The Teacher’s Manifesto

This is a journal entry from my Apprentice Teaching while at Piedmont College.  This is basically the crux of my views on education and what aims of teaching should be.  While the practice of my views may have morphed over time, my belief that the praise of success and the consequences of failure should be shared with those who are supposed to be gaining the most of education – the student.  In order to create a better system for learning, politicians and teachers alike must grasp this basic concept that the focus of education should be to EDUCATE students (NOT stellar test scores, NOT making them feel all warm and fuzzy all the time, NOT using it as political leverage, etc).

February 15, 2008: The Teacher’s Manifesto

It has been determined that education is the end all solution to all the ailments of the country. If students are unable to read, it is the school’s fault. If a student drops out of school, it is the school’s fault. If a nation does not know their patriotic duty, it is the school’s fault. If there is violence occurring nowhere near a school campus on a Saturday night, it is the school’s fault. If a student fails a course, it is the school’s fault. However, if a school is doing well, and if a group of students are exceeding expectations, the system, or the educational program, is working. The school is the blame if something goes wrong, but sees very little praise when it is doing well. So for what reason does the teacher continue to work in the thankless job? Why do we tirelessly plan, grade, and teach, only to receive flak for the barriers and red tape that the system places in our way?

On Wednesday afternoon, I had my first, “THIS is why I’m here!” moment. The lesson itself was not anything special. In fact, it was a simple lecture, overhead graphing, and “teacher acting dumb to get students to think through the process” type of lesson. However, the lights went on in the students’ heads, and it was evident they “got” it. This first “AH HA!” moment was a landmark moment, as I cheered their success and they congratulated me for explaining the concepts well. It was the first moment the class as a whole and I just “clicked”. We knew that, as a class, we had become one…and we were happy.

Granted that lightening has yet to strike twice, this was a moment to celebrate, but also contemplate and think through as well. Knowing that, as a teacher, I faced many of the same barriers and red tape that most schools do; I had just gotten through to the students…that nothing had gotten in my way. I wondered what the secret was. I wondered what it was that I did that helped me reach the students. In truth, I had not done anything out of the ordinary except one thing: I had let the students guide me. I had let go of control and allowed students to tell me what they had learned and teach the concepts back to me. I allowed them to take control of their own learning, and they exceeded my expectations.

The teacher dooms him or herself to failure if he or she is unwilling to give up the total control in a classroom he or she wishes to have. There are stories of teachers, past and present, that have completely lost their classes because they are unwilling to listen to their students, tailor lessons to their students, and give students power over their own education. When a teacher takes on all responsibility and all privilege of making classroom and educational decisions, they must also take total responsibility of the failures that are possible in the classroom. However, if the teacher is willing to give students power over their own education, leaving them to make personal choices (while training them to make good ones), the student shares the burdens and responsibilities of their own successes and failures. Doing our very best to guide their learning and giving them skills to teach, learn, and study, if students simply do not take the responsibility of their own learning, the flak falls on them.

Education revolves around the students. As much as teachers, administrators, politicians, and parents all want to take credit for the successes of education, both the successes and failures need to be accredited in part to the student. If we take the burden completely off them, and place them on the teachers, schools, and system, we end up with students who do not feel the consequences of their choice not to take control of their learning. As teachers, even if the rest of society tells us it is our fault students are not doing well, we need to take the risk of allowing students to take control of their own education, and responsibility for their own triumphs and failures.

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