Thoughts on teaching…
As a student in education I learned about curriculum development, child psychology, child development, teaching methods, formal and informal assessments, and literacy. I developed communication skills and learned how to read educational research. I practiced/interned in different schools, with different students, and different age groups.
After years of university classes and field experiences I became an educator. I spent more than 40 years as a paraprofessional, a certified teacher, and a volunteer practicing the skills, applying the knowledge I gained as a student, and learning about education through my experiences.
During those years I…
- taught 5 year-old kindergartners, 30 year-old graduate students, and those in between.
- counseled students and parents.
- analyzed the behavior of students as they read difficult material and while they played at recess.
- deciphered standardized test scores and used assessments to understand children’s abilities, preferences, and achievement.
- wrote lesson plans, revised them in the middle of the lessons, and reflected on unsuccessful as well as successful interactions with students.
- daily rehashed events in my classroom in an attempt to improve on my own failures or identify what it was which sparked my successes.
I continued to learn as a graduate student throughout my career, earning certifications and endorsements in three additional areas.
- conferred with colleagues about ways to improve our practice and developed in-service presentations which I shared with teachers to inform and support them.
- worked with administrators to help them find ways to support teachers so they could support students.
- spent evenings checking and examining student work which helped me decide whether to reteach concepts for students who needed it, or move ahead to new material when students were ready.
- comforted students who were afraid during tornadoes and fire drills or who experienced psychological or physical trauma at home.
- cheered students who, after struggling, learned to read a difficult passage or solve a confusing problem.
- told parents the sometimes difficult truth about their children’s achievement and comforted them when their own guilt was misplaced or overwhelming.
I had successes as a teacher which provided life-changing experiences for my students…and I had spectacular failures with students who I was unable to reach, some of which still haunt me. I cared about all my students, even those who were the most difficult to reach.
…especially those who were the most difficult to reach.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT TEACHING
I learned that
- You probably won’t learn to be an effective educator with just five weeks of summer training.
- You don’t know about how children learn just because you were a child and a student.
- You don’t know about Education just because you have a lot of money. Founding Microsoft, Netflix or Facebook doesn’t qualify you to make education policy. Neither does buying politicians with your family’s fortune. (Betsy DeVos…this means you.)
- Just because you are elected to a governmental position doesn’t mean you are an expert on education.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT LEARNING
- Children who believe they can grow, will grow. Adults who believe they can grow, will grow. No one ever “finishes learning.” Some people stop learning because 1) they don’t think there is anything left for them to learn or 2) they don’t think they are able to learn more. Both are wrong.
- A “lazy” child (usually after fourth grade) probably got that way not because he decided he didn’t want to do hard work, but because he found it too painful to face failure. It doesn’t hurt as much to be seen as lazy as it does to be seen as incapable. The same goes for the “class clown.” Being singled out for misbehavior is less painful than being singled out for being “less smart.”
- All children can learn, but children don’t learn at the same rate. Expecting all children to grow at the same rate academically is as foolish as expecting all children to grow physically at the same rate. Not everyone learns to walk at the same time. Not everyone learns to read at the same time. Punishing (and retention is punishment) children by retaining them based on a third grade reading tests (IREAD-3) is expensive and ineffective.
Teaching is more than just providing students with information. It takes specialized training and experience to be a good teacher – just like every other profession!