Last week I went to my sons' middle school back to school orientation. It is a little like the worst relay you've ever seen. Each teacher gets seven minutes per period, with 3 minutes in between. So you go from one incredibly rushed presentation to the next, until at the end of the night you can't remember anything except the cool fish light in the science teacher's room.
I felt so odd sitting there, remembering my own middle school experience. At first I felt that all the talk about goals for the year and learning strategies and such were so much hooey. They never had that kind of stuff when I was a kid, we just did our work and that's what the teachers focused on. Or maybe not.
I suddenly realized the difference in perspective between a child and a parent regarding school. I know that it is there, but I always figured it was no more than the difference between being the boss and being the employee. The idea that teachers had a higher goal than just getting me to finish any given assignment rarely occurred to me as a child. The notion of the numerous goals teachers have at seemed odd and overblown. Why so much structure and learning goals that have nothing to do with my child's ability to remember the dates to the revolutionary war or how to find x?
Since I have always been prone to daydream in a school setting it was the perfect place to ponder this change in educational styles since my youth. I came to the amazing conclusion that perhaps teacher styles haven't changed that much after all. I never paid attention to the "goals" in any given class. I wanted to pass the test and do the assignments and get as high a grade as possible with as little effort as possible. (The fact that often this grade was an A makes my husband mutter things under his breath.) I was not an ideal candidate for many of the educational theories wandering around campuses at the time.
On Saturday I happened across this episode of This American Life. It talks about the different ways children are adversely affected by poverty and what comes of it, then it explains how the right methods can overcome those bad beginnings and improve all kinds of outcomes for these children. It was the most positive episode of the show I've ever heard.
Combined with my musings about teachers and their goals I have reached an important decision. I don't think I would make a good teacher, at least right now. I had often thought if something happened to my husband I would get my teaching certificate quickly and go right into teaching, no problem. I could start substitute teaching almost immediately. What I didn't understand is the depth of knowledge involved in the art of pedagogy. Anyone who had been in college knows that some people just weren't cut out to teach. Since you aren't required to learn about teaching to be a professor, you get whatever native ability comes with each one.
Pedagogy is an art, but one that can be taught. Like any art some are better than others and some should just give up and find something else to do. Teaching cognitive abilities (facts) is such a small part of what happens in a classroom. Those facts do nothing for a child if they can't sit still, pay attention, complete an assignment, plan ahead. The list of non-factual abilities is endless. Any child who wishes to succeed must also master these. That is what all those weird goals are about. Teaching children how to "do school" in such a way that they then can "do life."
I always pray for my children as they go off to school. Perhaps I should remember their teachers as well, for they have an incredibly difficult and important job ahead of them.