I read the Globe and Mail article Classroom fads and magic beans a little while ago and I have to admit that there was some screaming at the screen on my end (Ok, well it was more like mumbling under my breath at my cell phone). Debunking research with one source didn’t seem very critical but everyone is entitled to their opinion. It wasn’t any different than the conversations I experienced while visiting family this summer:
- “Kids today don’t know how to do math.”
- “All these new ways…”
- “What’s wrong with how we used to learn?”
I learned early on in my career that when it comes to education, everyone seems to have an opinion (including those in the field). Responding with research or facts has never really worked for me (maybe I don’t have a stern enough voice) but sharing a classroom success story always guaranteed a thoughtful ending.
Last week I stumbled upon the WSJ article Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results on Twitter and I was torn. Not because I was longing for the good old days, but because there were nuggets that I agreed with. I couldn’t understand why I felt so conflicted and then I realized that perhaps we were speaking a different language. I agreed with many of the terms but they seemed to be associated with actions and understandings I wouldn’t want for my learners.
Assuming positive intentions I thought I would clarify with my experiences. So for those of you longing for the gold old days please understand…
- When I mention a positive classroom community, that does not mean the kids in my care run through the halls throwing items. There are still rules; structures; guidelines but most importantly there is respect. Respect on the part of me as a teacher understanding my learners (whether 5 or 35) and respect on the part of the learners for their classmates and myself. Please don’t confuse respect with compliance. I can make kids sit in rows that does not mean I have respect. I think you can also agree that it is hard for me to show respect while insulting, belittling or demoralizing any learner. We can spend up to 7 hours a day together, relationships come first and no one has articulated it better for me than Carol Ann Tomlinson.
- I believe in a balanced approach. There is both time to understand a concept as well as build skills. Let’s be clear, building skills is not the same as a worksheet. I took OAC Calculus for the fun of it. Seems absurd now. I did pretty well in the course. Hundreds of textbook questions later and I can’t remember a thing. We never really discussed the concepts and there certainly was no connections made to my life. What I learned from OAC calculus is that without the concepts or connections, skills get me no further then the end of the course.
- I know grit is a popular term. I agree whole heartily with the concept but I can’t help but think of the old westerns like Rooster Cogburn. Maybe that is the confusion between strict routines and a passion for learning. Learning is hard and kids need to learn to persevere through it. They need to understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process. I build perseverance by having high standards but also have spent the time to make sure the challenge isn’t insurmountable. Constant failure breads a loss of hope. If you have ever worked with a child that has given up hope, a child that believes there is no way for them to succeed you know it is the most heartbreaking experience and the hardest to revert.
- Creativity is the hardest one. I’m still struggling through the nurture/nature debate myself but I know one thing for certain: you can’t force creativity. It isn’t a command, a task to be completed. If you have spent time with a 4 year old you know they are full of questions. They see the world through beautiful rose tinted glasses where their parents are superheros and purple elephants are completely plausible. They will take risks we would over analyze for a month (maybe that’s just me). Maybe you don’t consider this creativity but part of creativity is not seeing the limitations, thinking of the impossible, not being fenced in by rules. Why would you ever want to rush them to reality? Couldn’t we learn a thing or two from them?
Ok, I’ll admit I’m an idealist. I am the glass half full, every child can succeed, love my job, educator. It’s hard to accept a longing for the good old days when we have learned so much and I have seen the bright moments: the moments where a child’s eyes light up because they just read a book all by themselves, when they are so proud they taught a friend how to animate or when a child finds an audience for what they have to share through a blog.
It’s more than wanting my learners to think that I was nice. When they think of me I want them to believe I pushed them further, fueled their spark for learning and helped them be just a little bit better.
It isn’t that we can’t learn lessons from the past (I learned the above from my teachers ) but I fear our longing for the good old days is stopping us from looking at the potential at the horizon.
So no more ‘Good Old Days’ debates please, just Good Days to Come.
“Everyday, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.” Sir Ken Robinson