Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Challenging Issues

    Whenever I tell people what I "do," they smile and reply, "That's great. Where do you teach?" If the person is from my home city, they do one of two things. Wrinkle their brow in confusion because they never knew my school existed or furrow their brow in concern because I teach "there" those "troubled" kids. Well, I'm here to tell you that my "troubled" kids probably present as many challenges as those in the traditional high schools. Kids are kids. Some like school and some don't. My job is to reach them all--somehow--and infuse in them a thrill of learning.
     Today's reflective post is to discuss the most challenging issues in education. For me, it's the previous scenario. How do we change the preconceived ideas people have of the students who attend my school? We do service projects once a block in the community. Nice, but not quite enough to erase the stigma. My classes engage in projects to promote the school, addressing the misconceptions people may have. Good, but no cigar. One of our students recently won a Silver Medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest. Top 1% of the 320,000 entries. Ho hum. I won't belabor my point, but you get the idea. It's  a challenge to change preconceived ideas.
     The same is true in traditional education. The public has preconceived ideas of what teachers can and should accomplish and, frankly, some of those ideas are spot on and some are off target. I think one of the biggest challenges facing education is changing people's ideas of what education should look like and how to approach the classroom.  For educators this means rethinking how we teach. Are we keeping up with the changing times? Are we being innovative in the classroom and continually trying new ways to teach material? New ways to challenge our students to think and analyze? New ways to engage them in learning?
     Perhaps we need to address what education should look like in the modern world. Should it continue to be "sit and get," with students listening to lectures and writing down notes? Or should we look for new methods of teaching the same material with more student involvement and engagement? The challenge, if you believe in making changes, is finding the time to make the whole scale adjustments to how you approach teaching.
     Maybe the challenge isn't so much in perceptions as in practice and attitude. Maybe teachers need to adjust how they view these changes in the landscape of teaching, embrace them more and be more positive in their outlook.Perhaps teachers need to take the first step in facing the gauntlet of attitude issues by readjusting their own. It's our job to believe in students. Every. Single. One.
     By changing our attitudes toward students, perhaps the environment in the classroom becomes more positive and more "can do." I've heard long enough what my kids "can't do" and so have they. Maybe we need to approach them like they can achieve.
    The list of challenges in teaching is as varied as those who are in the classroom. Everyone has an opinion. But this much is true. Unless teachers begin and end the day with confidence that their kids can learn and a willingness to be innovative in the classroom, mediocrity and self-doubts will linger. In everyone, student and teacher alike. By approaching students and the classroom with a more positive outlook, teachers can set the tone for the learning environment and the expectations of students. And that? That can make all the difference.

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