Every time I visit a school, I find myself pondering what drew me to these environments. I loved school. I still do. Currently, I teach in a higher education environment, one I fear will follow the same negative, standardized path I left behind in the public K-12 realm.
That’s a real shame; and sitting in this high school auditorium, I rack my brain trying to remember what drew me in so successfully over 45 years ago.
I am here to observe a student teacher in a small, nearly rural school and I realize “racking my brain” is the reason I can’t come up with what I miss about school. I needed to rack my heart. The thing that made me love school was that it became my home. My refuge. My laboratory. My playground.
I am recapturing that feeling today watching a beginning teacher build rapport with students who show real interest in the subject. The environment is chaotic, dynamic, but never out of control. There is freedom and movement and students are at ease as they interact with one another and with the student teacher.
But this is a fine arts class. The teacher and students will not be prepped and tested endlessly. They are free to explore the information, to ask questions, investigate tangents. But how will we know they have learned anything?
We’ll know by what they’re doing everyday as they interact with one another other and with the teacher! The same way we’ll know they have mastered math, history, or English – by what they can produce – in a real world situation rather than on the one day they take a standardized test.
Oh, but then we will have to trust the classroom teachers’ assessments. Those same teachers the pols and public malign – until we need them to act as nurse, counselor, mother, father, friend, or mentor.
Allowing teachers to do what they do best – teach – without negative interference, is one step toward making schools real communities. Healthy communities foster a sense of belonging. Becoming a part of something important provides self-worth. Self-worth engenders the intrinsic motivation to learn. A curious, motivated mind is capable of reaching its fullest potential.
It really is that simple. Allow teachers to do their jobs and to bring to it all their personal gifts and talents.
Allowing – dare I say encouraging – teachers to teach as they see fit will not solve all the world’s problems immediately, but it is the one step that can turn schools into havens of learning. And that learning is the catalyst for the solutions we need.
It’s that simple.
But, it’s not easy.
And it’s not quick.
Politicians appear unwilling to listen or to wait; they must do something for which they can take credit – and the more complicated the solution the better. Good outcomes will never come from these kinds of adulterated maneuvers. Start trusting those with the most knowledge and experience. And as a teacher probably told you, use your common sense.