Sunday, October 28, 2012


On Friday, my last period of the day was being a bit more obstreperous than normal.  Part of that is this class has its own challenges, and part of it was me telling them that I am the second teacher of theirs who is taking a different position on November 5.  The kids who came up from the elementary through the middle school have had teachers leave mid-year every year since 5th grade - I imagine they're sick of it, and I do feel bad about it. 

The one girl in the class asked if I like teaching.  I was in the middle of telling her that, yes, I did very much - when another student said, "It must drive you nuts when students don't do their work."  (He is a student who doesn't do his work).  I told him, "Nope.  I just press 'F' on the keyboard. It's your work, and your grade." 

That isn't strictly true, but it had the desired shock effect - all my young men who waste a lot of time every class and avoid work like it hurts - well, they finished the job at hand. 

It got me thinking about independence.  There are two major competing trends in education right now.  One of them is the philosophy that every student learns differently, so it's a teachers job to teach each kid in a way they can learn - if there are 25 different kids learning 25 different ways, that's 25 different ways to teach every thing every day.  It's called differentiation.  The other is that teachers should be judged on the performance of their kids. 

I agree with differentiation (that acknowledgment of different ways to learn, different strengths) but I think that my job is to help kids discover what their strengths and styles are and help them to make their own adjustments, their own scaffolding, to learn.  If you want to measure my teaching, don't use a single standardized (non-differentiated) test and then blame me for not differentiating, but, instead, measure if my students are more independent learners, if they've made strides in scaffolding for themselves. 

I do actually differentiate all the time.  I try to give students as much autonomy and choice over how they learn what I have to teach them - to the point of irritating teachers who are a lot more traditional.  And I LOVE "edtech", using technology in education.  It takes a lot of the same skills to write out, storyboard, shoot, and produce a movie that it does to write an essay, and it's a lot more fun.  I know my kids are writing a lot more than my more traditional counterparts, by and large, and they're a lot more invested because the product is a lot more public.  But, it isn't my job to do the work for them.  As adolescents, they need to start investing themselves in their work, because in a few short years, they will be on their own. 

It's kind of how I feel about politics, too.  I can either sit around and expect the government to differentiate for me to the point that I have very little responsibility and very little invested, or I can do it myself.  Now, I am not as independent as I would like, but it's a goal.  It's a lot of work, too.  I am not gifted in handiwork.  It takes me a lot longer to do things that involve building or putting things together, so if something like that needs to get done, it's going to take me a long time - much longer than the average person, and triple the time (if not more) than a person gifted in that area.  If a student doesn't have a quick memory or doesn't read quickly - they will have to take longer, use annotation methods - it's just the same as my lack of handiwork skills. 

There are times, paradoxically, that independence takes a group.  In our family, my daughter makes better cakes than me, but she can't make frosting to save her life.  So when it's a birthday, she makes the cake, I make the frosting.  The Bible talks about different gifts and talents - so that is part of the equation, too.  So, on that note, it is a good thing my husband is good at those handiwork things, or our farm would be full of my ramshackle building attempts rather than the lovely sturdy structures he makes.  So, I have to say, independence also means doing for yourselves a family group or a community - its a measure of self-investment, pride, hard work. 

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