Archive for May, 2010

What Teachers make

May 19, 2010

The essence of this “I can make a C+ feel like a congressional medal or an A- feel like a slap in the face.”

The teacher has to know the student, where they are on their journey of learning, and how to help them to step to their next level. They must engage the heart and the mind of the student to do this. Every student is unique, with unique learning characteristics, and it requires the skill of a dedicated teacher to understand these unique learning characteristics, and teach the student how to apply them to learning and to the world. That is why we will always need teachers; a computer can never replace the teacher because a computer cannot read learning needs like a human being can.

Most of the problems in education do not lie in the ability or dedication of teachers, but in the school systems. The first problem is a legacy of 19th century punitive education which punishes students for not learning, or not performing to the required level. The second is an academic rationalism which sees schools competing in a marketplace for the highest academic results, and for funding. The consequence is that school image and marketing is vital to attract academically able students, and non performers are eliminated. Students are valued for how well they help a school compete academically and for funding resources.

Most teachers do an amazing job in the face of this pressure for results. Sadly some succumb to the flawed paradigm of punitive education. One example is the head teacher who issued demerits to students who did not pass the safety test required to enter the workshop. A week later students who still had not passed were again issued with demerits. Several weeks later, the exercise was repeated. The intention was to punish these students into passing the test, but it placed them in an impossible situation where they were punished for not being smart enough.  This only served to destroy their confidence in their own ability to learn, and in the school’s ability to lead them in their learning. It is a perfect example of punitive education, and a perfect candidate for Maralyn Parker’s “Dunce of the Week” “Floggings will continue until morale improves”

Parents play a role in expecting unreasonable academic performance and demanding punitive measures to improve results. The 19th century punitive paradigm of education in deeply entrenched in parents, because this was their experience of school. At a recent teacher-parent interview night, a parent was heard to say to their son “Bring back the cane- that will improve your marks”. Perhaps it was said in jest, but there is nothing funny about physical violence. Some parents also conclude that if punishing students isn’t working, then perhaps punishing the teacher and the school will work.

Teachers do make a difference. Let’s make sure it is a positive one.


Parent Teacher Interviews

May 15, 2010

It’s the time of the year for parent teacher interviews.

I would like to see teachers sharing information about students and their learning styles.

Every year, as a parent I go along to the parent/teacher interviews, and spend 5 minutes in intense conversation with yet another teacher. I am surprised at how well this teacher has got to know my child in the first two terms, when my child is one of possibly hundreds taught by this teacher. She sums up the main features of my child’s learning style; I try to give some information which may help to work around some of my child’s unique characteristics. I do this 8 or so more times with all the other subject teachers, and go home feeling lucky that I only had to meet 8 teachers, not the hundreds of parents the teachers had to meet.

The second half of the year works better because the teacher has worked out how to engage my child. Then the year ends, and we start all over again with a fresh group of teachers, who take half the year to work out my child’s learning style, and I go to the parent teacher night, and hear exactly what I heard last year.

What if there was a way so that teachers could share the vital information about my child’s learning style with each other, across subjects and from year to year?  Then all teachers would understand my child like my child’s favourite teacher does. Teachers could start teaching at the beginning of the year instead of spending half the year working the children out. I’d still show up for parent teacher nights, but I would see the school developing a growing understanding of my child’s learning style, and this would be good for all concerned.

Dear Teacher

May 4, 2010

Dear Teacher,

This is my son, look after him. Please use your skill as a teacher to engage him in the learning process. Do not judge him nor use his immaturity as a reason to condemn or punish him. He is not an employee of whom you can demand performance. You and the school exist to serve his needs. He is not there to help you achieve your personal goals or the school’s academic goals.

Catholic schools traditionally have a reputation for brutality. Some catholic schools trade on this reputation.  With demands for above average results catholic schools become places only for clever and beautiful children, catholic in name only, and devoid of Gospel values. Dr Dan White quotes the old adage “if you are not modelling what you are trying to teach, then you are teaching something else”

Please remember that you are an adult, with hundreds of hours of training as a professional teacher. He is a child. You represent of an organisation with hundreds of years of teaching experience, thousands of hours of research and training, and millions of dollars in resources. He is a child. As an adult in a relationship with a child you are responsible for the success of this relationship. Any attempt to place this responsibility on the child is most improper.

My son is not yet an independent learner, but will learn naturally and curiously when given the right environment. He is immature and at times disorganised. The merit system is designed to help my child to focus step by step on developing habits and virtues which will help him to become an independent learner, and foster his lifelong love of learning.

The merit system can be used to help every child step up to their next level whatever their ability. At the moment, it seems to be used to reward clever and beautiful children for being clever and beautiful. How else could one student be given two silver awards (Gold) in one ten week term? This amounts to 120 individual merits. There is a stinginess and stupidity which only allows merits to be given for extra-ordinary achievement.

My son would do nearly anything to get merits, yet he has no idea what he can do, and is not allowed to ask. If you want him to hand in homework or assignments, give him a merit for it, and he will probably do it again, until he can see the value in homework and assignments. Tell him what you want him to do and that you will give him a merit for it, and he will develop his own checklist which will lead to good habits.

Do not listen to the stupidity which says that a merit is a reward. It is a tick of approval which acknowledges he is on the right track, perhaps the highest form of motivation that there is.

This is my son. Look after him. Foster and protect his love of learning.