A few things. This week I started going to a Science class to help the teacher who was having a few problems with the behaviour of some students. It was a funny experience because what happened in fact was that I got a taste of what it was like to be back in Science class when I was fifteen. I sat at the back of the class and watched the experiment, then I did the experiment, and then I wrote down the notes. Problem was I felt like there was a step missing, and when I wrote down the notes I couldn’t really understand what I was writing. I wrote it down anyway. The teacher came and checked that everyone had the notes down and then the lesson ended.
I was rather glum at the end of this lesson, because I feel that this kind of thing probably happens in my Social Studies classes. Students walk in, I do some, vague, hard to define thing at the front of the class, they write down whatever it is I have put on the board, I check they have, and then they leave. Of course it’s not that bad, and this year I have really figured out what Social Studies is, and have enjoyed teaching it. Still, some days it is a bit like that.
The National Education Monitoring Project released its report in Social Studies recently. So far I have only read the start of this report, but the start stated that Social Studies was an unpopular subject with students who ranked it third from bottom against all other subjects. I don’t think this would be true for my students (I should say I pray to my atheist god that it isn’t), but I can see why it would be so in general. To be honest I think Social Studies is a fairly badly taught subject. It would surprise some people to know that Social Studies is not actually about title pages, colouring in pencils and projects about Japan, but is about humanity’s interactions with itself, and the world it lives in. Heady stuff if it is done right.
I went and read the blog of The Excited Neuron, a Science teacher deep in the heart of Texas. I would dearly like to be in her Science classroom because it sounds fantastic, and I think I would actually understand things and dream of becoming a scientist. On her blog I followed three links. The first to a movie called Waiting for Superman. I look forward to seeing it (I recommend a French film called The Class – not a documentary, but excellent). The second to a report on why American schools are failing. In New Zealand this is very much down the same lines as Act and the National Party would prefer to take education here: performance pay for teachers. It is a familiar argument, and one that comes up against a familiar defence: how do you fairly assess a teacher’s performance given the wide number of variables that tilt the playing field? If it were possible to fairly assess teachers I would actually sort of support performance pay for teachers, but I can’t imagine anyone coming up with such a system so it’s a bit like saying I support the idea that pixies might exist at the bottom of my garden.
Still, the article gives us the great truth at the heart of education:
As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.
Of course in an article about how the education system is failing I suppose that this article is really saying that teachers are to blame.
Nevermind, the third link was this. Go and read it now.
Read it? Good.
I found myself in agreement with all of it. When I left school I vowed I would never be a teacher. It was a long journey from 18 years old to 32 when I went to teacher’s college. My enjoyment of teaching increased as I went along. This is my fifth year and I have enjoyed it the most. I am getting better at teaching and this is increasing my satisfaction.
The second point rang like a bell for me. I LOVE learning. I LOVE starting a new topic and learning new things. The maximum shelf life a topic has for me is two years, and I think this will now be changing to one year. Every month I go a meeting of supposedly like-minded Social Studies teachers (no teachers are like-minded) and we discuss how we can have our classes engaged in current topics and issues in meaningful ways. Except for the teachers who don’t want to do this of course, and tell the rest of the meeting that they are uncomfortable with not using their Unit Plans from 2006 which they have been refining to a pitch of perfection for five years. Well, I roll their eyes at them and they roll their eyes at me.
I have the great good fortune to sit next to two chaps at staff meeting each morning who are living examples of loving to learn. One is a musician who… teaches Music. He plays music everyday, has regular gigs and is in and out of bands all the time. The other is an actor and playwright who… teaches Drama. I can’t imagine what it must be like to turn into a teacher who has no interest in what they teach. An English teacher who never opens a book, a Science teacher who cares not a fig for the world they live in.
It keeps you young?
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of this conversation:
Girl: “Mister, do you like Little Wayne?”
Me: “I think you mean Lil Wayne.”
Rest of class: Laughs their collective arses off while girl looks on with amazement.
Yeah, it keeps you young and it makes you laugh.
When it doesn’t age you ten years in ten minutes and reduce you to tears.