I became a teacher because I upon reflection of any class I took I thought, “I could have taught it better.” I had more creative ideas, more analogies that connected the material to those who didn’t understand it, and more often than not, classmates sought me out to explain the material to them. I enjoyed tutoring my classmates. Some times, I even preferred tutoring to the actual class, the textbook, or even the material. Seeing that moment when the person makes the final connection, the leap between confusion to clarity, made all hours of frustration worth it. Those moments are what drive me.
To me, learning is all about the concepts, not the content. In fact, after a certain point in teaching English/Language Arts (about middle school), the content in an ELA class becomes irrelevant. Why should I teach To Kill a Mockingbird instead of Diary of Anne Frank or a play by Shakespeare? It all depends on what concept I need to teach. Different pieces of literature highlight different concepts. Why is a “classic” better than The Hunger Games or Harry Potter? There are different reading levels, sure, but whichever book will help students understand the concept the best is the most important thing. Why should I try to force Of Mice and Men or The Great Gatsby down someone’s throat if I feel there is another book that can teach the same concepts that are presented in those books?
The hard truth is that I should be teaching concepts and skills, not literature. And this is exactly what the Common Core State Standards advocates. I should not teach something just because I’ve taught it for the last five years. I should teach it because it is connecting students to a concept or skill that will benefit their future. Once students learn a concept or skill inside and out, up and down, left to right, “100 ways to Sunday”, then they can apply that conceptual knowledge or skill to standardized testing. Standardized testing requires deduction, for example, the concept “use of source material” can be taught using numerous texts. Understanding this concept will enable people to detect analogies or an author’s bias in other written or spoken pieces. The concept strengthens arguments as well as fuels counterarguments. You don’t need to memorize content, you need to fully understand concepts. Content simply provides context and ample examples to teach concepts and skills.
We do live in an age of “Testing…K…1…2…3…” and leading students down what seems to be a narrow focus of college and careers that forces us to ask: “are we teaching citizens or automatons?” But here’s the thing…what other option is there that is not encompassed by “college” or “career”? Military? Career. Fast Food Burger Flipper? Career. Pre-med? College. World traveler? College. College and career fit well as the two choices because of the alliteration of the two words (a concept learned in English/Language Arts).
“College” just means any learning environment. It could be a 4-year university, a community college, or a vocational trading school. Traveling can teach you things you can’t learn in a classroom. So can on-the-job training. Which leads me to “career”. Here, “career” means any type of employment. It doesn’t need to be middle-management, CEO, doctor, or lawyer. A job is what you do today, but a career is a series of jobs that are somewhat planned out or occurred serendipitously. Employment or learning environment. Education is about empowering people to learn and do something positive and productive with their life.
The (free) public school system exists based on the idea that if people pay taxes to support education now, they are investing in the future of the world. Of course we want to set the bar high with words that empower people to greater heights than they previously thought they could achieve.
Re-vamping the education system takes time. It will make great strides forward and a few steps back. But as the cliché goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Revolution starts somewhere. Education revolution starts with me. I may not be able to change the whole system, but I will change the lives of my students. And for me, that is exactly what I want to do.