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If truth be told, and I always do, I was once the type of teacher that I teach my students not to be. When I need examples of things that one should not to do in a classroom, I need not go far for an example. That being said, I must add, that I was not the same teacher at the end of my career that I was at the beginning. Luckily, I was better at the end than I was at the beginning. Through reflection and instruction and a great many years of experience, I developed, I learned, and I changed. I was happier with myself as a teacher in the latter half of my 34 year, K-12 history.
I did not start out as a teacher. I never took an Education course until I secured a position as a teacher. My Education training came on the graduate level. I was never a student teacher, because it was waived. Since I felt so fortunate to have a teaching job, I was willing and eager to learn. With that eagerness I turned to the veteran faculty members for help in developing methods for teaching. In the 70’s they were all old school. That is probably where the term “old school” came from. My mentors taught me to teach as they were taught, for that is what they knew. It worked for them and it will work for all the students in the future. That is what I was told.
My lesson plans were more historical fiction than plans. I needed to turn something in each week and I was always a week behind. This of course was another time. My tests were designed for speed of grading. I controlled my classes including students and course content. Fortunately, we learn from our mistakes. What we do with what we learn, however, is what ultimately counts. At least that is my hope.
For whatever reason, people hold Politicians steadfastly responsible for whatever first statement they ever made on any given topic. They are not permitted to waiver from their original stand. It seems to be applied even more steadfastly to issues of controversy. Politicians are not allowed to reflect. They are not allowed to consider new information. They cannot rely on new research that might have an effect on their original position. Once a politician states a position he/she lives with it forever.
Teachers are not held to this standard. They do reflect. New information makes a big difference in what they teach. Research affects what they do and how they do it. If all that is true, there is only one factor that stops this from creating change. That would be the teacher’s unwillingness to reflect, consider, and implement change on a personal level. Teachers too often see no need to do so. Changing this factor may take us a long way in changing the system.
Professional Development often does not address attitudes and the need to do things differently. It presents new tools with bells and whistles that may not be complicated, but are often presented in a complicated way. In addition, these tools often have no relevance to what teachers are teaching. That is the way many teachers perceive it. Tech tools are not presented in the context of a lesson specific to the teacher. As always, I will again say this is a generalization and it does not happen everywhere. Since you are still reading this post there must be a reason. It may have to do with all of those other teachers that you may know who fall into this category.
All teachers should be familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, even though some may need to be reminded of it. If we buy into Bloom, as we should, we accept the fact that the least effective way kids learn is through memorization of facts. The most effective way kids learn is creative thinking. That being established, let us examine the focus of most teaching. What is the focus of most lessons of most teachers? ( you may feel more comfortable with the word many instead of most). If the teacher’s Focus is on Facts, we have a problem.
I know most teachers believe that they are teaching students to be creative. That being the case let us consider the summative assessments, Unit Exams. Are they multiple choice questions? Do the questions ask for fact recall? Are the answers on Scantron sheets or bubble sheets? I am not diminishing the need to know and recall facts. They are necessary. I am questioning the focus of teaching. Memorization of facts may be useful and has its place. The focus of the lesson however should focus on creative learning in order to access the highest level of learning. Authentic assessment might be a better way to look at success in creative learning
Taking this back to Professional Development, if we agree to focus on creative learning, we will need students to use creative tools to research, access, analyze, collaborate and communicate in a creative way. The PD need only teach awareness of tech to the teacher. The teacher will soon ask more detailed questions as the needs arise. Students may become the impetus for learning technology for the teacher. As the students take ownership of their learning, they should use the tech to accomplish their goals. If the teacher is driving the bus there is no need to be able to do an engine tune-up. Students will use tech more and more as the teacher guides them through their tasks. Learning will go both ways. As a teacher I often found myself learning from my students. I still do.
Some may see this as an oversimplification of a complicated problem. If that is so, then refocusing how we teach, and the focus that we use in lessons every day should be a simple solution. Teachers must Reflect, consider and Change. They are not politicians and have the ability to change and grow.
My belief is that we need to change the culture in order to change an Education System. It is a system that often fails the teachers as well as the students. This change can start with us. We are the change. After that we can select something else to tackle. There are enough problems to choose from.
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