INSIDE OUR SCHOOLS: Teachers deal with family dynamics, aligned curriculum, learning styles

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 30, 2013 

How has education changed in the last few decades for students, teachers and families?

One of the biggest changes is in the students' access to information. Prior to the wide use of the internet, the teacher was the only source of information except for the dusty, dated encyclopedias that were housed in the library. The teacher could be "sage on the stage" and much of the class time was devoted to the disseminating of information so students could work with that knowledge at a later date. Now, teachers act more as facilitators in the gaining of information from the plethora of sources that are available to the students. We teach them how to identify solid, reliable sources and how to sift through the vast misinformation that is out there. Students grapple with complex questions and do not have clear answers and require extensive research to respond.

It is hard to compete with technology so you have to learn to incorporate it in your lessons. That wow factor is harder to reach! In the past, your effectiveness as a teacher was often measured by how quiet your class was: heads down, busily working - now it is opposite. The expectation is that there is child-centered, active learning going on all the time, individually and collaboratively. Finally, a classroom is now a group of individuals with a variety of learning styles, backgrounds and experiences. No longer is the "sit and get" style of teaching acceptable. Teachers must adjust their teaching to meet the needs of each learner in the classroom, which means more interaction and participation with all of our students.

Teaching has also become a collaborative process for teachers and administrators. We do not close our door and work in isolation as was the norm in the past. We are no longer "independent contractors." There are standards that we must teach to -- each lesson must have a clear objective and be aligned to state or national standards. Teachers are expected to meet and plan long- and mid-range lessons and goals together. Middle schools talk to elementary schools and high schools talk to middle schools to align the curriculum. A classroom teacher is expected to know what disabilities a special education student may have and make accommodations and modifications to the tasks for that student. We're setting great examples of how working together can improve processes and make all the pieces fit in a comprehensive system.

Family structures have changed drastically in these last few decades. In previous decades, there were few parents who were divorced. Often, there was a mother at home so the school could send a sick child home, or make a phone call and know you could reach them. Now, most students are juggling more than one household --with that comes a need for teachers to duplicate interaction with families and be cognizant of the dynamics of the family.

One unique aspect of teaching at Options is working in portables. To be honest, it's not easy. We get rained on going from class to class and here in the Pacific Northwest that is a long season. I have to tuck my laptop under my coat. No central heating -- a heater blasts hot air then cold air because it is also the air exchange unit. They are less safe than being in a school in case of a lockdown because there is no buffer zone between the class and the public.

I could go on and on about the physical inconveniences of teaching and learning in a portable but I think we all can adjust to those things. What is most lacking when being housed in a portable is the sense of belonging to a central community, of being a part of a larger experience. Being able to walk down a hallway and experience the "vibe" or tone of the school is important.

School is not just about academics, it is about learning about who you are and how you fit into a puzzle of peers.

Are there any positive aspects of having an entire school in portables? Hmmmm... well, it's better than being in a tent, but we can and should do better for our kids.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

This is one in a series of columns by area teachers exploring education today. Leslie Adamson and Michelle Wilhelm teach at Options High school in Bellingham.

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