Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guest Speaker: Education (Kevin)

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Thank you to Kevin, a private school teacher in San Diego, Calif. for his thoughts. (This is part of a series.)

a) about your philosophy of teaching
I've never really understood this question. My philosophy is to do the job I am paid to do, to the best of my ability. On a side note, I am big on service and this job allows me to earn money while serving the needs of a community, but to say that is a philosophy on teaching doesn't work for me. Do people ask gas station attendants their philosophy on gas station attending?

b) the future of teaching and education
It will get better in some areas and worse in others. Education as a system is as complex as the medical industry, with different people lobbying their points of view, and special interest groups campaigning for this and that. Some of it will stick to the wall, while other stuff will fall to the ground. Currently, the emphasis is on basic math and grammar, with little to no mention of civics, social studies, or science. Last year's nationwide 8th grade writing proficiency tests revealed only approx. 30% of 8th graders writing at or above their level. And compared to their scores in math, science, and history, that was a high percentage.

Schools with a high degree of recent success have adopted the teacher-as-family approach. See the Hillary Swank movie "Freedom Writers" for an example of how the formula works, but essentially a student is taught by the same teachers for several years, so the teacher takes a more personal interest in the students and the students are more apt to trust and seek the council of their teachers.

Another future trend (currently the norm in the entire state of Kansas and other places) is to hold elementary and middle school on the same campus. It is proven that middle schoolers are less likely to act out violently in front of little children, and little children will mirror good behavior of older kids (who they can more easily relate to as peers) as opposed to adults (who they can't relate to at all). In short, by housing all the kids of all ages on one campus, the result is a better behaved student body. Note... this does not work at the high school level... they should be kept apart.

c) and the role, if any, of technology in the classroom  (is the rapid pace of technology having an effect on education, and if so, what? and if negative, what is the solultion?)
I have taught in a developing nation with no access to technology, and now I teach in a school with fancy overhead projection systems and a computer lab. As with any job which incorporates technology, it is an aid to the process... a tool. It should not replace a teacher or a textbook. Just as some teachers struggle to use a chalkboard, others struggle to use technology. Teaching junior high kids, I can tell you that a computer is a nice bright shiny object to attract the attention of a generally disinterested demographic.

d) and what effects, if any, you think personal dress have on education (if negative, what is solution?)
I detest school uniforms. I've been a teacher and a student in schools operating with and without a uniform policy. There are so many other battles to fight in the school system that this seems so insignificant. I assume it is such a hotbed issue because it is a very visible element of a student body. I encourage a dress code that sets rules on skirt length on girls, droopy pants on boys, etc., but it is far from important.

e) what effects, if any, you think media/popular culture have on education (if negative, what is solution?)
On education... none at all. On children in general, absent proper parenting, the media shapes their view of society. Children (even the stubborn independent ones who claim not to need anyone) need someone to set limits and impose structure. A part of that is teachers, but in public schools where there are 30-40 kids in a classroom, teachers frankly don't have time to impart advice on culture. So children see people on TV, the internet, etc. and they become their examples of how to live.

f) the general trends in education (good and bad) and what can be done by teachers, parents, students, communities to embrace the good and resist the bad
The general trend in society, as it relates to education, is for parents to try to befriend their kids instead of beparent them. They do not set expectations of their kids, nor do they encourage them to grow and mature. Parents see schools as daycare centers... a place for kids to hang out while mom and dad go to work. If some learning happens to take place, great, but it isn't a priority. After all, an underachieving C student became president of the United States and proved to all Americans that intelligence isn't important.

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