Our teachers are charismatic, inspiring, and passionate about teaching our students, yet they sometimes feel limited by a system that doesn’t always play in favor of our students or our teachers. For the last century, the classroom experience, for most students, has revolved around lectures, note-taking, recall-based tests, and grades. For our teachers, unfortunately, it has revolved around that state test… the one that only tests a very limited amount of intelligence and capability within our students.
What I’m interested in is real learning — learning that comes from a large extent of applying knowledge to new problems and situations, research on questions and issues that students consider important, peer interaction, time to critically think, make mistakes, fail at activities and try again, and meaningful projects… time to dig deep with students and not feel rushed to cover all of the content at surface level meanings.
I want experiences for our students rather than short-term memorization. I want students to develop the skills and motivation to transform their lives and others.
My wish is for teachers to be able to honor what they inherently know to be true of teaching. They are the ones who spend 6/7 hours per day with our children, 180 days out of the year. They know how to teach and what to teach, but they also feel immense pressure from outside sources that sometimes deters them from doing what they know best.
But the good news is… sometimes from the chaos and the crises comes motivation! It’s from these challenges that we feel called to reinvent our education system in a way that feels right to us as teachers, and also does right by our students.
I see now more than ever that teachers, administrators, and most of us in the education field are on a mission to reimagine what our students are capable of doing. As educators, we know that placement such as outsized values on IQ, and the ability to perform and learn in only a few ways is an outdated practice. We know not to associate these skills with a person’s intrinsic value and worth.
We know that there’s all kinds of skills and abilities students have, and it’s about helping them build their own stamina on skills that don’t come naturally to them. It’s also about finding the skills and abilities that are unique to each student and teaching them how to understand they can be successful. We need to teach them success comes in all different shapes and sizes.
Just recently, I had my son and three of his friends sitting at my dining room table. We were discussing the education system, and I happened to know that two of his basketball-playing buddies absolutely hate school. They struggle and muddle their way through it. I then began to explain to them that I know many students who are gifted at many things, but reading, writing, and math doesn’t come easily to them.
I went on to explain that while I was in elementary school, we had reading groups that were named after birds. (We seriously did, and I know some of you recall this.) There were the elite readers, the “Cardinals and Bluebirds”; the average readers, the “Robins”; and then the low readers, which were called the “Blackbirds”.
I told them that I remember either being a “Robin” or a “Blackbird” during my elementary years. I thought I could read, but I struggled a bit, especially with the comprehension piece. Back when I was in school, you were labeled one of these bird groups in Kindergarten, and you never got to move groups! You never went from being a “Blackbird” to a “Robin” or a “Robin” to a “Bluebird.” Once a Blackbird, you stayed there your entire elementary years. Shoot, I remember going to music class, and each year I would cross my fingers that my music teacher would pick me to have a prominent role in the school play. I never got picked because she only picked the “Cardinals” or the “Bluebirds” for those parts. My cousin, Pat, a “Bluebird”, was chosen to play Johnny in Johnny the Appleseed. I remember thinking that he was just that much smarter than me.
Not only was I a “Robin/Blackbird” (to this day, my mother still thinks I was at least a “Robin”), but I remember having to go down to the basement of my loving Catholic Schools and get extra tutoring help that took place in a closet. To this day, my lovingly protective mother still comes to my rescue. She said recently, “Now Kimberly, they realized right away that you didn’t belong in that group.” Nope mom, I went to the basement for a long time for extra reading help, and I loved it because we were treated with candy if we were able to do well on our sight words.
But, looking back, I judged my self-worth as a student on not being classified as one of the smart kids. I told this story to my son’s friend and I could tell they were astonished…a teacher had trouble in school as a student?
Stay tuned next Thursday for Pt. 2 of Reimagining Education.