To teach his own 2


eraser.jpgMore thoughts on education …

The Art of Teaching was the only course I took in the education department at college. But it proved to be a rich source of life lessons.

A basic tenet unlocks the key to success for any teacher. It’s also the one that’s toughest to master.

Everyone learns differently.

When a teacher faces a classroom of children, she faces several hurdles: limited time, out-of-date textbooks and supposedly shorter attention spans. Those are common obstacles in many American classrooms.

Even more challenging is the notion that each child learns differently. Innate intelligence is one factor that puts some at an advantage (or disadvantage). Some kids learn best by reading, some by lecture, and some by visual presentation.

In the past, most teachers picked a style and ran with it. If some kids didn’t get it, that was considered a natural progression. After all, not everyone can run the mile in four minutes. Not everyone can score a hundred on a multiplication quiz, right?

Certainly, the teacher couldn’t be at fault. She was the educator, the font of knowledge.

So much of the system is based on the assembly-line model, with the school as a factory of learning. Orderly rows of desks. Standardized tests with pre-measured curricula. Textbook committees and lesson plans.

If children study hard, they can succeed. If they don’t, then they fall behind, fail or drop out. Or so the theory went.

The truth is that most children can learn the material. It takes parents who place value on education, learning and knowledge. And it takes teachers who recognize that students who don’t meet their potential aren’t always the ones at fault.

The successful teacher can teach multiplication tables to anyone, not just the “motivated” kids. Some will do fine learning to multiply through practice drills, rows and rows of problems to solve until it sticks. Some will need to visualize the problem: Four times three means seeing four rows of three apples, then counting all 12. Some will learn multiplication through addition: three plus three plus three plus three.

When I’ve taught the basics of page design, my style changes for the audience, whether second graders or a up-and-coming graphic artist or a veteran manager. One size fits all is often a poor teaching method.

The big fuss over gender-segregated classes takes the notion of everyone learning differently to a semi-logical solution. Teaching is more complicated than catering to boys and girls.

Our expectations have been lowered over the years. All kids aren’t expected to be able to learn math. And teachers aren’t expected to teach all kids math. Not for that level of pay. Not when math is less important than self-esteem and happiness.

(I would nag the journalists in the newsroom who couldn’t do basic math. Scandalous, I’d roar.)

All kids can learn the material. Each one is going to learn it in different ways, if given the opportunity. Kids in Denmark and Japan aren’t inherently smarter than kids in Alabama or California. They rise only to the level of expectation we set.

If we set it high, they will meet them. And to help them achieve, teachers must reach each student on an individual basis, because each child learns differently. Only then will no child be left behind.


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