Teaching Should Be Magical For Teacher and Students
I understand! Seriously, I’ve been there. Eighteen years of teaching spanning thirty years and during that time I taught in grades 5-12 and even junior college. I never taught lower than that; it takes a special person to teach the lower grades. Those kids are so juiced up that they wear me out in ten minutes, so those of you who do teach the younger ones, you have my heartfelt respect.
I understand! I know the problems that you face. I know the frustration that you feel. I also know why you became a teacher in the first place, so that you could make a difference in the lives of children.
I understand! I have fought the same battles that you fight daily. I have dealt with the frustrated and angry parents and I’ve felt the heartache associated with having a student slip through the cracks.
I understand! I have come home dead tired and feeling like I have failed. I have had abused students and ones who seem so lost it appears they will never find their way to happiness.
I understand! I have been forced to teach to standardized tests all the while knowing that true education resides in the imagination of the classroom teacher.
I know the amount of time each and every one of you invests for your kids and I know the tears you have wept and the frustration you have experienced in trying to fight the good fight despite enormous odds. Having said all that, I also tell you that a new, renewed and inspired effort must be made. Those of you on the front lines must find a way to bring back the magic in your classroom because unless learning is exciting and unless kids walk into your classroom enthused then I fear the battle is going to be lost.
I bring no blame into this discussion. I only offer suggestions, possible solutions and encouragement. The hard work is left for you but I am convinced that each and every one of you reading this is not only accustomed to hard work but also willing to work harder if it means reaching your students and lighting a fire underneath them
So, shall we begin?
Teaching Is a Year Round Gig
For as long as I have been in education I have heard people say that the pay is pretty good considering that teachers only work eight or nine months during the year. First of all, the pay is okay and it is what it is. I could discuss the fact that a car mechanic working full time makes more money than the average teacher, or I could mention that a full-time grocery checker at a union store in Olympia makes $20 per hour and thus more than the average teacher, but for now I’m leave that topic alone.
Regarding the “only works eight of nine months” statement, I only have one thing to say: what a bunch of hogwash! Teachers I have known (and the teacher I was) work closer to eleven months per year and quite often work into the evenings and on weekends. How can that be you ask? The grading of papers and the drawing up of lesson plans do not happen by themselves. Teachers do not have a magic button that, when pushed, magically grades that stack of homework papers. Homework is traditionally graded at home and on weekends by the dedicated teachers. They can’t do it at school because they are at school to…..wait for it….TEACH!
I can tell you with a straight face and my hand on a Bible that during my eighteen years of teaching I always took July off for relaxation and then I started in on my plans for the next year in August. Rarely was there a weekend during the school year that I did not correct and grade papers.
Christmas vacation? Spring break? Yep, we had them and yep, much of that time was spent grading papers and doing lesson plans. No, of course not all of it, but certainly enough to dispel that bull statement that teachers only work eight or nine months per year.
Now I’m going to get out my cattle prod. If you are a teacher and you are not working extra hours to find the best way to teach your kids then why aren’t you? I know the system stinks but I guarantee one thing and one thing only: if your students are going to receive a quality education then you are the one who will have to provide it. I have no faith in the government when it comes to education. They are the ones, after all, who settled on “No Child Left Behind” and the current funding/standardized testing arrangement so there is no way I believe that the government will correct the situation in the near future.
I have no faith in School Boards. I have very little faith in Administrations. I do, however, have faith in the ground troops, the foxhole brethren who each day walk into the classroom and get down and dirty with the students who have been entrusted in their care. You are the ones who will have to go the extra mile, put in the extra time, to find a way to reach your kids.
And What Does It Mean to Reach the Kids?
Education is not rote learning. Education is not a recitation of facts and figures. Sadly it is becoming that as we rely more and more on testing results to fuel the system but that is not what education should be. Our number one priority and responsibility as teachers should be to teach kids to think logically, to develop their critical thinking skills. Only when that has been accomplished can we say as teachers that we have done our job.
I am astounded by the lack of common sense that I see exhibited by many of today’s youth. Logical conclusions that should be painfully obvious to them seem to be completely out of their grasp. They lack critical thinking skills. Oh sure, they can tell you the chemical composition of coal and they understand how to do a power point presentation, but send them out in the real world and they seem helpless when faced with a real life dilemma.
Before you do that, however, before you teach kids how to reason for themselves, you have one important task to perform.
Did you have a special teacher who made learning fun and exciting?
Students Need to Be Engaged, Excited and Empowered
If your idea of teaching is reading the chapter, doing the lesson set at the end of the chapter and then testing on the material then you quite simply are missing the point. We have all had teachers who taught like that and we have all wished that we were anywhere else rather than in that classroom. So why would we make our students sit through that?
This is 2012 and in case you haven’t noticed we are having a technological explosion. There are new gadgets being invented seemingly daily that are fun and exciting and that interest the students far more than learning how to write a proper paragraph. There are reality tv shows to watch and YouTube videos to film. There are dysfunctional families doing their dysfunctional thing and there are households where parents are too busy to insist that their children study for school.
Let me ask you this question: if you were a child with little or no support from home but a ton of support from your friends and hundreds of distractions in your daily life, would you be interested in school? What motivation would you have to learn if the encouragement and motivation were not in your home?
The motivation to learn has to come from the teacher! When a child enters your classroom they should be entering a place that is exciting. When a child enters your classroom they should be entering a magical place where the unknown is revealed to them, where mysteries are solved and possibilities are unlimited.
And Just How Do You Do That?
I guess the simplest way for me to answer that question is to tell you to put yourself in the student’s shoes. When you walk into your classroom is it an exciting experience or is it dull and lifeless?
Find a way! The resources are out there if you look for them. The internet offers so many opportunities for free resources but you have to put in the time to look for them. There are community programs available; there are freebies offered and workshops established that can help you. More importantly there are your own creativity and imagination to draw upon.
I do not for a second claim that this is easy but I do claim that it is necessary. I do not believe for a second that a dedicated teacher is satisfied with the status quo if it is not working. I do not believe that a dedicated teacher will rest until they have done everything in their power to achieve their goals.
Find a way! Kick over every rock, knock down every wall, keep doing what you must do in order to provide that magical place in your classroom where kids can reach their potential.
Find a way!
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)