Teaching in the Face of Politics
During their careers, truly great educators break the rules. My own children's best teachers were the ones who respected the school's system but parted from it as necessary in order to teach my child.
Our students depend on us to question the education status quo, including reform efforts. If we know an imposed policy or practice is pedagogically unsound, we must do the right thing in the microcosm of our individual classroom, replace it with a more effective policy or practice, and then give clear evidence of its success to those in charge.
We can reduce the negative aspects of politically motivated yet unproven policies while contributing to the dialog on those policies.
- Ask administrators to be real leaders and remove some of the time-consuming tasks that we've been asked to do over the years. We need that time to plan lessons, work with students, and take advantage of professional development.
- Break the model when necessary. Better teachers don't stop at the 5-paragraph essay, for example. Instead, they teach students when it should be 11 or 3 paragraphs and how to write compellingly for different audiences. They teach them math algorithms, then throw in every reality-based curveball they can think of and how to handle each one.
- Invite students to use their personal technologies in the classroom as warranted and teach them to use those technologies ethically. Denying students the tools of their daily reality hastens our irrelevance and negates all claims we're preparing students for the working world.
- Question the popular algorithm of teachers presenting content then asking students to practice it and parrot it back on Friday's test. Consider flipped classrooms, where students learn online at home, then do homework and applications in the classroom with the teacher present. Content presentations are important, but a teacher's true influence comes out on the back side as we help students process content meaningfully and flexibly.
Think about what our students don't achieve because we were playing it politically safe.
For more ways to teach effectively despite the politics, don't miss my Teaching in the Middle column in the April issue of Middle Ground.
Rick Wormeli is a long-time teacher, consultant, and writer living in Herndon, VA. E-mail: email@example.com. His new book, The Collected Writings (So Far) of Rick Wormeli: Crazy Good Stuff I Learned about Teaching is available from AMLE at www.amle.org.
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