copyright © 2004, 2012 Betsy L. Angert. Empathy And Education; BeThink or BeThink.org
This treatise was written in 2004, only two years after the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The No Child Left Behind Act, requires annual assessment of students in grades 3 through 8. It further requires states and schools to meet “adequate yearly progress” by increasing test scores (NASP, 2002). Labels, based solely on the results of high-stakes assessments, began a history of hurts.
The words said were, “We do not have that luxury anymore.” The speaker stated that she loved the bliss. The extravagance that she was speaking of is that of teaching in a manner that enlivens learning, engages, and ensures that students internalize information. She was referring to her joy for teaching in a style that creates wisdom, the learning that lasts for a lifetime. Is it true that teaching in this way is an indulgence; and that she is no longer able to partake in this possibility? If this is true, it is sadness. The greater sorrow is that this Educator’s testimony is not an anomaly.
To believe that teaching in this fashion is a “luxury” and that it is lost, never to return is a concept that I cannot, or more accurately, wish not to consider. Yet, I cannot help but wonder; why does she feel that she no longer has this? When, why, or how, did she lose what was once the objective in education? How could this Instructor consider taking the time to guide learning, to give students an opportunity to truly acquire knowledge as a lavish pursuit? As much as I wondered; I knew.
~ Jacques Barzun
Days have past and the words still haunt me. I can no longer ignore what occurs in many, if not most classrooms. Regardless of the how I might teach or experience students and their studies, my truth is not universal. I must acknowledge, the painful reality, that exists each and everyday. I read of it in the newspapers, in editorials, in professional journals, and in books. I hear of it from friends, from family, from any, and many that have even the smallest sense of what is going on in our nation’s schools. I speak with instructors, and others who are familiar with the current crush in “education.” There are reasons for the angst, for apprehension.
Indeed, the policies and practices in our schools, throughout this Nation, cause much trepidation. Teachers are told, “Teach to the tests!” Even when the words are not articulated aloud, it is well known “achievement is the one and only agenda” that matters. Policymakers, Principals, and even the public-at-large have placed America’s Teachers on trial. Perform or punishments will follow. Students too stand before judges and juries. The young, just as their schools, are rewarded for excellence. Dollars are delivered for good grades. Moms, Dads, and the Federal Government come bearing gifts when children succeed, chastised when they fail. Each presumes that the Teacher is the catalyst. She or he makes great things happen. If an Instructor does not . . . damn and hell fire will be their just reward. Please may I share the story that forced me to face a stark veracity . . .
I begin with a bit of background. Currently, I am employed as a substitute teacher, what some so sweetly call a “Guest Teacher.” I have a Master of Arts degree in Education, with a focus on Instructional Systems. I am credentialed in Psychology, Social Science, English, Art, Computer Concepts, and Computer Applications. I taught at the University level, instructing in the Teacher Credentialing programs. While I received my degrees, my own formal education continues. Therefore, you might guess that education is important to me. It is!
As an Educator, one who has had her own classroom, created her own curriculums, taught those who were training to become Teachers, and who recently “visits” classrooms that are not hers, I recognize what might be characterized as an “uncommon core standard,” be sensitive to authentic learning,
Young children long to learn. Tweens and teens crave abiding knowledge. Those just broaching adulthood are bursting at the seams; “Teach me” is the tune frequently hummed. Wisdom is the want. We each wish to reach higher intellectual heights and pass on what we have learned. More so than “scholastic success,” a love of learning is what I wish to facilitate. True love remains alive through eternity. A fondness for the act of acquiring knowledge becomes habit easily retained.
Today, and I mean that literally, education is governed by rigid regulations. There are ample frustrations throughout learning and teaching. It seems that for many, it is just as Einstein expressed, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
It is for this reason that I am sharing an account of a day in the life of an Educator. I wish to advance awareness and to open a discussion for what many experience daily. I ask each of us to consider what occurs when we concentrate on the concrete. I believe that when we do, we all lose. The luxury of learning, teaching, and being is lost. Students no longer have the opportunity to truly understand what teachers are attempting to teach. Nor do our offspring love their growth. We have also lessened the opportunities for instructors to connect with the students and for students to connect to a subject.
From my own life history, I believe that if we do not love learning, then we do not choose to develop the habits that create a deep desire to investigate, innovate, or imagine, especially on our own. I believe that if we focus on creating a devotion for erudition, a curriculum that demonstrates care for the student, for the subject, and one that is sensitive to the nuances of the process of progression, then and only then will true success will be guaranteed.
If you think this but an unproven theory, please consider the analogy. You did not exit the warmth of the womb walking and talking. Indeed, the shock of your entrance into an Earthly existence likely caused you to cry. Someone might have stroked your head before you felt calm. Days, weeks, and months went by before what adults would label an intelligible peep was heard from your mouth. It may have been longer before you stood up and took your first step.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson [American Lecturer, Poet, leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism]
It is with this thought in mind I say, adults must trust that change in a brain and a being comes from within. Evolution, edification, is slow and subtle. Transition arrives without fanfare. Teachers teach. Students, just as sponges absorb lessons. The two talk with each other. All are challenged to learn anew, or at least that is what I thought would occur in schools. On occasion, it did, does, and will; however, from my experience the likelihood lessens each day.
The other day I was teaching in a Social Science classroom. I was working with students who I have worked with often over the last two years. Frequently, their teacher requests that I assist in her absences. She has shared that she values my desire and ability to facilitate understanding. Jennifer Mellon has had many an occasion to observe me teach. Often, she is involved with Committee work and therefore, is on campus running in and out of the classroom when I am there. Actually, her daughter was once a student of mine. Hence, Jenn also knows of my pedagogy from a parent’s perspective. Our familiarity is vast and all good.
On this day, Mrs Mellon asked that I have the class read and discuss seven to ten pages. I was told not to go farther for she, the contracted teacher, would prefer to save the next lesson for another day.
As we read and discussed, I asked the students to reference a portion and then share, in their own words, the meaning of what they just read. I know for myself and I have verified that this is true for others, many can read aloud and then not know what was read. Therefore, I always invite students to take the time to breathe and begin to internalize the words that they recite aloud.
Many in prosperous and professional communities, such as the one in which I work, can and do this well or so it seems. I realize that appearances can be deceiving. Often, when asked if they comprehend the ideas and the concepts, the meaning behind the words, students repeatedly admit that they do not understand these. They cannot offer similar concepts; they are unable to relate the material to their own life experiences, nor do they truly grasp the greater significance. Many, most, and often all confess that they can recite and regurgitate as expected or as needed to appear knowledgeable, yet they do not truly understand or internalize the information.
Therefore, I discuss the readings further, present parallels, share stories that suggest similarities between the lives of the students and the lives of those that they, or we, are studying. These enliven the essence of the lesson. As I do, and did on this day, as I ask questions that assist them in sensing the similarities between themselves and the text, I discovered a captive audience, one that cares to learn, asks questions, offers comments, and is engaged. I discover students no longer feel lost. Learning looms large when I take the time to stimulate the student’s thinking and reflecting.
Today, as on many others, each of us, the students and I, feel enriched and enlightened. These exchanges are educational; they create a joy in learning. Students often tell me that these discussions, the drawing of parallels, are not only memorable, they help them to truly learn.
Then it happened, and I learned again, what I would rather forget. In reviewing the day, I mentioned to the students’ teacher, Jennifer, that we as a class were energized, the text was meaningful, and the discussion exhilarating. However, we did not finish all of the pages she assigned. She sighed deeply. She expressed her dread for falling behind; the need to complete the curriculum as the calendar dictates, and then she said it, teaching in a manner that stimulates students so that they truly understand, well, “We do not have that luxury anymore.”
Sadly, the lesson learned is that what I do, what I did, what many educators do, and would prefer to do again, evoking authentic learning through deeper discussions, facilitating learning that lasts a lifetime, creating curriculums that are energizing and enjoyable for all, is a luxury, one that is lost. I wonder what have we created.
– Confucian text
I do not wonder why this Teacher, or why so many Educators throughout this nation no longer have, or feel that they have, the opportunity to truly teach. I do reflect on why it is that now, capital and careers are more important than learning. I contemplate and I inquire of those who profess, propose, and then impose policies that stress schedules, simplistic, narrow and naive standards. Please explain this to me. Why are our loves, learning and inspirational instruction lost? What of our offspring, their education, and their Teachers? What will the future bring?