Oh, How the Pendulum Swings!

I know I wrote about controlling students in my last post, but this topic is still nagging at me…and probably will continue to do so in our current educational climate. But I don’t want to just write about how we need to release control a little bit. I want to think about how we balance between scaffolding the learning for our students and stifling their voice.

In my first couple of years as a teacher, I never stifled students. They had free reign about topics, how to present their findings, which strategies to use and more. I also didn’t scaffold or support them in any helpful way. I was brought up in the half free-market/half hippie school of thought when it came to teaching. Allow students lots of authentic options, surround them with great work and they will pick up reading and writing and everything else. Would you be shocked if I told you that some students struggled to learn what I thought they should? That they didn’t read Patricia Maclachlan and mysteriously start spouting off poetic lines of prose? That they didn’t all figure out word problems all on their own?

So, yes…I needed to reign in my teaching a bit…clearly a free market / hippie chic approach wasn’t bringing me the results I wanted. My students made choices, alright, but they rarely moved past their choices. So I started to figure out how I could support my students so they could step out of their comfort zones and explore new territories. Sometimes that meant I asked them to try something out or I modeled several times or gave them diverse examples of student work. The point is, I chose my students over my former hard line stance on teaching.

And then I left teaching for a few years to work in research and policy. Which, of course, led me running back with open arms to the classroom, begging to be taken in.

That’s when I realized that the free market days were over. Completely. Instead, there was over regulation and a police state. Tests were insanely important. And there lots of them. And they were terribly written. And they really, really mattered to the school community and everyone else in America. So, based on the false premise that these tests were “important”, a whole industry was created to make these tests, practice for these tests (at school and at home) and even cheer out students on for these tests.

Hmmmm…what was this teacher to do?

Succumb to the “reality” of modern day teaching in America? Turn into a robotic slave and just follow orders? Or the opposite? Rebel completely and refuse to do anything that comes from “up above”…even if I may think it might be interesting? Just dig in my heels and get ready for the Alamo?

How about turn back to the hippie chic and zen out? Forget all the side issues in my periphery and focus on my students. Focus on them as human beings. And then focus on them as students. Figure out what each of them want and need and work for them. I may not know what kind of teaching I do anymore but at least I know who I am doing it for.

One Comment on ““Oh, How the Pendulum Swings!”

  1. JD

    Great piece highlighting the struggle that most teachers face between meeting the needs of students, and the systems of accountability. I believe the pendulum is swinging toward the middle: An environment in which teachers are able to be creative and the emphasis is on student engagement and creativity. Accountability will always be a part of the educational landscape, but there will be a revised approach to ways teachers are linked to the data and encouraged to prepare students for these exams. A softer approach. Reform efforts have pushed so many teachers out in droves, and policy makers are acknowledging that changes that need to be made. The revolving door in the profession is a real problem that needs to be fixed soon.

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