Rants, Teacher

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­A guide or a sage? Spare me the crap. (Part 1)

standardised-testing-1Michael Zwaagstra, a school teacher and self-professed saviour of the education system, recently wrote an opinion piece that appeared in my local paper.

He said universities are brainwashing teachers to be a “guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage”.

Oh, spare me the melodrama.

Most teachers I know don’t have time to pontificate on whether they are guiding or a ‘sage-ing’. They are too busy teaching.

In a series of Common Sense Education videos on YouTube, Mr. Z has proclaimed that the “progressive ideology” of today’s education system is a failure.

Ah, yes. Once again, the education system is a failure. I’d be upset by this…if I didn’t hear it every other day…every other year…in every other century.

Back in the ‘good ole days’, teachers taught one lesson plan to the class and everybody learned it and we were all happy about it.

Yup.

At least, that’s the story that keeps going around.

And yet, it’s not quite true. In fact, it’s not true at all.

People who yearn for those rose-coloured days of school, filled with spelling tests and multiplication memorization, tend to forget a lot of the facts that went along with these things.

Back in the 1970’s, when I started grade school, we didn’t have children with special needs in our classes. Children with physical or mental disabilities were sent to a different school. In my case, their school was right across the street from my school. They were literally a stones-throw away and we never got together. The kids in my class who struggled were labeled “slow learners” and they failed at the end of the year.

People who wonder why kids never fail anymore, hear me now: because it doesn’t work.

Do you seriously know anyone who failed a grade (or two or three) who went on to great academic success because they had a chance to “catch up”? In my high school, these were the guys who went to the liquor store for you in grade 11, because they were already 20. They weren’t burning up the academic world thanks to being held back. They were just putting in time in a system that didn’t give a crap about them or their special learning issues.

In 2005, the Journal of Applied School Psychology published a study of students and discovered that:

Across grade levels, those events rated as most stressful by children were: losing a parent, academic retention, going blind, getting caught in theft, wetting in class, a poor report card, having an operation, parental fighting, and being sent to the principal.” 

Wow – kids would rather go blind than fail a grade.

And don’t forget about those kids at the school across the street. They were segregated from their peers, kids who may have lived across the street or were in their own family.

Thankfully, things have changed.

This new “progressive ideology” tries to treat students with respect.

All children are now considered worthy of a public education. We know that everyone benefits from integration (when it’s properly funded and implemented). Those who learn in different ways are taught in different ways.

Unfortunately, it is very, very hard to provide individual support when you have 30 students and one teacher.

Mr. Zwaagstra says that teachers are burning themselves out trying to adapt their lesson plans to meet every child’s individual learning style. He advises:

“Instead of wasting their time designing multiple lessons for each topic, teachers should put more effort into instructing the whole class at the same time.”

I agree that teachers are burning themselves out (please see a picture of me labeled, Exhibit A), but this ‘helpful’ advice just doesn’t ring true today.

We need to make some changes to our education system, but just declaring it a failure and going back to the good old days isn’t going to work. It’s 2013.  We have to look at today’s kids in today’s system and figure out what works best for them.

To be continued…

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