Genius in American education
If one were to ask you the names of your favorite teachers from kindergarten and throughout your schooling, it may be not too difficult to answer.
Without doubt, there is one specific teacher or more perhaps, who stands out in your mind. Also, there may be some satisfaction in answering; it may bring back some of the more fond memories of school, and those who have touched your life in meaningful or even inspiring ways. The memory of those good teachers lasts a lifetime.
Unfortunately, the memory of those who may have impacted one in negative ways, may also leave their mark and remain vividly in one’s memory. True, teachers leave an indelible impact.
I have been a teacher now for 61 years. Good teachers and good teaching, what a blessing they are to students! Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. Good teaching is about caring for your students, and thoughtfully putting your finger on their intellectual, mental, social, and identity pulse. A good teacher is artfully empathetic to the makeup of the whole child, and his or her total personality, including hereditary and environmental factors not withstanding.
All good teachers have a mastery of the art and science of teaching and learning , and they have a passion for it. It is about conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to their students. It is about letting students know that “they” are important to you, that you care about them, and that you are there for them, “each” of them. Good teaching is about turning students “ON” to the success, joy, and excitement in learning. Good teachers are determined NOT to turn students “OFF” to the joy of success in personal accomplishment and individual achievement.
Most students require reinforcement by a supportive and nurturing teacher. For the gifted and talented students, a good teacher will provide learning experiences at the operational level of the learner: grade or subject state standards, not withstanding. For some other students, the need for constant positive reinforcement is also most necessary. These students, for one reason or another, have strong feelings of defeat.
The defeatist attitude is consistently reinforced by failure after failure. When a student is tuned off with a defeatist attitude – “I just cannot learn it” – no amount of repetitious homework, drill exercise, or comments such as “you better learn it , it will be on the test” will change that attitude for the better.
The student already has a feeling of sinking further and further into the dark tunnel of the defeatist doldrums. He or she sees no way out of that dark dilemma. In fact, the student may choose to seeks other avenues for recognition, such as, “Hey, I am here, look at me, see what I can do!” Another mark of defeat is scored in the record books.
Teaching at the elementary and secondary level is far more than a teacher “unloading” information – facts and concepts – and expecting the students to regurgitate back this information in rapid fire order. There is a science to teaching, but it must be artfully and creatively applied. Instructional strategies should clearly be based on sound science and research, by knowing artfully when to use certain strategies and, with whom, and to what degree. Every student is different, just as every adult is different. A passionate, thoughtful, and creative teacher is skilled in determining the precise moment and learning activity that is best geared for a successful learning experience for each individual. That, right there, is the earmark of an extraordinarily talented teacher.
We hear much these days about state educational standards. Teachers are overwhelmed with “standards-related” paperwork, testing and test preparations, meetings, training sessions, pull-out schedules, and paper work, ad nauseam.
Unfortunately, bureaucracy seems to be deflating the ingenuity, if not the very life, out of the teaching profession. Teachers desperately want to teach, and to provide students with an atmosphere and an opportunity to learn. The framework for that to happen is being, seemingly, seriously eroded.
It is true, standards are absolutely necessary, but they must be comprehensively defined in light of what is known about how students learn. Every learner is wonderfully unique; and, it that special uniqueness that is the challenge for the teacher. Therein, is the science and art of teaching. And, therein is the challenge of establishing Educational Standards. Hopefully, these Standards are not so simplistic, that the genuine powerfulness of the art of teaching is grossly minimized; and, the factual scientific data of child growth and development are degradedly dismissed. This would truly set education back to the dark ages.
The art and science of teaching truly trumps any “standards” that stand in the way a child’s right to learn.
For each learner is unique, and the learning and teaching style needs to be artfully tailored to that uniqueness. Standards that weaken the fabric of employing strategic teaching strategies, cannot help but be a disservice to a population of students waiting to learn. The bottom line … artfully skilled teaching is truly the genius of American education.
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. All of the past columns can be viewed on Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com