Optimistic Teacher … despite the odds

My husband has told me that I am a pessimist.  For the most part I would have to agree.  However, there is one place where I am a definite optimist – teaching (and leading – which I consider almost synonymous but is not the focus of today’s post).

I have consistently had great hope and confidence in my students.  I set high expectations and watched my students succeed.  I have comforted them when they struggle and rejoiced as they have soared.  I believe in the human race.  In its capacity to create, dream, explore and innovate.  This is something that I believe belongs in the classroom.  (I believe it belongs in our leaders – but that is another road I will not take today.)

So when I read about Fear and Self-Loathing In the Classroom by William Johnson, I am disheartened.  I am not surprised, but it does make me sad.  While I do believe there is room for improvement in education, constantly hearing that you are failing does not engender even hope for change.

There are so many places students, children, teenagers are told they are not good enough.  Advertisers, the number of friends on Facebook, what they wear, what phone they have, grades etc.  Presidents and other “education experts” have been declaring for many years “Our schools are failing”.  We don’t need to add to the bucket of “fear and self-loathing”.

Some of the vignettes William Johnson shares in his article – a student becoming physically ill during high-stakes testing, another shaking uncontrollably while trying to recite a 14-line poem, the tears of not feeling smart enough for high school.  These are not isolated events.  With each cry of “Our schools are failing!”, do we not realize the impact on the individual students.

At the end of his article he cites the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher and teacher Dan Brown’s summary of the report in stating that our schools of full of fear.  This is not the ideal environment in which to grow our future.

I uncomfortably feel the weight of that fear.  My teaching has taken me out of the classroom.  I am one of those numbers who has left the K-12 classroom.  I taught for 10 years.  My last group of students will be forever ingrained in my heart.  I went back for their graduation.  The first graduation in their family for many of them.  I grieved for those who were not there.  I rejoiced with the family of the valedictorian with a full ride scholarship to Brown and all the other first time college bound students.  And I cried with each one who looked at me in complete astonishment that I had kept my promise to be there.  I had come because I believed in each on of them.  I still do.

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Deciding where to work…

Work with the smartest people you can find, do something you’re not ready to do, find an environment in which you’re very comfortable so you can find your voice, and work for someone who believes in you — because when they believe in you, they’ll invest in you. – Marissa Mayer in Google Exec Marissa Mayer Explains Why There aren’t more Girl Geeks

I have to say this is really good advice – no matter what kind of career you are in.

Change…

I have recently been learning about Media Ecology.  I am still at a very novice stage – my interests lie in helping education incorporate more visual appeal – especially as education is being moved online.  To help educators understand the implications of creating learning online.

Change, and dealing with change is always difficult.  In  a discussion forum a quote from The Magnificent Ambersons (Tarkington, 1918) came up in the context of change and efficiency.

When tactless George Amberson summarily dismisses automobiles as “a useless
nuisance,” his would-be father-in-law, Eugene Morgan, a manufacturer of the
new-fangled automobile, answers perceptively:

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward they
may be a step backward in civilization-that is, in spiritual civilization.
It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life
of men’s souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a
greater change in our life than most of us expect. They are here, and almost
all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring.
They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think
men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles;
Just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense
outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be
that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us.
Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in
men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but
would have to agree with him that automobiles “had no business to be
invented.”

Online learning is the “big” change in education that touts the banner of supposed efficiency. There is much that needs to be done to improve education, but in the context of the quote above – what if we simply replaced “automobiles” with “online learning”…

…with all [the] [immediate accessibility or other desirable attribute] [online learning] may be a step backward in civilization – that is, in spiritual civilization.  It may be that [it] will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls…

I do believe that learning is good and true learning would add to men’s souls – but it is something to think about.

…But [online learning] [has] come, and [it] bring[s] a greater change in our life than most of us expect. [It is] here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what [it] bring[s]…

Hopefully, online learning would bring greater accessibility to a greater amount of people in a greater amount of places.  How will it change  the way we understand life and the experiences that many have as common experiences to draw upon?

…[It is] going to alter war, and [it is] going to alter peace.  I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of [online learning]; just how, though, I could hardly guess…

With the various research being done about how video games and other media change the way the brain thinks – I wonder if online learning will change the way people learn.  Physically, the brain has great capacity to re-wire; will online learning re-wire our students brains?  How big a gap would that create between the generations with online learning and those without?

…But you can’t have the immense outward changes that [it] will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us.  Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend [online learning], but would have to agree with him that [online learning] ‘had no business to be invented’…

I don’t think I would go so far as to say that online learning should not have been invented.  And I do believe that we should not keep education in the same old rut it has been in for far too long.  But as we look at how we are attempting to change education, we should pause and weigh the balance between the outward changes and the unknown inward changes.

Just an interesting side-bar to think about…

Our Educational System Needs to Change

I don’t normally peruse the comments on Amazon – I read reviews, but not usually the comments.  However, I ran across this one that has me thinking.

“And the above areas such as classification, quantification, spatial relations, discovery, verbal construction, symbolic representation, freedom, development, creation, logic, paradoxes, visualization, auditory discrimination, critical thinking, observation and analysis, concrete tactile learning, analogies, allegories, literal recording, patterns in our world, etc. could help weave it all together. This would help to ensure diverse points of views, offer multiple ways of approaching any given subject, and would provide a variety of possible paradigms.” (retrieved from here)

Add these from Chief Learning Officer article Closing the Skills Gap

“What we’ve got is a systemic issue,” said Cheryl Williams, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, an organization made up of 17 education associations. “The system we have actually did exactly what it was designed to do, which was to prepare a quarter to a third of students for higher education and the rest for manufacturing jobs.”

“You can force adults and children to learn facts but you can’t force them to be curious,” Williams said. “What CLOs want in the workforce are people who ask questions, who collaborate with their colleagues, people who aren’t afraid to make a mistake.”

The last ones from Cheryl Williams about the educational system are telling and give us insight on what our educational system needs to be doing.

One of the things I loved about teaching middle school was that there was room to make mistakes.  I worked in schools were there was time, energy and encouragement to look at those mistakes and learn from them.  Adults took time to listen to students and talk through the learning so it became meaningful.  When I taught High School, I had parents down my throat if their student didn’t make the correct grade needed for the college applications.  I understood them wanting their children to have everything, but “saving” them from the consequence of an official B on their high school transcript also took away a valuable learning opportunity.

Collaboration requires give and take, cooperation, understanding where you are weak so you can find someone who is strong.  If children cannot learn from their mistakes, they will be unable to understand their own weaknesses.  Without that understanding there can be no true collaboration.

The system has to change.  We need more of what these two individuals describe.  The children in schools today are being “prepared” for a world none of us can completely imagine.  They need the skills that will help them create and survive in that world.

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