Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why?

The mark of a true profession is one that spends just as much time asking why as they do ask how. Teachers can, and do, fill conferences with session after session on how we can grade, how we can make kids comply and how we can get kids to score well on tests.


But at some point, if we truly care about making things better, we have to stop focusing simply on resigning ourselves to the status quo. Just as the best doctors don't just keep doubling the dose of the initial prescription, the best teachers are those who routinely stop and reflect on why they do the things they do.

Ask a parent what their long term goals are for their children, and they will often reply with terms that describe a child's character - they want their kids to be creative, kind, thoughtful, hard working and just. You'd be hard pressed to find a parent who will say that their long term goals for their children involve being compliant, docile, silent and dull.

And yet, many traditional classroom practices encourage exactly that. Grades silence kids from thinking deeply about their learning, while behavior programs are happiest when the kids are seen rather than heard, and testing labels collaboration as cheating. We send all kinds of conflicting messages to kids when our long-term goals are at odds with our practices.

True professionals temper the urge to gain short-term gains such as compliance because they know nothing is worth sabotaging our long-term goals.

4 comments:

  1. I agree with you. However, I have a lot of teachers at my school that are very capable and know "why." But they have to balance that with standardized tests.

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  2. Wow!! This is very well said. If my thoughts were half as organized I would probably be able to blog about interesting, important truths too. But really, the class that I am in is here to teach me that exact ability. I am a student in Dr. John Strange's EDM 310 class for microcomputing systems in education. Our class is at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I am an aspiring teacher and I want too be an effective one. I have dreamed about being the kind of teacher that kids all know and love and most importantly, learn from. But as my college days go on and as I learn more about testing and grade scales, I wonder how effective my natural talents will be. I believe that if we all exercise our natural talents we will learn from and teach each other. I have also often thought that maybe the reason why children aren't and haven't been encouraged to express themselves in the name of learning is because of society's need for little workers, not little thinkers. We, as a people hardly learn for pleasure anymore. We do have to ask why. We are teaching to give our students a chance at life in this world. This world demands that you have a certain level of ability. But, we as good teachers need to encourage curiosity and intelligence.

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  3. I am struck by the contrast Joe Bower presents in these two paragraphs. Both parents and teachers want the same outcomes and customarily agree that the long term goals and both believe this can be achieved by young people exhibiting diametrically opposite behaviors and values.

    The compliance, docility, silence and dullness Joe refers to is presented as essential training for the repetitive nature of most work. Perhaps, but there is far less solitary, dull repetitive work in the world than we imagine. I think the spectrum of work includes a great deal of complexity, variety and challenge. Twelve years relentlessly preparing for the assembly line may be a bit too much but there is still a call for this behavior. It is also genuinely necessary for learning moments like explanation and personal reflection. There is a problem. Teachers generally confuse the behaviors desirable in the explanation for those desirably for the remainder of the learning. After all this time we have got stop doing this.

    I'm sure this is not a new thought, I've taught too long for that to be true, but I rediscovered it recently in conversation with my intern. I actually have more time to work with students during the day because I am not center stage trying to talk to all of them. Micro-management is time consuming. Maintaining natural behaviors like silence, focus and stillness for unnatural lengths of time is also time consuming. The release of tension experienced in moments of collective quiet and stillness slowly transforms into an almost insufferable tension as it draws out. Traditional classroom practice has no balance. It wants no balance and oddly, many people like it that way.

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  4. Hi, my name is Sherrie and I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I am posting a comment as part of an assignment. I will be posting again next week and summarizing each posts on my blog by October 10 which you may visit our class blog at http://edm310.blogspot.com/ and the summarization will be at http://edm310.blogspot.com/.
    I completely agree with you that the messages we are sending to our kids are conflicting. The more I read teachers' blogs the more I am learning what changes are desperately needed in our school systems. It seems everything is wrong and outdated. I have always tried to teach my ten-year old daughter to be creative and to speak her mind, but only if she is at home. If she's at school, she has to keep quiet and work on making that A in conduct. Teaching kids to not be afraid to be creative and give their opinion is teaching critical thinking skills. In taking this class, I have also learned that using blogging and other forms of technology in the classroom is a great way to do this. They can form an opinion about something, and it's neither right nor wrong.

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