Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guest Speaker: Education (Heather)

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Thank you to Heather, a middle school teacher in Pasadena, Calif. for her thoughts. (This is part of a series.)

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
It is my strong belief that every child can be successful in school. In order to do this, students must have excellent attendance, complete homework regularly, read frequently, learn and apply responsibility, and have good behavior in class. Students also need to realize that learning takes place outside of the classroom, as well - just because they leave class doesn't mean their learning has to stop! I truly believe that children succeed with help from their parents and families. It really does "take a village to raise a child."

Technology is now intertwined with global cultures and societies - it would be naive to believe that technology does not impact education as well. Today's students need to master technology basics, as most of today's job markets require some level of know-how. Such basics would include knowledge of computer systems and software, various mathematical devises (including complicated calculators), and, if applicable, digital devices such as cameras. Many people lose the foresight that school was created to ready productive workers and members of society. As stated before, most jobs have technological aspects - students must be ready to use them when they enter the job force.

Education is a fluid entity - it has not, nor should ever be stagnant. Societies and cultures are constantly evolving, as are job markets. No longer can people claim, "Well, when I went to school...." - the fact is, things have been changing, and will continue to change. A good teacher will constantly look towards the needs of their students:  What are their learning styles? How will they learn best? What will they need to know to be successful? Technology is part of this component. Every year, good teachers look at what they can add to their classes to better the learning experience. Each year I taught, a new technology element was added. And each year, the new elements would be tested - were they successful, failures, needed, unnecessary? No relevant aspect of education will make a negative impact. Children today are creatures of a technological world - they are used to computers, video games, vivid media, cell phones, digital cameras, MP3 players. To not include such tools would be foolhardy, as they are objects children (and adults in our society) identify with. The trick is to use them efficiently.

The concept of personal dress in schools is a tricky one. The last school I worked for implemented school uniforms mid-way through my tenure. The truth is, clothing is a powerful socio-economic indicator throughout history, and will continue to be so. Clothing defines a person, and observers will create impressions based upon what they see. In schools - this can be a huge distraction from learning for children. Uniforms help level the playing field, while allowing some aspects of individuality (such as socks, shoes, jewelry, hairstyles). Not having to worry so much about what one is wearing, or what another person is wearing, or what people think of what one is wearing is sometimes a relief to students. Many parents have expressed approval of school uniforms to me in the past, and indeed, I do not think I would mind if my children went to a school with school uniforms.

There is practically no escaping the media nowadays - it is everywhere. People receive media messages walking down the street, reading books and magazines, watching television and movies, using their phone, downloading music, etc... The trick in education is to use media in a productive manner. Many students are audio and/or visual learners - having media examples can help them learn effectively. Showing relevant movies in history class may help students understand times periods better. Using digital media in science class may help students track experiments more effectively. Of course, teachers must be judicious in their choices and must not show media just for the sake of wasting time (the proverbial "reward" movie. etc...). Media and popular culture are here to stay, at least until the next fad comes along. Education embraces this - but in an appropriate way.

The trend I've noticed over the last century throughout education that has been the most frustrating is called the "pendulum effect" - it is the changing of focus swiftly to another completely different focus without giving the first focus much time to percolate. For example, there was a large movement in reading through the last century for phonics; many people thought this ineffective, so the focus was switched over to whole-word learning. Shortly after, when people felt this was ineffectively, the focus swung back over to phonics. In order for a learning approach to be successful, time and effort must be placed into it. The constant changing of programs, curriculum, and theories have created an unstable atmosphere in education. It only seems logical that programs won't work if time isn't given.

To conclude, education is a shared enterprise between students, educators, and parents. In order for it to be successful, all need to maintain a role in said partnership.

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