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We teach life…

What good is information if it does not change the way you act,  treat other people, or change who you are?

Our school like many others in a big push to collect data, use data to change our instruction, and use data to judge students and teachers.  Obviously the data we focus on are the specific parts of the state standardized test that our students show weaknesses in.  We collect spreadsheets of data, run 100s of scantron sheets through the computer, and meet in teams to figure out how to make the numbers go higher.

Through all of this the students have become become detached from their numbers.  I know more about them, but somehow I no longer know them.  I have become detached from the kids by focusing on the information I collect on them.  In a strange way, the more information I have collected on them, the less I have been able to help them.

This year I have been also more careful to cover all of the items listed in the curriculum.  I am being more careful this year because I can see someone sitting me down at the end of the year and asking did you cover this, did you cover that…   This year my kids have learned about more events, people, and places than in the previous years.  There is more information in their heads, but I don’t feel as though they have changed “who they are” as much.

So I have more information on them, they have more information and skills from class, but yet something is missing.

What good is information if it does not change the way you act,  treat other people, or change who you are?

In the past, there was a moral underpinning to our class.  It wasn’t a history class.  It was a class about life.  We took the time to figure out how new information that we acquired could be used to change the way we act, treat other people, and in turn it would change who we were.  We all had a common learning experience and the product at the end of units was personal–sometimes the final product might not even include any information from the unit but only a plan for how the information would be put into use to change the world, change others, or change ourselves.  This year with a greater emphasis on data, shorter class periods, and fewer common times in which the kids could come back for help, I have come to the conclusion that what I am doing this year is not working.  To fit into the tighter schedule I just dropped many components of my past classes that made the biggest difference but were not listed in the “curriculum.”  Instead I should have figured out how to keep the components that made the biggest impact and distill everything down to fit into the shorter periods.

In the end, my kids will never even notice.  They will never feel cheated, they’ll never feel as though their experience in my class wasn’t what it could have been.  The guilt just sits with me, and at least now that I have clearly identified what has been bugging me I can work on fixing it for next year (and the last two months of this year).

I have an 1849 copy of an annual report from the Massachusetts Board of Education.  Back then local school districts would certify teachers (don’t know how widespread that was outside of New England).  In the report it lists the qualifications that districts needed to consider before certifying a candidate.  One of them was “Moral Qualifications.”  In order to become a teacher you were required to instill virtues into your students.  I know…for those of you with some background in this, it was Horace Mann who insisted on these “Christian values” and I am not advocating “making” kids moral but simply putting them in situations in which they get to develop their own.  Put them into situations in which the information being used in class might change the way they act, change how they  treat other people, or change who they are.

Our kids are all getting something out of our classes bigger than our subject.  They are all getting a lesson in life.  How to act.  How to treat other people.  Who they are.

We all teach life.  What are kids learning about life from your class?

 

After I finished this post I had a flashback to a post I once wrote entitled “I teach life.”  Unfortunately the search on my blog wasn’t working so I tried Google and ended up finding something much better.  I ended up finding a reflection on my class from a past student.  Ahhhh…perfect timing.  I needed to hear it from a kid…I need to change what I am doing:

On the first day of eighth grade, I walked into Mr. Bogush’s social studies classroom. He was the only teacher I had ever seen armed with a guitar and a Dr. Seuss book. I already knew that he was going to be different from every other teacher that I had ever had. Throughout the school year, Mr. Bogush inspired not only me, but so many of my fellow students.

I remember one day, when I walked in to ask a question, Mr. Bogush whirled around and told me that I was born to become a teacher. He was right. I had always wanted to be a teacher. While in this class I learned so much. Not only did I learn about Lewis and Clark, but we had to BE them. Whatever we were doing, it was always creative and fun. We made videos and presentations. I was surprised at how social studies could be so fun.

At the end of the year, I realized that Mr. Bogush hadn’t only taught us about social studies, but gave us life skills that we would use forever. He gave us great memories. Mr. Bogush always told us some very important things.

One- if somebody told us that we needed to get ready for the real world, we could say told us that we were already there. Where else would we be? Two- If we were going to fail, then fail big. I know that I will be able to take these lessons through the rest of my life.

On the very last day, Mr. Bogush sang us a song. It made everyone cry. He gave us crayons and if you listen to the song, you would know why. I just wanted everybody to know what a great teacher Mr. Bogush is. If you have him, then you are very lucky. I will always remember being in his class and he will always be my favorite teacher. –the web address to the song is http://blogush.edublogs.org/2011/06/26/good-enough

~Hayley Comstock

 Thanks Hayley…you were born to be a teacher, and you just told me something that I really needed to hear as well…to not just teach “Social studies,” but to impart life skills, memories, and lessons that will be kept within a student’s heart for the rest of their life.

 

2 comments

  1. Great post, Paul.
    That is the question, right? What about life? What about morals and decisions and how to be happy? You won’t find that on the state test.
    Sigh.
    I still work those things in to my curriculum, though — lessons around ethics, and decision-making, and more that I hope will resonate with them — maybe down the road.
    A friend if mine is developing this website about philosophy, using film clips, and she is hoping I can pilot the “lying” section. We had a long conversation about it, and while this is an important topic, I kept thinking in my head — where does it fit? (I know now, and can make it work without the need to be an acrobat)
    http://whatsthebigideaprogram.com/
    Kevin

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