Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thoughts on Teaching

Whew, it's been a long time.  These past two weeks, I've had car issues, helped my boyfriend move, hung out with boyfriend's parents, babysat, moved into my new apartment, celebrated my cat turning 7, and babysat some more.  And it wasn't just any kind of babysitting, it was babysitting for two year olds.  Two of them.  Twins.  Needless to say, I've not had any time to really update my blog, which makes me sad.  I've also not had a lot of time to read - in these past two weeks, I've completed two books, which granted isn't bad, but it's no where near the 8 I wanted to finish.  I've also lost a lot of drive when it comes to writing this particular blog post, but I'm gonna bear down and power through.

I've toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher a few times, and I'll probably muse on this prospect even more as I make my way through grad school.  And as I was reading James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me a few weeks ago, this fleeting idea seemed to really take hold and resonate with me.  A lot of things Mr. Loewen was critiquing about how our current educational system really struck a chord, and it's only been exacerbated by more recent developments about educational issues affecting my current city (which you can read about here and here). 

I've already made my approval for Tucson's Ethnic Studies implicit, but here, I'll outright state it: these classrooms are doing the right thing.  They are using unique texts to cover a new, wide range of material.  They also utilize primary texts and confront controversial issues, encourage students to have meaningful classroom discussions, and engage in thoughtful intellectual debate.  Benefits to the students have been thoroughly documented, and the audit that was ordered by Arizona Superintendent John Huppenthal (who, ironically, declared Ethnic Studies illegal despite the audit he ordered finding differently) has found that these classes work tremendously to close the achievement gap facing lower income and underprivileged students. 

But, anyway, back to what I was saying: I've thought a lot about how I would personally go about being a teacher.  It would be a tall order, for sure, especially given that teachers are treated horribly here in the U.S. and our educational system has lots of problems.  But I've thought of a few things:

1) Using primary sources (and eliminating pesky textbooks). Now, granted, I don't know a lot about Arizona's requirements for using certain texts in the classroom, but for everything from English to History, there is a more effective way to implement textbooks in the classroom.  Students have a wide range of resources available to them via the internet - access to novels, historical documents, pictures of artwork, and so on.  Utilizing resources via the internet is cheap and incredibly manageable, but I realize it might not always fly, so...

2) Revamp textbooks if you can't eliminate them.  Pearson allows you to customize textbooks for any grade level, an invaluable tool that allows you to not only include primary texts, but also primary responses to texts (such as newspaper or journal articles that provide supplementary or opposing viewpoints).  One can make the switch to digital text books.  Customized textbooks are often much cheaper (Pearson's book starts at only 8 dollars, plus 2 cents per page, which is completely manageable if combined with other resources such as online activities).  Again, this depends a lot on textbook adoption and individual school districts (and state laws), but in placing a large emphasis on cutting costs, this actually might be really easy to implement. 

3) Gamify education.  Okay, so this branches away from Loewen's argument somewhat and granted it might seem a little like it's coming out of left field, but bear with me.  One of Loewen's biggest critiques about how we teach history now is that it's boring.  Teachers make it boring.  The educational process has become boring.  And how do we fix it?  Well, one way is to gamify education. Granted, this is still a new concept, and it will ultimately be interesting to implement, but part of gamifying education is really just encouraging us to move away from what we are doing currently and truly foster intellectual and educational development.  Make education less about earning grades, and more about learning.  This is totally feasible, but unfortunately, schools have in many way become organizations with bottom-lines (be they monetary or other), and students and teachers stuffer as a result. 

All these things I mentioned are just little beginning steps, still budding thoughts that have yet to bear real fruit. 

I have to apologize for this post.  This entire entry is all over the place and feels incomplete, but hey, it's an update, and I suppose just writing this will get me back on track to continue updating.  Hopefully, getting this out now will help organize my thoughts on this topic in a more coherent fashion in the future, but, we'll see.

Anyway, I'm out, for now.  See you on Saturday!


  1. You should be a teacher - if and only if you can maintain this energy. I wish I could say the same for myself!

  2. There is also the option of teaching in alternative schools, Alex! Open learning is only gaining support as time passes, and it might be worth investigating if Montessori or Waldorf/Steiner education would suit your teaching style. :)


  3. That's a totally awesome point, Ash, and I admit it completely slipped my mind (the fact that it's not too prominent here yet probably contributed to that).

    I do plan on blogging about an awesome classroom style that I learned about last year eventually, so hopefully I'll do some research into Montessori or Waldorf/Steiner by then to incorporate that information as well. :)

    Thanks for your readership. I'm off to catch up on your blog, now!

  4. One of the things that's discouraged me from teaching was the contrast between how much teacher education tries to discourage teaching rote memorization, over-reliance on textbooks, & misapplied standardization and how much the school district where I did my student teaching DEMANDED those things. If I do stick with teaching after finishing my degree, I want to work in a private or Catholic (or even magnet) school. The pay will be worse, but I'll have a lot more freedom & autonomy in the classroom, so I think that would be worth it.