I just spent some of the best 17 1/2 minutes of my life watching a TED Talk called “The Toxic Culture of Education”by Joshua Katz, a High School teacher of Mathematics. During the view, I thought Joshua’s blood pressure was about to need medical attention and with that came an energised appetite for “THOSE Students”.
He spoke of “THOSE Students” who want to do well in school and wanted to achieve in life and have purpose but he talks about them being “stuck in academic mediocrity”. How spot on is this statement…”academic mediocrity”. What we teach, what we test and what we want our students to achieve needs to have a purpose, a reason and the reason of required curriculum and standardised testing alone is no longer arguably good enough.
More and more I think of values and their importance in teaching children. I recently took a Year 6 class for a known Relief Day for another teacher. The day before the teacher introduced me to “THOSE Students” followed by a wink when the students left. Yes , a “nudge, nudge, you get what they are like now-wink”. Please explain to me what that was all about??!! I was instructed, because after nearly twenty years of teaching this teacher felt I needed more instruction, on student management. The advice was to stick your hand up to their face, when they become frustrated with the current learning and tell them you will “deal with it later”. Obviously “THOSE students” had become frustrated with the learning on regular occasions. I did deal with it later and “later” started straight away. Instantly, I wanted to build, what Joshua Katz stated was “relationships” with these students. Asking them to show me where the classroom was, even though I knew exactly where it was, and starting to ask them questions about themselves as we walked towards it. It was important for me to let them know that they were more than a “reputation”, which is what a standardised test often leaves for students. I wanted them to know that I respected them as a learner and as a person.
As it turns out, one boy was an avid science “genius” but his class didn’t have science based lessons that he was referring to. He was an ecologist; an astronomer and an future planner for environmental issues..yes, and he was one of “THOSE students”. He showed “worrying” writing skills, poor social skills, couldn’t paint / draw, in his view, to save his life but he could hold a class presentation on his science based interests. He used the interactive white board to hold the attention of the whole class for the entire afternoon period…he took the class! It was obvious that he was not at all interested in the lesson planned for the entire class and I can’t see the point, like Katz, of teaching them something they will never use and have no interest in whatsoever. This fluidity in the curriculum allows for “THOSE students” to show they are not failing something which the standardised tests so regularly do. Tests would fail this boy every time because “we are wrapped up in grades and answers” (Katz) but when it came to science, this boy wasnt “afraid to learn” (Katz)’ . Being able to show what he really knows was uncommon to him because it didn’t fit into the current curriculum for the class. He was caught up in the “toxic culture of education”.(Katz)
I recently wrote another post about the “CARING LEADER”. A caring leader looks to develop “integrity and character in others” (Katz). A caring leader, I believe, wants to know about the person and how they be an influence on them. As teachers, I believe we sometimes forget that we are so important to students because we believe that their high grades is an indication we care about teaching. We are influenced to believe this by so many factors around us. Of course high grades shows “care”, too, but “non cognitive” instruction and leadership teaches them “perseverance, initiative, social skills, communication, curiosity, work ethic, character”. What a fabulous report card that would look like when we are “talking about the non-cognitive” more so than just the grades.
When I graduated from teaching in 1991, I didn’t ask how I would please the governments or how I would please the parents on a standardised Test. I just wanted to teach and make a difference. I had time then to make a difference because I hadn’t been polished with the same cloth of testing, policies and political / economic influences.