Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I opened my big mouth

One of the ladies I work with had, without my knowing it, done an observation on my classroom to see how it was all going. Fine fine fine...indeed she picked a great day and a great class, they were very focused and interested...

That said.

Her final comment was that I should have been timing some of the activities in the classroom more closely so that they didn't run on too long.

Here we came to a final and absolute divide in teaching practices; some of which are cultural and some of which come from my training and some of which are personal.

Let me just state here up front that I would never, ever, ever in a million years interrupt an entire class that is completely focused on an activity in order to move onto another activity that I had planned.

I kind of jumped down her throat when she suggested that.

I almost feel bad.

But...the difficulty is one of outlook, and I am not referring to her particularily, rather to a systemic difference.

The idea that you time activities and have a pre-packaged plan speaks much more to the teachers desires as an authoritarian figure who maintains ownership of the task of ramming X, Y and Z facts into the receptacle commonly referred to as the students brains, VS...the idea that the teacher is a guide who assists the students in their process of creating knowledge through interaction with the materials, each other, the facts that are being handled and the teacher.

It is a fundamental question of ownership. Who's work is this. Let me tell you here, it is the student's, every single solitary time.

Of course, we can force anyone to memorise a set group of facts, and they will forget them as fast, but true learning is a creative process of being and changing, and that has nothing whatsoever to do with memorising the periodic table of elements, or the conjugation of the verb to be in the past simple.

You must use the facts and integrate them into your neurological framework as a creative process. Let me emphasis that it is physiologically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually a creative process. It is not a process wherein a teacher stands up with a proverbial hammer and drives a proverbial nail into your head, then issuing a test to ensure that it is lodged there, at least for now.

What that means is that we don't stop them when they are focused. It means that we provide only enough information and material to inspire them. It means that we have to follow them, not lead. It means that we are not omnipotent (thank god, pun intended).

It is a different way of looking at education altogether, and one that is totally alien here, which I foresee myself struggling with as long as my kids are students in this system.

It is a different way of looking at the process of learning. Our job is to assist and guide. It is also to inspire, because not every person before us is going to be interested, or even faintly inspired to pick up ownership of the process and that is where our real work comes in. There is information that we wish to share and impart, and which we are paid by the parents/government to share and impart, and the onus is on us to discover a route through which we can connect this in a meaningful way to the students beings, to give them a sense that this is worth doing, to get them engaged.

They must be engaged to learn, and that is the challenge for the teacher. The hardest challenge.

I have been asked to give a meeting/lecture about this. I can reel this off for hours with back-up information and neurological diagrams, the trick is to deliver it in a way that is meaningful and useful within the framework of what we do and have to do every day; within the framework of my employer's expectations and the parent's expectations and the limitations of what the other teachers will be willing to do, and the freedom I will be granted to adapt on a moment to moment basis in the class to the particular needs of a particular group at a particular moment. The essence of good teaching.

More and more thinking about learning coming up. I'll try not to bore you.


Michele said...

i wish i/my kids had more teachers like you. sounds like just about a perfect philosophy for learning.

elPadawan said...

I agree with your point of view. But it's true that at the end of year, there's an amount of knowledge that the kids have to have in their heads... so without interrupting them when they're focused on something, how do you make sure that all the things you have to teach will be taught on time?

I guess the answer will come in another post ;)

Lynda said...

I don't envy your job... dealing with kids all day is tough enough, but dealing with the expectations of parents would be overwhelming.

Esben said...

Oh, I agree so much with you. I always thought the school should be much more about giving kids the desire and ability to learn for themselves, rather than uploading trivial pursuit facts to their brains. As long as school manages to make kids curious about the world and enthusiastic about knowledge, then all the factual stuff they need will come by itself.

traveller one said...

I am kinda anti-school myself, but I ceertainly agree with your method!!

Beth said...

I'm glad you "opened your big mouth." I only wish you could do it here and the Boards would listen.
My sister has taught long enough to know she can get away with avoiding (not "obeying") some of the Board directives. She figures some of the younger teachers are going to burn out fast as they try to implement every Board order/new learning plan. They're not teaching, they're cramming.

hulagirlatheart said...

Amen sister. My best teachers were the ones who inspired me. In elementary school my daughter was privileged to be surrounded by inspirational teachers. In high school, not so much. It disappoints me.

Nomad said...


You go girl..

and...you will NEVER bore us!!

oreneta said...

Michele, they're out there, some are tired, some are frustrated by the competing demands they face, but I'm not alone by a very long shot...

elPadawan, see above....a very good point and thanks.

Lynda, it can be a bit of a dance to see your way through serving both populations too the best of everyone's benifit, especially when their desires and expectations clash...

Esben, the rality is that now we don't need a ton of stupid facts in our heads, though we do need enough general knowledge to know which questions to ask...we need facility in acquiring and analysing knowledge, and in working with that knowledge in a complex and dynamic manner, both alone and with others....blah blah blah...I'll get off the soap box, but OMG, I wish that message would get out there...

Kim, I homeschooled my kids for years, I can be kind of anti-school too, but here....I cannot give them langauge nor integration...has to be out there for this experience.

Beth, I think the public system is in many ways the hardest to work. It is too large to easily influence, ruled by idealogues who creep around for re-election, eternally tweeking, then the Harris types brand them as the axis of evil, and the classes get bigger and the kids needier....hats off to those folks.

Hulagirl, it is always so sad to lose an truely great teacher and then have to deal with crap. Such a let down...wait to hear me next year as Eldest enters the high school here, which reputedly has some good teachers, but also some ex-Franco trainies who are hanging on waiting on their retirement. They are reportedly somewhere between difficult and verging on the insane. Should make for some exciting blog fodder anyway...

Nomad, you are the best, missed you.

dawn said...

I am so with you on this. I guess that is one of the reasons I home school my kids. So much about the school system, even here, is the stuff that is easily gauged by marks. The Provincial achievement tests that ultimately test the teacher and are used to grade the school and the school uses to get more students and therefor more funding. Not about the success of the little people it is geared toward.