Can We Stop Longing for the Good Old Days?

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

7 Replies to “Can We Stop Longing for the Good Old Days?”

  1. Great points, Tina, about an interesting article in the Globe. Whenever I read stuff like this, I always remember that our job (front line teachers, that is) is helping students to learn as best as they can, Wente’s and Bennett’s job is to sell newspapers and books. Everyone has the right to an opinion but that in no way has anything to do with being correct. I welcome articles like Wente’s and books like Bennett’s because they do keep the conversation going among anyone interested in education and learning. I can also find a scholarly article or two in a peer reviewed journal to support almost any viewpoint.

    Despite these kinds of articles and books, critical thinking is alive and very well in the teaching professional. Every teacher I know is highly sensitive to student learning and to the effectiveness of the learning environment in the promotion of learning.

    I really appreciate your second point about a balanced approach and this reflects the critical thinking that is going on in classrooms all the time. There will be always debates that seem to rage on such as directed learning vs. discovery learning or phonics vs. whole language. Good teachers see past all of this hype and know that all students are different and have a wide variety of needs and competencies; they will employ whatever strategies are needed to for their students to succeed.

    The best teachers know that children learn best within the context of a positive and optimistic relationship. It always amazes me that so much is written about education but so little of it reflects the significance of the affective domain and the role it plays in learning and education in general.

  2. Tina, I really enjoyed your post. I’ve read through the links and watched Carol Ann Tomlinson’s video and agree with all of your points.

    When I find myself longing for The Good Old Days it is usually because they seem easier; whether it is because it is what I know from my childhood or because now, as a teacher, it would be easier to hand out a worksheet and demand respect.

    That longing only lasts a short time though, because I know so many creative and intelligent people for whom The Gold Old Days/Ways didn’t work – they hated school and were not successful there. As adults, they look back and feel that school was a waste of time.

    For me, being successful in school isn’t necessarily about being an A student, it’s about finding joy and value in learning – even when it is difficult. It is about being a valuable and respected community member, about finding reasons to want to read, understanding the importance of learning math (and art, science, etc.), about failing and trying again because you believe that it is important – not because the teacher says it is. It may be more difficult & messy, but I’m with you on this one – I’m excited about The Good Days to Come!

  3. I do think people, not just some teachers, feel using technology (especially personal devices) and giving students choice results in less focused learning. I think, done well, with good classroom management skills, the learning is more focused and memorable and enjoyable.

  4. Tina,
    Great post! I constantly hear comments & conversations about “good ol’ days” or “kids these days”. I always laugh because I’m sure this was said by our teachers about us as students (all those years ago). I can’t imagine teaching like my teachers taught me; as I never felt connected to my learning and always felt like I was just going through the motions of the education system (I also can’t seem to remember a thing from OAC calculus either!) I believe there too are some tricks & tips, strategies, and characteristics to use still from long ago. But there has been such an evolution in the whole system, that it is impossible to not evolve ourselves, and continue to move forward.

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