Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Way We Were - How Teaching Has Changed for the Worse

It's the middle of summer vacation, and I'm going through old computer files, when I find some old pictures that I took when I was a young teacher.  And I am amazed at the enthusiasm I obviously had for the field.  What happened?

Building cans of a fixed volume
and then writing about it
Oh, how I miss building robots
with kids!
Actually, I know what happened.  See, when I first started teaching, I taught 2 extra periods of math a week, and I had the same students for another subject for an additional 2 1/2 extra periods a week.  That's 12 1/2 periods with students instead of 8, which is a huge difference.  But, more importantly than the time element, there was far less accountability in terms of test scores.  In my first three years, I had so much freedom.  Some of the projects that I completed with my students involved building structures with toothpicks and marshmellows (to demonstrate the stability of the triangle),  designing a soda can of a fixed volume, drawing regular shapes with protractors, investigating fractals, building gear trains and levers and pulleys, learning least common multiples with Spirographs, building and researching a website using HTML, PhotoShop and Flash, using pentominos and tangrams, exploring the Fibonnaci sequence and Golden ratio in nature and art, and building and programming robots.  These are just the activities that I remember or for which I have photographic reminders.  It was great fun.
Building towers from marshmellows
and toothpics (picture is intentionally
blurred, even though these kids are
now of age)

This past year, after the all important test, I had planned on building scale models to help reinforce similar figures and proportional reasoning.  I had obtained the clay and tools I needed, and only needed a few photocopies to start the lesson.  My copies were denied and I was told to stick to the pacing calendar.  It was a downer.  The kids didn't know it had been planned, so they weren't disappointed, but I knew how bleak their year had been, and I was saddened that they couldn't have this one little bright spot.  Sure, I let them pour water to learn about capacity, we did use manipulatives for fractions, and I showed a cute interactive movie that involved an activity on the Twelve Days of Christmas, but each of these only lasted one lesson, and BrainPops are only around 3 minutes long. 

We are sucking all of the fun out of school.  Math is great fun, like a huge puzzle, but it is hard to pass on a love for math when it is all drill and kill.  It also drains the joy out of teaching, to say nothing about learning. 

I switched careers because my work in the dot com boom disappeared after the dot com bust.  It was not meaningful work anymore.  I wanted to make a more lasting impact.  I hope that I have done and continue to do so, but it's harder and harder to tell.  I wish I still loved teaching like I once did.  Hopefully, the teacher bashing and the high-stakes testing nonsense has swung as far as it will, and things will return, at least a bit, to the way things were.  As it is now, they basically all but dictate what to teach, how to teach, for how long and in what style, and then it is the teacher's fault when their test scores are not stellar.  Let us do what we, as professionals, have been doing until the politicians and the talking heads interfered, which is inspire a love of learning.  It's really not about factoring polynomials; it's about instilling curiosity and creating life-long learners.  Can I get an amen?!


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