The Missing Piece in Education: The “New Teacher” has lost all their freedoms for effective teaching

21 Nov

Being a good teacher is probably one of the things I am most passionate about in life.  I have had experience with education at every level possible.  I have been a mother, I have worked with preschool age children, I have been a substitute teacher of all grade levels, I student taught in middle and high school level and was certified for high school math.  I taught mathematics and statistics to undergraduates and graduate students and I ran my own learning center where I worked with K-12 students in all subjects – reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, special education, and study skills.  I have written curriculum materials and have worked with many students who struggle with learning for a variety of reasons.  During all of this, I have witnessed what teachers do in the classroom and remember my own education as a student and when learning how to be an educator.  Most of what I learned about what makes a good educator came from a mixture of own experiences (especially watching what doesn’t work) and working with many different types of students of all ages over the years.

Let’s look at the traditional teacher – the traditional teacher is often overworked and underpaid.  This is unfortunate but this doesn’t give educators an excuse to do their jobs poorly.  However, were they ever given the education they needed on how to do their job well? My teacher education program was not where I learned to be a great teacher, I learned the status quo.  Teachers are also expected to follow recipes more and more so they are not allowed any artistic freedoms – let’s say that their classroom is totally lost on a math topic, a good teacher would be able to read their students and make adjustments, slow things down, and adjust the curriculum – teachers are not allowed to do that anymore.  They are told what they need to be teaching day to day, they are given the tests that they should use (even if they aren’t good tests), they can’t adjust and make sure learning happens.  When this is forced upon them, they become the NEW TEACHER – the NEW TEACHER, is not a teacher at all, just someone following a plan prescribed by some higher up and if the kids don’t get it, tough!  Fail them or give them a D and move them on anyway.

Here are the things that made me a great teacher, how many of these freedoms do teachers still have?  How many of them are taught to do these things (why teach them when they can’t use them?)

  • Make my own plan for the semester where I go quickly over easy material and give more time to harder material
  • Read my students and make adjustments for EACH individual class as needed, speeding things up or slowing down, sometimes even leaving out the less important things in order to get mastery of the more important things
  • Decide on what homework my own class should do each night
  • Choosing appropriate homework, so that students don’t do too little or too much and it starts easy and gets more challenging and different types of problems are asked
  • Making sure the homework assigned matches what I will ask students to know on a test
  • Providing students with a list of expectations, giving out a review sheet before a test, and a list of topics that students need to make sure they need to know for a test
  • Making learning more about what students learn than about jumping through hoops
  • Teach dynamically, I teach a concept, I do an example, I give an example for my students to try, I check to see if my students (all) can do it, we move on to next example or topic
  • Write notes for students in organized way that can easily be used for studying, create step by step directions for procedural mathematics rather than just doing an example
  • Not caring too much about penalizing students for late “small” assignments (either natural consequences can be given, instead of a zero, no grade or a reasonable amount taken off, not just, ‘here is a zero!’)
  • Allowing or requiring students to correct their mistakes, if they don’t learn what they did wrong – how is learning taking place?
  • Start from scratch each semester, I get better and better this way, I don’t use the same materials over and over – may use some but each test is new, review sheets are new
  • Making my own tests up and making sure the tests match what I taught in class, are filled with questions at different levels of Blooms Taxonomy, are both procedural and conceptual
  • Allowing students to “get it later,”  if a student is doing terrible but later shows they finally got it and has a full grasp of the concepts by the end of the semester / term / year, do they still deserve for all those poor grades to count against them, they got there, isn’t that our goal!
  • Don’t lose sight of the goal – student learning!!!
  • Realize that student grades are a reflection of how good a job I am doing
  • Make adjustments to an assignment or test if the majority of a class got a problem wrong or misunderstood a problem
  • Never be on a power trip.
  • Reach out to students and parents if they are struggling, have a plan of extra work that students who want to get there but aren’t there can do – never turn away a student who is struggling but wants to get it figured out, help them.

Most teachers these days do the following:

  • Follow a day to day prescribed outline given to them by someone else
  • Move onto the next day regardless of whether the students are confused or lost
  • Read from power points, assign book work, or do examples FOR the student as a method of teaching
  • Teach statically, not dynamically
  • For those that use the “flipped curriculum,” don’t even know how to teach dynamically when using this type of approach which is designed for dynamic teaching
  • Never make up their own problems
  • Rarely create review sheets for students
  • Don’t even know how to “read the class” to see if students are understanding or not
  • Aren’t allowed to use their own tests
  • Are told what homework to assign
  • Don’t know how to create homework that is developmental, starts easy and gets more challenging
  • Don’t know how to break information down into organized steps for students who have trouble doing this
  • Feel overworked
  • Some have lost their passion for teaching all together
  • Don’t understand that grading is a barometer for both student learning and teacher effectiveness

I think our education system just keeps getting worse and worse.  My dream is to some day get financial backing to open a school where I can hire and train a bunch of bright teachers to teach effectively, this is what makes the difference in education.


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