Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wonder Why Wednesday: Lots of Education Thoughts

I'm rambling today - lots of questions pouring out faster than I can type them. These are loosely connected - like I said, I am really "wondering" today. Feel free to comment and my readers and I can examine this together. 

I was inspired by Brian Harke's article, and this blog is in response to his latest post, High School to College Transition, Part Two: Academic Expectations. (It is a solid article with nice ideas, for all parents of future college students).

I'm not going to reiterate the entire post, or analyze it either. One part stood out to me, and I kept rereading it. Right away, Dr. Harke discusses the manner in which freshman enter college. He says:

High schools often reinforce these expectations [that college will be like high school] by unwittingly allowing students to enter college as dependent learners rather than independent learners. I say this not to place blame, but to recognize that up to this point most students have had teams of people supporting them, keeping track of their academic progress and looking out for their best interests. Since this has been their norm for 12 years, new college students are often at a loss when faced with the reality that it is up to them to manage their academic independence.

I liked that he said "I say this not to place blame" because blaming others for a large problem diverts attention from actually solving the problem. I agree with Dr. Harke wrote that. College, trade school, or a job requires people be independent learners. Can you imagine showing up to work and the boss saying, "Did you read the manual? Nope? No time? You didn't use the time I gave you yesterday? OK, I'll give you some time today."

I can't imagine that, and I know that never happened to me as an undergraduate, and my goodness, never as a graduate student. It probably shouldn't happen in high school either, especially if teachers are training students for a big world they will enter in four years or less. High school teachers do that, though. I've done that. I have enabled students to stay dependent learners instead of growing as independent learners. Why? Well, I can try and explain.

When I entered teaching, I knew not to do that. I just finished college where I studied to hold students accountable for their actions. Then students got tired (from after school jobs and extracurricular activities) or were absent. Whatever the reason they were not learning. They did not have the work done. They did not understand. And I had to do something. I not only re-taught material, I allowed students to finish their worksheets and reading assignments in class.

And no one cared. I felt like I did a disservice, but the grades were raised. I felt like I was teaching students to become dependent on me and not independent learners. I felt like I was telling them one thing but doing another. However grades were improved and everyone was happier. I still feel like I failed those students, but everyone else was pleased.

Which leads me to this very large question: Are schools what parents and society want them to be? To be cynical, I could say that fried food often made with white flour and nothing fresh is part of our school system. I could also look at kids sleeping in classes and being passed from one grade level to the next without earning those grades. I know the school system is made of more than this. (I believe it is more than this). Then why do teachers slacken standards? Why do others encourage them to do so?

More often than not, conversations concerning schools leads to complaints that teachers make too much money while not creating independent learners (just look at the comments under Harke's article). I have never heard a conversation about schools not include some reference to that. I have also never heard a conversation that didn't include the idea that teachers need to do more for students.

Those ideas don't click with me. Imagine me saying that I wanted a better reputed surgeon, or a better masseuse, or even someone who mowed my lawn faster and wanted to pay him/her the same measly wage. A group of friends would laugh instead of nodding their heads as they when money and teachers are discussed.

Does society need to revamp the teaching profession? Part-time teachers? People (doctors, lawyers, engineers, electricians-specialists in some field) teaching math and reading? Showing kids a direct correlation of their present schoolwork to their futures? Something has to change: are teachers going to be held more accountable, and be paid more - OR- are standards to relax so teachers can continue with this pay?

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