So, I am back in the US again after being away for 5 years in Saudi Arabia. While in Saudi I was taught Social Studies and English (later Humanities) at American Consulate school in Dhahran (Dhahran Elementary Middle School). In those 5 years, I taught 6th, 7th and 8th grade with a challenging but mentally invigorating curriculum composed of the C3 Social Studies and Reading and Writing Workshop (Teachers College, Columbia University) .
For the COETAIL 11, Course 5 I have entered the public school system again… where I am reminded again of how little everything has changed since I left. I still see…
Why do we as teachers expect so little from our students?
Why don’t we wait long enough when asking a question from students?
Why do we as teachers still have favorite students?
Why do we as teachers spoon feed students so they do NOT have have “difficulty” in finding answers?
And why does covering the course and EOC (End of Course) exams win over ‘deeper learning’ almost every single time?
And why do teachers casually shrug and turn around to another colleague and ask “Now, do you know what I have to put up with?”
I am honored to be working in a public charter school with another 8th grade Social Studies teacher. However, my personal beliefs and what I see in the teaching practice throws me off track.
Humility, Faith, Critical Thinking and Genuine Liking
During the COETAIL 11 Cohort readings, we read Paulo Friere’s Five Ideas for Dialogical Learning. It was a reconfirmation and clarification of beliefs that were muddled together in my head.
For true learning and dialogue to take place between a teacher and student a teacher has to have humility.
Last week, during my teaching a student raised his hand to state that a period is missing at the end of the sentence from their reading packet (this is the unit that I planned and am teaching). I agreed with him. And pointed out that I when I was editing text for their handout to make it shorter, I had accidentally deleted a period. I asked all students to go ahead and add the period. Acknowledging my mistake is an investment for building a trusting relationship between the students and me. As it is, I am a newcomer for the students.
Second, I want to have faith in the students to be able to push themselves as critical thinkers because they think in non-linear ways that we as adults can no longer do. Therefore, when I ask them to make mind maps for their questions on ‘War’ after seeing images, art, videos, and hearing poetry then I want their future research and final product (design thinking project) to be based off their questions. Their questions are important and relevant to them and to make their research relevant it is the best path to follow.
Last, the genuine liking for students has to be present in a classroom. We as teachers have to be prepared to ‘like’ or ‘understand’ the child who is bright but blurts out all answers; the one who is unkind to others and why and,; the one who wants to talk throughout the video that the class watches.
When we have to watch a video longer than 15 minutes, I turn around and tell students they are allowed one line comments at their tables to share their feelings during the video but no full fledged conversations! I get a few heartfelt smiles as we start and they agree with me. And they mostly honor their word.
Why is it like this?
So, why do I see what I left five years ago in the public school systems. It is upsetting to see the lack of accountability of teachers and the lack of drive in the students.
I am on a quest to find out where it stems from…. right now, I would say that the school rules and county bureaucracy play a big role. This is added on by the low pay scales and too much work for that level of pay. It influences how far the teachers are willing to go to be the ‘best’ teachers they can be. It would also affect me.
The 8th grade Social Studies class that I am teaching right now is a good class with their own character and they make me more aware of our need as teachers to address bright, inquisitive brains that are not being given a chance to prove themselves. They also make me aware of how much more practice, experience and wisdom I need to be the ‘best’ teacher that I can be.
But, would I feel the same if I was working full time and not just teaching for 8 weeks on a part time basis? If I had to teach for 6.5 hours everyday would I be so patient and organized?
I hope I would but I am not 100% sure I would.
And am I the ‘best’ teacher?
I hope I am getting there but I know I definitely have milestones to overcome before I get there.
What I do know is that we need to make teaching our children a serious business that deserves respect, good pay and benefits. Schools can then focus on planning and educating students to foster critical thinking and overcoming challenges in the 21st century.