Self-centered can be Student-centered

What bothers me most about the current push toward standardized instruction and scripted curricula is that it treats teachers like interchangeable widgets that can be plugged into any system to yield the same results.  It’s not just that it minimizes the importance of teaching experience and mastery.  It is creating a system in which the unique qualities of an educator (e.g., teaching style, sense of humor, life experiences) are more than undervalued–they are discouraged.

The ideal classroom in this new vision of instruction would contain 40+ students seated silently absorbing knowledge from the white, female, middle-class “source” (variations in skin color, gender, or values are just a distraction) at the front of the room, who delivers the one, true and perfect lesson that has been mathematically proven to be the most effective for the average child.

As individuals who choose to educate children in a public school setting, our differences are our strengths.  When we make choices in the classroom based on our judgment and informed by our experiences, we are doing what is best for our students.  Telling a teacher that he or she must utilize the same lesson as his colleagues dampens his enthusiasm and reduces his effectiveness.

In this regard, I know that my opinion differs from that of some colleagues.  I know that collaboration can be very powerful for analyzing student performance data and brainstorming intervention strategies.  I recognize the importance of this work, but I also feel that a teacher who focuses on her own original lessons and activities can bring important learning experiences into the lives of her children.

Take, for example, a recent field trip that I planned and conducted with the support of my multi-disciplinary middle school team.  Based on my experiences as a aquatic ecologist prior to teaching–a rare thing in a world in which most science teachers don’t have science research experience–my students walked to a local lake where they used a variety of chemical tests and equipment to measure its water quality.

It’s a day-long adventure that taught these kids how to do hands-on science, how to appreciate their natural world, and how important environmental stewardship is.  It took me months of planning and hours of hard work to pull off, but it is all worth it because there is no better way for me to teach kids about water quality.

But, if this is the best way to teach it, don’t I have the responsibility to share this idea with my PLC?  Don’t they have the responsibility to put in the same amount of time and effort as I did?  And, if we agree to teach this concept in different ways, doesn’t this fly in the face of the Professional Learning Communities model?

And, more to my point, does this type of “selfishness” benefit students?  I think so.  I believe that teachers sometimes need to be selfish and blaze their own trail.  That’s where innovation comes from… and we need a lot of that these days.

3 thoughts on “Self-centered can be Student-centered

  1. You read me wrong, Paul!

    The kind of instructional variation that you talk about here is something that I COMPLETELY support.

    The structures that I’m talking about in the post that you reference have little to do with governing the work of an individual classroom teacher. Instead, it has everything to do with creating a common frame for the house that we’re all working in.

    Every school trying to function as a PLC needs to have some shared values — common answers to questions like “How do we feel about grading and assessment?” and “What role should technology play in our teaching?”

    Every school trying to function as a PLC needs to have some shared sets of action steps that they take when kids struggle — behaviorally or academically.

    Every school trying to function as a PLC needs to have a schedule that allows for intervention and for common planning and reflection between teams of teachers.

    Beyond that, standardization is the devil. It literally PREVENTS collective inquiry around practice simply because there is no variation in practice.

    Make sense?
    Bill

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