February 2, 2012

How Would I Want to Learn?

Following the new blog series on Education Rethink about being an Indie Teacher, I've found myself thinking more and more about how I would like to learn.

If I'm going to be the best teacher that I can be, then I need to understand and be the best student that I can be. But, by today's standards, that seems to be a TERRIBLE student.

When I was a student I wanted options and space. I wanted to take a project and rework it to make sense to me. I wanted to engage in a fair amount of civil disobedience. If a teacher wanted a notebook turned in, then I would be the student with the trash filled backpack that would get a C in the class because I didn't RE-TURN-IN the work that I had already turned in for a grade before. If I thought an assignment was silly, over simplistic, or beneath me, I wanted to satirize it and turn it into great work AND a statement of my feelings. I wanted to be able to work in a group, but with people whom I was comfortable with. I also wanted the ability to work alone. I wanted to be challenged, but only when I thought that the challenge warranted my efforts. I wanted my teachers to recognize my intelligence and to allow me to believe that I was subverting the system, while still achieving its goals for me.

If I am to use myself as an example, then students need a lot. They need nuance, they need attention, they need to be left alone, they need respect, they need the opportunity to be a little disrespectful, they need to be heard, they need to be challenged, they need to not have their time wasted, and they need to be trusted. Oddly enough, these are all of the things that I need as a teacher as well.
Photo via EAWB: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eawb/

As a student I tried my best to find a niche in the system that would fit my needs. I was lucky enough to find just that when I joined the theatre classes at my high school. EVERYTHING that I listed above I found in theatre, but that's not going to be the answer for everyone. I was lucky, I found my voice early in life - it wasn't easy, especially since I stumbled upon it. I thank my brother quite a bit, being a role model for a strong personality, I took a lot of cues from him.

Students do not typically have a well defined sense of personal voice and opinion. We subjugate them in school, we divide them, classify them, keep them in their seats, attempt to standardize them, and force feed them a one size fits all curriculum. By the time they get to me in the 6th grade they have very few opinions left.

What I'm trying to get at is students need voices strong enough to recognize what is right and wrong for them and then to speak out for change. They need to be able to go to high school and realize whether or not they need a 2nd language to go straight to a four year college (I didn't because I didn't). They need to be able to decide whether a hefty load of AP courses is for them, or if they need the standard set to free up some of their time, or if they need something more remedial to catch them up. They need to understand that they don't need to be perfect to be great. They just need an opportunity to be themselves in their education.

How do we teach that?

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