Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Brief Hiatus

Hey guys-

I'm not saying I definitely won't be posting anytime soon, but... I'm in the middle of grad school applications, moving and the usual end-of-the-school-year craziness, plus going to the doctor a lot. (Don't worry, I'm fine. Just dealing with the usual issues from having a chronic problem.)

Before you know it, though, it'll be the end of May and I'll have more free time than I know what to do with. See you then!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Read this!

Harold Shaw has a series of interesting posts up about "Learning from a Master Teacher":

The whole sales transaction took about 45 minutes and I learned a great deal about operating my new chain saw. When I bought my first chain saw, I walked into big box store, went to tool aisle, picked up box, waited in line for a cashier, paid money and walked out in less than 10 minutes. I had never owned or operated a chain saw prior to this, so I took it home, not knowing if it worked or how to operate it safely. Looking back I am very lucky that I didn't injure myself seriously in my ignorance.

That was my initial lesson from this master teacher. Looking back at it here are some of the lessons he taught me."...

Go read them, and comment. His ideas are interesting, but I'm not coherent enough today to do them justice in comments.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Democratic Education vs Standardized Curricula

Pragmatically I get the purpose of curriculum, standards, et cetera. I'm not even sure I want to live in a standards-free world. I like having an idea of what is expected of me and my students during the year ahead of time. I like the idea of deciding that certain knowledge and skills are important. I also like not making up my curriculum from scratch! There are things that I teach that I wouldn't have thought of and have made me learn more about aspects of US history that I previously didn't care about.

I have this problem, though. An idealistically mandated curriculum is a form of authoritarianism. I object to authoritarianism in all aspects of life. I live in what is supposed to be a great republic!

People scratch their heads over low voter turnout in the United States, especially among the young adult crowd. I think a large part of the problem is that people don't have practice with democratic institutions outside of voting. It's not just schools, but schools are part of the problem. Schools don't teach democracy because they're undemocratic.

Consider for a moment the irony of memorizing the democratic process because you are forced to by someone you didn't elect, have no influence over, and who runs their classroom like a totalitarian dictatorship.

Mandated curriculum makes truly democratic education nearly impossible. When teachers are teaching based on a decision they had very little input into, then they're more likely to teach as authoritarian authorities. Sages on the stage, not guides on the side, as my education professors would say. Learning is messy, it leads you into tangents and no-exit alleys and all over the place if you let it. You can't, though, if you see teaching as following a set-list slavishly.

"Why do we have to learn this?" is a pretty depressing question to deal with if you're teaching something you don't think is important. After all, telling your students "because a faceless bureaucracy said I had to teach it to you" doesn't really do much for their motivation either. The answer should be something like "because it's interesting and useful" or, even better, "because you asked to!"

I don't know how you reconcile mandated curricula with democratic teaching. How do teachers provide students choice (proven to be one of the best motivators out there) when they are given none?

Next time: Why I think this is so important. Also, a possible middle way through this dichotomy.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

But how do you do that?

Sometimes I read articles/weblog entries about education and I see myself in their description of a student poorly served by the current system. Seriously, can anything be more depressing?

I was a good student. I worked hard without succumbing to the insane class-rank/GPA obsession of the overachievers I was surrounded by. I got complemented by college professors for my writing, discussions, analytical ability, etc. I've never thought of myself as slow, needing a lot of directions and so on, in fact, I thought of myself as comparatively independent.

Yet none of that has prepared me for the reality of being a teacher.

My senior year of college I took the hardest education course I'd ever had. I don't actually remember the title, but it was an educational media course that was also taught as an extreme constructivist class. It was the hardest thing I'd done in my life until I actually started teaching, and then I realized that all the things that had frustrated me about that class were what life was really like in the classroom. What felt like too much and yet not enough direction was a perfect replication of the situation of the classroom teacher.

Nowadays. I realize that there's a lot I want to do, and I read about it, but I just can't put it into practice. I see great ideas and then I think "So how do I do that in my classroom, in my circumstances?" and I get stuck. The fact that I sometimes feel like I need step by step instructions for management is part of the problem too. It's like I got so used to being told how to do things as well as what to do that I can't see it for myself.

I want to be a teacher who provides engaging, relevant education full of interesting activities, whose management style and confidence allows them to let go when necessary, who comfortably uses and teaches students about digital tools. (And a lot of other things, too. I have big goals.)

I don't know how. It's my favorite complaint. It's also something I need to get over.

(but I don't know how!)