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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Teach With the Reality that Exists?

Typically people teach within the reality that exists. A friend of mine who teaches in a district other than mine rarely to never questions the program set--she teaches what's expected with few questions asked. Yet as I hear her stories, I worry about the children in that school since it seems like no one is taking their issues or needs seriously. They are taught with a program that doesn't fit today's world with few modern tools, routines, or structures. The potential that exists with regard to learning is sadly not available at that school.

On the other hand, another educator I know employs countless modern tools and approaches in her classroom despite little systematic support for those tools and pedagogy. She reaches beyond system limits to the constant delight, creativity, and joy of her students and their family members. She maximizes the modern tools and approaches available to teach in new effective ways. This teacher receives little to no systematic support or acknowledgement of her work, but it's clear she has her eye on the future with efforts that empower each and everyone of her students--amazing!

I am somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios. The program I'm told to teach is mostly old fashion with little room for modern tools or approach. For some this works fine, and for others there's so much more that I could do. I do try to employ modern approaches and tools when possible, but it's tough given the lengthy, detailed curriculum and assessments I'm charged with carrying out as well as the strict guidelines for new tool purchases and use. Prior to this restriction, I was able to reach and stretch in more directions when it came to teaching well. I'm wondering about this reality--a reality that seems like a back step. What's a teacher to do?

If I had a blank check of time and decision making with regard to my teaching, I'd give myself permission to teach the standards in ways that I know are powerful, modern, creative, and inspiring. I would not marry myself to so many paper/pencil assessments and tests, but instead create with students multiple hands-on, project based ways to learn, study, and master the standards. We would integrate technology in meaningful ways using the tech to create, play games, and interact with one another as we learn. It would be a vibrant new-age classroom rather than the more traditional approach I'm expected to teach.

If I had that blank check, students in my classroom would be doing the following:
  • Learning math with Minecraft, SCRATCH, Code.org
  • Solving rich, multi-step, real world problems
  • Solving problems with research and analysis
  • Integrating multiple subjects in the math classroom
  • Reading and writing about math concepts
  • Playing fun math games to learn math skills
Some would say do what you think is right, but I risk punishment if I do that. Others would say get your head out of the clouds and do as you're told, but I risk preparing students for a world that no longer exists with these outdated approaches. I know it's a little of this and a little of that which will work, but the advocacy needed to push the program ahead is incredible as there are many, many layers of permission and approval to work through.

It's too bad that I have to spend time even thinking about this because a blank check to create, collaborate, and teach in ways I know to be engaging and empowering would mean that I'd be using this time wholly focused on creating a vibrant and dynamic teaching/learning classroom with and for students. Onward.