Education – Who's in charge here?

Over the past several months, I have written several articles on kids in school, mainly because of the troubles I’ve been having with the Taz – a bright kid who has a hard time not being a distraction in class or staying focused on the lessons he is being taught.

Mark Alton, a teacher at Rancho Cotate, wrote to me after I wrote “When Teachers are Great”, an article on the lengths my son’s teacher has gone to ensure that my son was working to his fullest potential, and to tackle the problems he was having in school. He wrote:

“Is it necessary for teachers to work harder and spend more of their own personal time in order to “prove” they truly care about their students? I wonder if this is an unspoken assumption by the public. Would this teacher be an “uncaring” teacher if he had not necessarily been able or willing to meet each and every week outside of class to help this child, but simply did his very professional best in class to meet the needs of his students? I think not.”

“Ultimately, the primary person who needs to care is the student — care enough to get a good night’s sleep prior to a school day, care enough to come every day to school, care enough that he/she values an education for what it will do for his/her future, care enough to behave respectfully and responsibly in class, care enough to pay careful attention to instruction, and care enough to actually do the schoolwork assigned (because education is an active process requiring the actual involvement of each student).”

(Read the rest of the article he wrote called “Teachers Can’t be Alone in the Learning Process”.)

I confess, I had to re-read his article twice to get what he was saying without jumping to the defensive for the teacher who has changed my son’s life.  And I had to admit, he brought up a lot of good points that were not mentioned in the first article. As a follow-up, I wrote the article “Parents, the First Line of Defense”, an article about the fact that while a teacher is there to teach, it is the student’s responsibility to want to be present and learn what is being taught to him. And because that passion may not come naturally, it is our job, as parents, to help instill the importance of learning and being a productive part of the class, and to not let our job end as soon as our child enters the classroom door.

This last article inspired Kate Sholl to write this letter to the editor:

“Tenth paragraph, first sentence: “Students need to want to be present.”
Children are born with a deep and abiding curiosity; a love of learning. During the collective total of 33 years my children spent in school, they had a total of six teachers who inspired them to be present and learn. During the other years, my children hated school. A teacher’s job is to make learning a fascinating experience. I learned this by homeschooling my youngest two for a collective total of nineteen years. Those two children not only love learning still, but reached the age of 18 with their self-esteem in tact, something the older two did not. Crissi Dillon should look broadly for answers to the issue of her son’s easy distractibility; possibly he is too smart of the teacher he has and is, well, bored to distraction.”

Obviously, these are very different views on the same subject, which leads me to believe that there are many worthy ideas as to what makes a successful student.  So these are my questions for you:

Where does the responsibility lie in keeping a student working to his full potential: the parent, the student, or the teacher?
As a parent, what are some ways to ensure that your child understands the importance of school?
As a teacher, how do you keep your students motivated to stay present in the classroom?
What kind of steps need to be taken to encourage a flailing student to pull himself up from potential failure?

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One thought on “Education – Who's in charge here?”

  1. I was lucky. I started in Montessori school, and attended until I was 6. Montessori encourages learning subjects at one’s own speed — excelling where one is gifted and being given extra time in trouble areas.

    I was also lucky in that both of my parents are educated and love knowledge…I would go with walks with my mother and we would history and medicine and she would quiz me on the botany, biology, meteorology and astronomy of what we saw around us.

    I was lucky enough to accidentally managed to get a few truly exemplary teachers here and there along the way. Teachers who loved to teach. Teachers who saw my bright mind and love of learning and nourished my mind rather than berating me for getting ahead of the class.

    I know how easily it could have gone differently for me. Directly after Montessori I entered the public school system and was placed in the first grade because of my age, despite my mother’s protests that I had already completed work of that level. Within a few weeks she received a call regarding how I was disturbing my classmates – when I finished my work early, I would get up and find a book I was interested in on the classroom bookshelf and bring it back to my desk. At 6 years old, when I breezed through work that was not really hard enough for me, I was expected to sit quietly and wait for my classmates to finish their work. Denied the chance to entertain myself constructively, I soon found ways to be far more disruptive from my own desk.

    I attended that school (which did not improve) through second grade, after which my parents transferred me to a Sebastopol school district. It was a marked improvement. My third grade teacher still stands out in my mind as one of the most important people I have ever known. It was a poor school, but it was a good school. Even so, I go stifled. My classmates mocked my linguistic prowess and as a result, I squashed my spoken vocabulary to fit with theirs…something I am still working to correct. My teachers would discourage me from working ahead of the class or presenting concepts we had not yet reached, officially. I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong because I was smart and a good student.

    This trend continued throughout junior high and high school. I got placed in honors classes when I could, but in regular classes I got glared at by my classmates for upsetting curves and exasperated on a regular basis, teachers that wanted us to memorize dry names dates, then forget them as soon as we left their classroom.

    But every once in a while, I’d get an instructor that really cared, one that could see how much I loved learning and wanted to encourage me to use my mind, who would sit after class and discuss with me our reading or some bit of news that had to do with the subject we were covering in class – not to ‘do a bunch of extra work’, they enjoyed teaching and were EXCITED to find a student that was passionate about the material we were covering, that wasn’t a dead-eyed zombie just absorbing enough to scrape up a passing grade.

    Now, I want to make sure to mention here, in case I’m misunderstood…I’m not a genius or anything. I’m intelligent, to be sure, but I’m not off of any kind of chart. I didn’t assemble a working atomic weapon in my basement at the age of 9 with items found at the hardware store. Growing up, I didn’t even have a basement. I’m just…above average. And, I was brought up knowing that knowledge is a great thing, not something to be avoided and shunned.

    In all honestly, but for a few lucky encounters, I could have ended up loathing school as much as many. I was smart and bored and stifled a lot of the time. I have a close friend that is at least as smart as me, and very likely smarter. He will bring up points and positions in discussions that hadn’t even occurred to me. He researches topics that interest him with single-minded intensity. He understands how things work. He attended college only briefly before dropping out, because his experiences in public school were like mine, only minus the luck I had along the way. As a result of the lack of encouragement in his educational life, studying assigned material or sitting in a classroom just doesn’t sit right for him.

    Students need encouragement. They need people to recognize their strengths and encourage them to flourish. They need it at home and at school. I suppose what it really boils down to, what is really important for getting students to embrace knowledge…developing minds need people in their lives that love learning. Whether it be family members or teachers or…I don’t know…the old lady that pays $5 for them to mow her yard, they need someone to show them what knowing things can do, and how it effects everything we experience. That knowledge is power and education isn’t just a compulsory prison sentence for children, it is an opportunity that can unlock the doors of the universe.

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