The English Teacher / The Social Network

Betting the Farm…

I’ve been teaching for awhile now. Much like ’40 is the new 30,’ or in my case ’50 is the new 40,’ ‘awhile now’ means I’m in my eighteenth year of teaching high school aged boys and girls. My discipline? English. An earlier post, From An English Teacher, With Love, highlights the daily grind. And with a nice cup of coffee, I love the grind most days. The teachers I know stay in the profession to make a difference in the lives of young learners — to help shape them, to light a fire in them that will continue to blaze long into their futures. Because it’s our profession, occasionally contentious discussion breaks about amongst educators. We come under the microscope fairly regularly, and to be fair, we probably should. Preparing the next generation matters a great good deal, after all. WHAT we should teach/HOW we should teach to prepare students and how will we know we’ve been successful? Well, therein lies the contentious rub. A recent listserv conversation prompted me to jump into the fray — thinking about what high school is for. My two cents, worth roughly 2 cents:

If I had a farm (I don’t) I would bet the pasture, barn, horses and cattle that [I probably] don’t align altogether in educational philosophy [with other teachers], and I know I know far less than [many] in the education-ese department. But to that I say, “so what?” We don’t have to align altogether for me to recognize the good sense in what [other teachers know and practice]. High school is an important time. So is toddler-hood. So is college. For goodness’ sake, one of the greatest things we could ever do for the next generation (WHENEVER we meet them in our classrooms) is to help them see that learning is life-long. that it’s good. that it matters. MC tests may/ may not demonstrate what students have learned. they certainly demonstrate what a particular test writer (that’s not always the classroom teacher, which frankly makes me sick) wants to emphasize. 
High school ought to be for inspired opportunities to learn. About self. about others. about the world. about ideas. I vividly recall crying over page long physics problems. I don’t recall much about physics other than that, though I expect I did encounter an awareness, even if it was fleeting, that not everything is easy, and a measure of perseverance will be required to get through the ‘hard stuff.’ It probably didn’t occur to me until later that ‘hard stuff’ covers much more than the academic side of life.  I do recall plagiarizing an entire paper and getting an A on it. That can only mean the teacher didn’t read what I wrote, or didn’t suspect anything odd when my personal voice shifted to an encyclopedic dryness that had never existed before. I was a complete wretch for plagiarizing the worldbook encyclopedia, but I still hold him in some sort of contempt for giving that paper an A. what did I learn? I learned disdain and frustration for sure. I also learned that term papers are often a complete waste of students’ time when handled so shoddily. High school ought to be for developing life-long literacy. High school ought to be for developing problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, and facility with language. It ought to be about developing social responsibility and the privilege of citizenship. It ought to be a foundation building time — so that students can go to university, the military, countless trade schools, or the world of work, and be competently prepared for the next things that they will learn. 
Standardized test performance  (is this really the best marking of meaningful learning?!) as indicator of successful schools stifles all participants. That our students do learn in spite of some systemic idiocy shows us how great learning could be  if we were able to attend to significant matters other than funding (tied to test scores), demographics (more about test scores), and packaged curriculum (guaranteed to make publishers some $$ and raise test scores). 
My words came in a rush and I share them in the same fashion. Perhaps not a polished entry, but an impassioned one, certainly. Because Learning matters. The ‘next generation’ matters. The system we call “Education” may not be devoted to either. I am.  And the teachers I call my colleagues and friends are too.

2 thoughts on “Betting the Farm…

  1. I concur completely. I understand why standardized tests exist, but we (students/people) are not uniform. Why should the tests be? I am sorry nobody has allowed a better way to assess student and teacher performance.

    I have a good friend whom I have known since we were five years old. She was always extremely creative and very intuitive where the arts were concerned, but she never quite “got it” in regards to the supposed more “academic” subjects her peers learned so easily. I remember one day in particular from seventh grade. We had to draw a map of Africa (I think…that was a long time ago). She drew it perfectly, and each country sported its own animal print background instead of the typical Crayola oranges, blues, and reds mine normally did. Thank God for the teacher who thought to help us learn geography by other means than memorization of some worksheet.

    It’s hard work to be a teacher. It’s harder to be a good one. You can’t cater to every students’ learning style, but you can try your damnedest (sorry) to bring out the best in every student. Keep on keeping on, even if the system is broken. You do your best not to achieve some unattainable statistic, but to make the difference that nobody else can.

    • Kimber — that friend of yours with creativity and intuitive understanding proves the challenges of mass education. Aiming to the middle and sacrificing the edges (the smart ones will get it anyway and the ones who struggle will likely get some ‘extra help’ mentality). Education is messy. and even though many are trying to ‘clean it up,’ policy and standardization will probably fail. AAAAHHHHH! Keep striving, girl. Learning matters!

      Thanks for reading commonchapters! More, thanks for encouraging me as a writer / teacher. Thanks most of all for attesting to the importance of learning in community, and carrying the torch to the next generation. So glad that we shared time in a classroom together. Honored to have been one that taught you, girl. 🙂

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