DID OR DO YOU LOVE OR HATE SCHOOL? I am among the lucky, although I have two major learning disabilities, school did not destroy my love of learning. I loved school, even when I didn’t have friends or had to spend most of recess at a blackboard trying to do math problems.
One of the saddest parts of my professional life when I worked in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx was seeing the contrast between the bright-eyed, scrubbed and happy first graders and the bored, angry, and unhappy teens. Almost every first grader looked forward to school; and every teen professed to hate it. Of course not all teens hate school. The ones who can do school well, please the teachers, get the good marks; whose family can afford to help with college are the lucky ones. School works for them. It doesn’t for many and as the years since I was in school the many not served are growing in number.
Topic #266:If you could change how schools work, what would you change? What is wrong with how public education for kids is structured? What works well? What specific things about school do you remember, good and bad?
A number of things have added to the burden of today’s students. So here are a few things that I would like to see changed:
- The idea that school is the automatic roadway to success–success being defined as material success. Schools works for some, but others do better letting life educate them.
- Realize that today’s curriculums are primarily driven by what big business wants in an employee, not what it takes to be a caring person. Shift the need for docile employees to developing critical thinkers and emotionally fit granduates. Emotional fitness–the ability to get handle negative emotions so you can get along with people. Several studies show that emotional intelligence or what I call emotional fitness is more important in leading the good life than IQ, education, or family income.
- Focus on teaching the love of learning. This means smaller classes, individualized teaching, recognizing various kinds of intelligences, the different way students learn, and the challenges some students face–I am thinking of those living with violence, with poverty, with mentally ill parents, with their own mental illnesses, or with learning disabilities.
- Recognize strengths. Standardized test fail when it comes to seeing a whole student. As I look back on my years of schooling, what helped me keep going despite my learning disabilities were the teachers who saw me as me and saw my potential. Perhaps the worse teacher was the English professor who marked all my papers A over F. He was probably the fairest in terms of a grading scheme, but never said an encouraging word. The best was the professor who called me into his office to tell me why he had to mark me down to an A-, because I made spelling and punctuation errors, but was in his mind the best critical thinker in his class. He told me to major in English despite the C I had collected from his colleague. All through high school and college, I was lucky enough to be taught by those saw not just my mistakes, but my strengths.
Several years ago a story about the power of teachers who see and recognize strengths circulated about three young men from a poverty ridden area noted for its dropouts and that none of its students went on to college let alone first-rate colleges. Then one year three young men were accepted at top schools. Once researcher was intrigued and ultimately discovered one commonality. All three students had the same teacher for three years of elementary school in a row. It was a fluke, but all three of the young men recalled her faith in them and she remember each of them fondly. As I often say, caring works.
- Teachers need smaller classes so they can care more about the students, even the difficult ones.
- Mastery teaching seems to work well. When teaching parent classes to a widely varying group of parents, all changed with neglect and abuse, I used a mastery approach before granting a certificate of completion. The parents had copies of pre and post test so show what they had learned. The parents loved it, the child welfare workers loved it, the lawyers and judges loved it.
I have about 100 other ideas, but if I could wave my magic wand, these would be the ones I would press for most strongly.
Share, care, and stay strong.