method is its impersonality. Students are not going to respect a teacher just because they sit up straight and sit in silence any more than a child will like a parent who requests the same. Therefore, part of a teacher's job is made self-defeating here. A teacher's responsibility is to their students, for their well-being, both educative and personal. A student will not come to their teacher if they have a problem if they do not trust them. However, if the teacher were to respect the student as a person and to respect their opinions and questions in addition to keeping them on the same level as themselves, then the student will be more likely to come for help if they need it.

In short, it is more profitable for the student in the long run, not to be taught using the older methods. Nonsensical regulation (hats, gum, etc.) belittle the independence and intelligence of the student. These regulations foster ill-will towards the administration and to the learning process in general. Likewise, students will grow to resent a teacher who does not treat them properly. Then, they will not be apt to come to the teacher when they have a problem and certainly they will not respect the teacher in return enough to bother to pay attention in their class. To be a successful teacher one must treat all students carefully, understanding them as people and not as naïve or belittled representations of future adults. They must be given the benefit of the doubt, at least unless they prove otherwise, that they are capable of acting mature, learning, and conducting themselves in a civil manner. To do less is to do a disservice to the learning process.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Take One

So yesterday I went on my first of five in-class observations. I visited a 12th grade AP US history class and then a 9th grade world history course. I went into it without much trepidation, probably due to the fact that I find it hard to feel nervous on four hours sleep and after an hour driving.

The school was immaculate, thus quickly putting mine to shame. It was a clean cut newer building. The people were great. I really mean that. The 12th grade class that I went to fit into the usual mold for AP students, but the 9th grade class I visited was head and shoulders above any standard level 9th grade history class that I have ever seen. The difference between my high school and it's atmosphere is the difference between please and thank-you and bitching and moaning. It was just awesome. Teacher and student alike brought a positive attitude to their presence there, even for a Monday. And even if they didn't want to be there it was commiserative they were all in it together. It seemed truly remarkable to me. Even if it be the exception to the rule, a better place to begin could not be found.

The teachers were equally as such. The atmosphere they fostered was one tending towards relaxed discussion where input seemed more free-flowing than it did in a traditional format in my high school. Rarely did one raise hands, rather the format tended towards communal discussion. This fostered a more comfortable class and thus a better learning environment.

At any rate, my decision to pursue a teaching career has been validated by this, my first observation. That's all for now; I need to decompress.