Some teachers are what is wrong with the system. They blame everyone else for the problems in modern-day schools: students, parents, school leaders and the government – but very seldom do they turn the bright lamp of accusation on themselves. (Not you, dear reader, of course… you have an active PLN and you read blogs like this one. You care about what you do. This automatically exempts you from what follows.)
(Note: The point of this post, and of my entire blog is to detail my own learning journey, as transparently and openly as possible. Hence, I seldom speak from a perspective of the expert giving advice to my followers… Most often, these are issues I am grappling with myself, and trying to work towards mastering. I am guilty of at least three of the ailments detailed below… But I am actively trying to change.)
I’ll jump right in:
Why Teachers Are What’s Wrong With Education:
- Some teachers keep petty grudges against students. Yes, this actually happens. And more often than anyone would care to admit. A student may say or do something wrong (whether by accident or by design) that raises a teacher’s hackles. Yet even after the problem has been addressed, and apologies have been issued, Mr Sanctimonious will refuse to be the adult and forgive… Sometimes justing biding his time until he can pounce and punish. (This makes Mr S a bully. But just trying saying that to his face…)
- Many teachers still refer to evolution as ‘just a theory’. And these are often the same teachers who proclaim that they are trying to get their students to ‘think’.
- Along a similar theme to the previous point: many teachers are sold on the idea of teaching critical thinking, but still put up Christmas decorations and hide Easter eggs. (See my blog post titled Dangerous Nonsense for more.)
- You know the type: They’re in their cars, with the engines running 5 minutes before the final bell. Yet they believe that students should all be involved in extra-murals in order to have a ‘holistic school experience’.
- The same teachers who put very little effort into preparing lessons (usually recycling something or other from their files) are the ones who believe kids should be given masses of daily homework. They’re also the ones who express their dismay at how students seldom seem to come up with any new insights these days.
- There are many teachers who love to use the word ‘rigour’, when they mean ‘conventional thinking’… As in: “We cannot implement a more ‘student-centered’ approach because it discourages ‘rigour’ in our students.” It amazes me at how this word is only used as a defense against implementing anything new. As if using any novel methodology will automatically be too wishy-washy to be effective.
- The same teachers who do not read their curriculum document thoroughly, are the ones who bemoan how ‘stifling’ it is. And then joyously set about implementing their stale, canned version of what they think they should be doing. (See my post here for how these teachers can overcome this problem.)
- Which leads to the biggest reason why teachers are what’s wrong with education: many teachers preference the syllabus over their students (rather than the other way around). Instead of unpacking and customising the syllabus to make it relevant and meaningful to the young minds in their classes, these teachers plow through their syllabi as if the only thing that matters is passing on this information. (And if you show them this, they will honestly fail to see the problem!)
- Teachers like to see growth and progression. They love to see their students’ eyes light up when they discover something new, or grasp a difficult process. This is the very reason many of us do what we do. However, there are large numbers of teachers who are reluctant to update their own skills, denying themselves those same ‘aha moments’ they love seeing in their students. (These are also the same people who think the ‘professional development’ means attending a course. They have not heard of Twitter – much less free on-line courses offered by Coursera, Google, Microsoft and many others.)
- Here’s the acid test: ask a teacher to mention two things Sir Ken Robinson has to say about education. If they cannot, they will very likely be the people who are quashing the education revolution. Specifically, these are the educators who treat the academically gifted as little princes and princesses. While the ‘others’ are left to struggle. (They will very likely also be the ones who insist that Mathematics, the Sciences and the Languages are more important than the Humanities and the Arts.) Of course, there are still very, very many teachers who have never even heard of Sir Ken. Here’s hoping at least one more will…
- I don’t think you would quite believe how many teachers, thirteen years into the twenty-first century, still believe that Bloom’s taxonomy is just something you learnt at varsity… Or that it doesn’t really apply to their own subject. Just sneak a look at their assessments and count the ‘level one’ verbs.
- Many teachers still think it is necessary to set questions that could potentially ‘catch them out’… As if somehow their egos would benefit from proving to their students how smart they are as teachers. To me, if an adult has to try and prove to a child how smart she is by making their assessments difficult, she might not be that smart in the first place.
- I’ve actually heard many teachers saying that they prefer to teach the older grades because they’re easier to relate to, and more rewarding to teach. They say they can be more ‘friendly’ with the older students. This is more than a little frightening because if an adult can ‘relate’ to a teenager in the way they suggest, they may need to spend more time with people their own age. (Or perhaps seek counselling in how to do so more effectively.) Also, I believe that the best teachers are the ones who teach younger children. It is far more difficult, and hence ‘rewarding’ to channel the myriad abilities and dynamic energies of younger students into something meaningful than it is to be the one who benefits from the success of this process later in the child’s school career. (Although the ‘seniors only’ crowd will often claim to have been the sole reason for a child’s success.)
- ‘Research projects’. Oh dear. Where to begin? So often, the topics assigned call for a minimum of thinking and evaluation, often resulting in plagiarised rubbish… which just as often is not detected because Mr Lazy doesn’t believe in checking Google, and that Wikipedia is not a valid resource… as if this will stop his students from going there. Project-based learning is a valid twenty-first century methodology, but many teachers think that this means giving students a simple, class-wide ‘topic’ to ‘go and find out about’. (I wonder how often this happens because their mark books need some plumping?) (Also, these are the same teachers who bemoan their students’ lack of insight. As Forrest Gump might have said: ‘Insight is what insight does’…)
- Who cares about intelligence types, learning differences and individualisation? Who prefers to teach lecture style? For a bad teacher,the answer to the first question is a cheerful and oblivious “not me!”, and to the second question, the answer is “why wouldn’t you?
- The teachers who are causing the problems they complain about so often, are also the same ones who believe their little classroom is an isolated, parochial republic. They refuse to build links between subjects and cannot fathom why a teacher would need to connect with other teachers… Both within the same school, and in other schools. Ask them about connecting with teachers around the world, and they will barely be able to hide their sneers.
- There are some who believe it is a good thing to compete for a student’s time, because it makes their own subject more important. They will overwhelm students with homework and assessments to get them believing that their subject is more important than the others. And yes, this does actually happen!
- Technology should enhance learning. It should never be used for its own sake. But some teachers refuse to believe that technology has any place in the classroom. Spot them by looking at who cannot ‘work’ the spreadsheet software at your school, or by listening to those who ‘didn’t get that email’.
- Problem-solving, tinkering, trying, experimenting… and failing. If a teacher has no time to do any of this, and cannot see the benefits of active engagement, paired with learning from mistakes, he is what is wrong with education. It is that simple.
- Among the most common and widespread sins: those teachers who insist that the point of school is to get good marks. I am not saying that this isn’t important. Only that good marks are a by-product of building self-esteem, tapping into students natural talents and passions, ensuring that they are happy, nurturing critical and creative thinking abilities and ensuring that youngsters have real-world, meaningful skills to take away with them. These are the students who perform best in exit exams anyway, as a symptom of having had a good education in what matters. Mrs Complains-a-Lot sees only the end product, and denies her students the most meaningful experiences school can offer along the way.
And this list does not even consider those incompetent teachers who simply cannot do their jobs properly. Or the ones who demand respect from their students without giving it first. Or some of the dangerous bullies who arrange their classrooms according to academic ability. Or … you get the picture.
Think of just five teachers at your school, or a school you know, who suffer from ten or more of the ailments detailed above. And think about how much better it would be if these teachers suddenly changed their ways for the better.
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