Sunday, February 27, 2005

"Teachniques", what schools really need

As a student, likely in a logic class in first year university, I learned the difference between information and knowledge. Information, I was told, is facts, details, statistics, anything that we accumulate but have little direct use for. Knowledge, on the other hand, is information you can use, stuff you can put to use to further something you want to do or say.
Today I found myself writing a brief note in a article about teaching and I made one of my all-too-familiar errors in communication between brain and fingers. As you might imagine, teaching and education figure highly in my thoughts as regards my book Turning It Around. I had intended to write about the techniques that teachers use to manage 25 to 35 youngsters and how they may differ from those used by parents who may have trouble keeping two kids amused and actively learning in the evenings or on weekends.
My fingers produced the word "teachniques." As awkward as this word would be to say, it conveys a concept that few parents understand, unless they happen also to be teachers.
How do teachers, who have control over the lives of up to three dozen children for five hours or more each day, keep order and keep curious and active minds pointing in the direction of one lesson after another when parents may have much less success with a handful orfewer? The answer is planning.
School boards expect teachers to advance their students a given amount over each school year. To this end they generate curriculum as guidelines for what material should be covered. Curriculum seldom receives support in the form of resources, either material or financial, from the school boards. This requires teachers to work extraordinarily hard to create lessons directed toward the goals stipulated for them by the curriculum.
The school board that produces the curriculum, thereby making demands on its teachers, takes into account what it wants students to learn. What new curriculum requires of the teachers who must implement that curriculum seldom figures into the matrix.
Budget increases for schools, so that new resources may be acquired to implement the curriculum, lose in the battle against the bulge of education taxes.
In a perfect world, where teachers had an abundance of skills and energy, no personal life, few non-school responsibilities and no better way to measure their success in life than to satisfy the needs of politicians who please their electorate by producing new curriculum regularly, this system might survive. No one knows wherethat perfect world might be.
Let's consider the possibilities from the point of view of the teacher. Using the internet, a printer and a photocopying machine, a teacher might be able to breach enough copyright laws to produce printed matter for the students to use for lessons.
A teacher with less time to spend researching, scruples to get in the way of plagiarism, perhaps a family at home for whom responsibilities are overwhelming, will have to cheat somewhere.
Cheating means either of two results. One forces the teacher to teach to the test, the conventional and old-fashioned way of monitoring the success of a teacher. Tests, you should know, demonstrate the success or failure of the teacher to teach certain material more than of the student to get an education.
So squeezed resources and personal responsibilities force the teacher to emphasize what will be tested more than the development of the intellectual abilities and skills of the students.
The other possible outcome is that the teacher will leave the progress of the student in the student's own hands, by making library and the internet available to the student, along with some learning guidelines. This will inevitably lead the student to follow his interests, with a minimum of attention given to the requirements to produce something to verify the progress of his study with a project paper or a test.
Which student will receive the better education?
Those with teaching certificates variously describe themselves as teachers or educators. A teacher teaches facts and skills, as prescribed by curriculum. An educator helps another person to learn about life. Sometimes those life lessons can't be tested and may not be able to be converted into knowledge for decades to come.
Teaching qualifies as a profession, like medicine, dentistry and lawyering. Yet it's the educator, who inspires his students to follow their curiosities, to gobble up knowledge that may never be tested for marks, we should respect as the professional.
A true educator uses "teachniques" that remain mysterious to those who have not experienced his guidance in their quest for learning about life. The best educators share similarities with conductors of orchestras. Each player in the orchestra may be playing a different line of music, but the result is beautiful.
In the classroom of an educator, each student follows a different line of acquisition of knowledge and skills. The tests and the curricula, in the final analysis, impact little on the beauty of the final result.
I began this as a brief description of my stumbling upon the new word "teachniques." It developed into something else entirely. I would be interested to learn your comments or questions about it.
I am in the midst of writing a series of articles which will be used by newspapers and magazines as a tie-in with Turning It Around.
I will develop the above further. Rewrites and editing, of course, would be necessary.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems

No comments: