Speak Up! One of the most frustrating experiences for new teachers is to arrive at a new school bubbling over with ideas for student-centered teaching, only to be faced with a wall of resistance to doing anything at all new or different. Staff meetings can be particularly difficult; when the … [Read more...]
Education Fundamentals to Guide New Teachers
It impossible for me to write hundreds of articles about best teaching practices and not end up with a few "big picture" opinions that I feel the need to share. The articles in this section are not "how-to"...they more fall into the category of "why" and explain my approach to teaching and my attitudes about different aspects of our profession.
These thoughts about teaching are the foundation of this website and I welcome your feedback on each and every one.
The Bedrock Under the Foundation
As "foundational" as these concepts are to preferred ways of teaching, there is something even more fundamental...the bedrock beneath the foundation, so to speak. That is the very simple belief that, as education professionals every single thing we do is about the kids.
"Well, no kidding," you might say. I ask you to pause and really consider this issue, though.
On the surface of any education system there is plenty of evidence that children are the main concern, that the whole point is maintaining student-centered teaching and student-centered classrooms.
The posters in the hallways, the district websites with pictures of smiling kids, the signs and commercials during school bond elections...they all focus attention on best teaching practices and what schools do for children.
This focus on children was the entire reason I made teaching my profession. I arrived in the classroom with very high hopes that I would be joining a team that really made a difference in the lives of children.
What I found was - honestly - sometimes disappointing. I certainly did find best teaching practices that epitomized everything I wanted to be as an educator, or teachers who implemented those best teaching practices naturally.
But surrounding these professionals I found a system comprised of many individuals who said the right things (most of the time) but when it came down to individual cases, it wasn't truly about the kids...it was about the teacher, or the principal, or the counselor, or...you get the point: it was about the system.
Understanding "the system"
"About the system" means that other concerns are placed ahead of the needs of children. I'm not talking here about big picture items like contract rights and teacher pay. I'm talking about those everyday issues that teachers, like all working adults are concerned with...things like:
- Room assignments
- Minor perks
- Convenience (or avoidance of inconvenience)
- ...and the like
I understand that humans will be human, always angling for an advantage, always trying to get by with as little effort as possible. As bad as this attitude is, I could live with it as long as it did not affect individual children, because for me, ultimately, "about the kids" means "about the kid," singular, the one standing in front of you right now. It is this "kid" that is all too often a casualty of the education system's failure to turn a common slogan into meaningful action.
She needs you to be the best teacher you can be...for her
I've known of far too many individual children (and their families) who find that this system that is supposed to epitomize best teaching practices is not about them and their issue - right here and right now - when the going gets tough in their little lives. Student's issues encompass everything - good, bad and in between - that comes with being imperfect, immature little humans:
- The child with tears of frustration in her eyes from struggling with math
- The boy who needs more challenging reading since he has mastered all the books in the room
- The sisters who wear filthy coats and old shoes every day
- The girl who agonizes about teasing during recess
- The boy who uncontrollably blurts answers during social studies
- The brothers who gang up to act as bullies before school
I'm talking about the whole mixed bag of humanity as reflected in the individuals that make up any class.
These kids aren't even concerned about the serious stuff...succeeding on standardized testing so they can be successful in the next grade and ultimately in life. That's the level of worry that the teacher must shoulder. But these issues are very real to these individual kids and these kids need those skills that only a professional teacher can bring to bear in a student-centered classroom.
And too many teachers, too often, don't step up to that challenge. Some pursue teaching strategies such as blaming the parents, or other excuses.
This "it's about the____" issue is not unique to teaching, not in the slightest. There are all kinds of public-service professions that struggle with the same issues, the needs of the system versus the needs of the customer. I'm certain there are hospitals, for example, plastered with signs that say "it's about the patient."
Wearing the other shoes
The medical system is easy to pick on since we have all experienced its challenges, but it offers an easy-to-understand comparison to how a student might feel: Have you ever been a patient being treated by the medical system and feeling that the process was definitely not about you as an individual? Even when you were paying to get individual attention?
Now think back to your own elementary school years: Do you remember times at school when you did not feel the individualized, focused attention of a teacher meeting your needs?
There are kids in your school, possibly in your room, who are feeling that way right now. It is our obligation as professional, trained educators - backed by a trained administrative staff - to respond to children's needs with student-centered best teaching practices.
Sometimes those needs are unstated, but they are calls for attention and it's our jobs to notice them and do what's right.
That's simple teacher professionalism.
That is my humble belief anyway. And that is what the articles in this section are about...the best teaching practices that create the foundation of this phrase:
"It's all about the individual kids"
I'm not even close to perfect
I am absolutely not perfect in all sorts of ways. Like most people, I rarely live up to the high standards I set for myself. For example, I will openly admit that I have not unquestioningly adored every single kid I have ever had in my classroom. And I have been extremely frustrated with my share of parents. And on and on...
But I will also state that I have done my absolute best in every individual situation. And even though I may complain about a particular child when I get home, that child never knows it. Never. From that student's perspective, he may understand that he exasperates me a little, but he also knows that he is never, never shorted on my time, attention or concern.
I'm not perfect, but I keep trying to develop my best teaching practices and get better every day.
I hope you enjoy the thought-provoking nature of these articles. Just keep two final points in mind:
1. These are my opinions, and mine only
2. I reserve the right to change my opinion at any time!
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Blaming the parents should not be the instinctive first response when a behavior problem arises with a child. This is not an effective teaching strategy, nor a best teaching practice that will lead to truly making a difference in the life of a student. I'm not talking about negligent parents … [Read more...]
Doing Our Part for At-Risk Students and Drop-Out Prevention Student-centered teaching is a mindset that places each and every child in the center of a teacher's attention....a mindset that does not allow any excuse to stand in the way of student success. In this article on teacher accountability, … [Read more...]