We spend a lot of time in education, and as educators, on how we can do a better job with instruction and teaching kids to read, write, do math, think, observe, analyze, etc. I firmly believe that matters. There are powerful ways to teach and less-than-positive ways to do it. (I mean, really, I wrote an entire book on academic conversations. I have strong feelings about how we teach children.)
Who We Teach
However, it is far too easy for us to lose track of the fact that we teach children. We teach them lots of different things (some intentionally and some unintentionally). We teach them.
One of the things that brings me joy at Educon every year (well, prepandemic anyway) is listening to the teachers there tell what they do. “I teach 10th graders English.” “I teach high schoolers art.” “I teach 12th graders government.” The focus is on the students, not on the subject.
I teach third graders.
I don’t have anything profound to say here. I’m just struck, after a couple of days in Williamsburg at the VASCD annual conference, by how important this is. At least, that I think it is. How different could education look if we put students first? If we truly thought about the kids in front of us before we thought about the content requirements?
How We Spend Our Time
We spend meetings as teams unpacking standards to be sure we understand what we are expected to teach. We spend time planning assessments of that content. We analyze the data from the assessments of that content. Then, maybe then, we look at individual students and think about what they need, if they didn’t seem to master the expected content and skills. Are we ending up with a focus on equality rather than on equity?
And what about the who we are expected to teach? Why are the kids last in this process? What could we do to start with our students and then consider the content?
More Questions Than Answers
I am really not sure what this might look like. I think the knowledge we have about social and emotional learning is a part of it. But not all of it. Kids are human beings and they are complicated and layered and full of ideas, questions, desires, and needs. What would it look like to plan a lesson or a unit or a day starting with the kids in our care?
What might professional development look like, if in addition to workshops on constructivist strategies and questioning skills and problem solving ideas, we had workshops about kids? What if you could attend workshops focused on what we know about kids at a certain age or how best to teach students who are quiet in class or strategies for working with students who are people pleasers? Could that be valuable?
Please, if you have any ideas about how this could look (or why I could be totally off base) share them. I am feeling at a standstill and it is immensely frustrating. I would love any thoughts.