Continuing the Old Factory Model of Education and Expecting 21st Century Results

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I have been frustrated lately in my current new 5th grade position. I have been impatient, and critical, and negative. I am happy to say that most of this has been in my head. However, some of this negativity has been shared with my poor husband in our house, and I am embarrassed to admit, sometimes to my friends and family. February is a notorious month for teachers. There is said to be a slump that occurs with teachers in February. The cold winter months have been particularly harsh this season and the time between winter break and spring break can seem endless!

Anyway, I am searching, searching for ways that I can make an impact in my field. I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to truly practice my craft of teaching at my school. In addition, they have been so incredibly supportive of my efforts to grow and become a better teacher for my students. I have been critical of decisions, or perhaps more specifically, a lack there-of from my administrators. I want more curricular leadership, but I also want to keep my autonomy. I would not want to be in their positions and I am mature enough to realize my own irrational wants. I have been a learner for sure; however, my skill at being an empathetic learner has been lacking. My lack of empathy, I believe, has stemmed from a lack of understanding of what to do next.

While reading Michael Gorman’s post “10Steps for PreSearch Strategies…Digital Literacy Series Part I” I realized a couple of things. In order for 21st century teaching and learning to occur, a great deal of planning (i.e.time) needs to go into it. You cannot just throw Common Core Standards at teachers (which is what public schools in Baltimore are doing at the moment), tell them to teach in a 21st century way (for example, by creating project based learning units), create rubrics, embed all necessary skills, give formative and summative assessments, and at the same time, not adequately train teachers how to do this and not give them the proper amount of time to plan and learn!

It seems to me, we are still treating teachers using the old factory style of education—  Input:  Common Core, no time to learn, not enough training…and expect an output:  Students that are creative, innovative thinkers that pass all state tests. It is a simple recipe, you put crappy ingredients in without enough cooking time, you will not get a tasty dish.

I suppose all of this has led me to understand that I have to be willing to understand that this new road technology has paved for education is new for all of us. Learning happens not only on the part of students and teachers, but also on the part of administrators. I need to speak up and say, “Look! Look what you are expecting! It isn’t a realistic model and you cannot change some parts of this new educational path and not the other. It won’t work, it hasn’t worked and it will never work that way.” Students are not little empty cans waiting to be filled and neither are teachers. This may be where my new next step comes in. I have such a great desire to help reignite passion into teachers loving their incredibly demanding jobs and I also have the desire to help bridge trust and respect back into the administrator-teacher relationship.

I have an idea of where to start and also know I need to put-up or shut-up. It’s certainly exciting to fantasize about where this may lead me!

PBL-An Empathy Builder for Teachers… Who Knew?

I have to admit, when I considered using The One and Only Ivan as my first core novel in 5th grade, I was a little worried. I know that most kids love animals and I thought that would be motivating for students to launch into a PBL on some aspect of animals; however, I, myself, am not a huge animal lover. I mean, I have two cats, I had a cat growing up, my dad had dogs and I loved them, but I just was never one of those kids who wanted to be a veterinarian, nor was I a kid who had folders for school with little kittens on them. I am embarrassed to admit this actually because it makes me seem a little hard core, but so be it, “I yam what I yam!” as Popeye says.  After I had children of my own, my love for animals also decreased a bit. Not sure why, except to say that my primary love became all about my kids.

But, I decided I could fake it. Did I have to have this huge amount of empathy and compassion for animals to teach this unit? I hoped not. One thing I didn’t expect to happen, was the change that occurred and is occurring within me! The more I learn, the more empathy I have for animals, and animals of all kinds! It seems so silly when I look at it now. Of course the teacher also learns while teaching! I am not, nor have I ever considered myself, “Teacher: All Knowing and #1 Person in Charge!” I am co-learner, chief facilitator, but first and foremost, co-learner. Project based learning has been an incredible vehicle to teach my students, but most surprisingly, it has taught me more than just content. It has taught me about my own heart.