April 23, 2009

Work, Learn, Enjoy?

I believe that a student getting an education should have three goals: work, learn, and enjoy. These should be the same three goals of their teachers, and the educational institution they attend. While I think that these three goals remain at the core of the beliefs upon which everything in education is built upon, as I talk with the graduating seniors this year about their educational experience, I wonder if educators and education have 1) fail to communicate to students that these are our goals, and 2) lost sight of our goals while trying to appease forces outside of education.

Getting an education should be work, hard work. I make my students work hard and they are shocked by it. However, I don’t make them work as hard as they should, and that shocks me. Many teachers will assign packets of “busywork” (the students’ description) in lieu of projects, reports, and essays. Sure, packets are easier to grade, but they are also easier for the students to fake. I often see kids copying each others answers in these lengthy packets of worksheets. For the students to work hard, the teacher must work hard, and don’t we already work hard enough?

The larger question is do teachers work hard at the right things? Are we working hard to teach our students to learn? I am afraid that we are raising a generation who do not know how to learn, and cannot solve problems independently. When I raised this concept in class I had a young lady ask me what learning was? Scary. As reflective teachers I think we need to focus on not just the content of the courses we teach, but the process. Are you teaching your students how to find information, synthesize it, and apply what they have learned?

I said many times that school should be fun, and some teachers disagree with me. Ok. But at least students should enjoy the process of gaining education. Think about it, we like to do things that we like to do. Do your students like to learn? Do they enjoy the learning process? Do they enjoy working hard to reach the goals set by you in your classroom? I believe that they should. It’s easy to point out that school teaching isn’t real fun for teachers right now. It’s not. But our frustration should not be passed on to our pupils.

I am the educational leader in my classroom. I intend to maintain the following three goals for my students: 1) that they work hard at the assignments I give them, 2) that they learn how to learn and problem solve on their own, and 3) that no matter what the task is at hand, that they enjoy the process of working and learning. Perhaps it is not possible for all students and teachers all the time. I can’t change that. What I can do is keep myself and my students focused on what makes an education so valuable and worthwhile.

April 10, 2009

They don't know that they don't know?

I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and neither do my students (most of them.) Events in my life over the last few weeks have had a whopping impact on my perspective on teaching, life, and especially on my efforts with my students. I had this topic written down for quite a while, but it has taken me some time to realize how and what to write about the fact that I didn’t know that I didn’t really know about poverty. And not just poverty, but about desire, about homelessness, about ambition and dedication and commitment. I thought I knew.

I went to Mexico over spring break. Almost as a clique of what to do during my two weeks off, I went with a group of students to build a house for a homeless family. I know that there is poverty in Mexico; I know that there is poverty in my school. I’ve seen pictures of shanty towns. My father drove me down to 4th street in Los Angeles when I was a young person. But this was the first time I have worked along side someone desperately trying to improve the quality of his life, and life for his family.

Or is it? Isn’t that what I do as a teacher everyday: work along side someone desperately trying to improve the quality of his or her life? I think it’s the “desperate” part that is missing from my students. Most of them do not seem very desperate to learn. Perhaps it is the population that I teach. Perhaps it is the times we live in. Or perhaps they do not feel the urgency to improve because many do not understand the opportunities of an American education and have not experienced a real need. They don’t know that they don’t know.

I was struck by the children of Mexico who have nothing to occupy their play time; nothing but each other’s company. I wondered if they have the same ambition for their lives as I have. Then I watched Slumdog Millionaire. No wonder it won best picture; what an amazing story, and an amazing film. The brothers who lived in a trash pile clearly had ambitions for a better life, and were willing to do whatever was necessary to survive. Jamal was desperate to endure, even if he couldn’t read the Three Musketeers and never learned the name of the third.

As educators, I feel that it is critically important that we keep our eyes open. Just because we can’t see what goes on beyond the closed doors of our classrooms does not mean that it is acceptable for us to choose ignorance. We need to recognize in ourselves that we don’t know what it is like to walk in the shoes of ALL of our students. We don’t. But we need to make the point with ALL of our students that we all need to be cognizant of the whole world we live in, and not just our small corner.