Content vs. Kids

I started the final day of EduCon in Matthew Kay‘s session, Not Light, But Fire: Developing Your Talking Game. Kay wrote the book, Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. He is an English teacher at SLA (Science Leadership Academy – the school that hosts EduCon every year). I learned several years ago that if Kay was leading a session, I wanted to be there. I have not been disappointed yet.

There’s a lot I’m still processing about this session, but one of the things he said made me stop and start a draft post here so I wouldn’t forget it. He was describing a conversation in his classroom about a period in history, related to a book they had read, when it became clear that one student had no knowledge about that time period. Kay’s plan for the class period was completely thrown off. He had thought through the conversation and prepared for lots of possibilities, but this was wholly unexpected. He dropped the original plan and addressed this student’s needs. He said, “When we don’t shift, kids learn that our curriculum is more important than they are.”

When we don’t shift, kids learn that our curriculum is more important than they are.

Yup. Kids learn a lot from the choices we make in the classroom and they should be at the center of all of those decisions. If they aren’t, they know it.

I stopped to write this down because it hits on an issue I see again and again in education: content versus kids. I’m sure I’ve written about this before and will again because content is king in our educational system and that means kids aren’t.

Years ago I looped from fourth to fifth grades with my students. Many people, teachers and non-teachers, were surprised I wanted to do this and voiced concern about how challenging it would be to learn new curriculum. Even then, finishing up my fifth year of teaching, I knew that concern was absurd. By looping I had new curriculum to learn, but not new kids. It takes me months to truly get to know my students. Looping with them meant I already knew them and we could get rolling immediately.

Content or kids. We can focus on both and we need too, but if there’s a conflict and one has to be prioritized over the other, I will always prioritize kids.

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