Six years ago, I had to teach one of my past University professor’s children. Needless to say, it was quite terrifying to start. I mean, here was a professor who taught me how to teach. How will I measure up? Have I experienced enough to live up to her expectations?
At our first Parent/Teacher/Student conference, I was a bundle of nerves. I didn’t know what or how to prepare for our initial meeting. I was expecting a conversation surrounding outcomes and teaching methods. Her first question however, was nothing I could have anticipated:
“Since having children,” she began, “has the way you taught changed?”
At first, I think I had a lost look on my face. I pondered the question, wondering if it was a trick one. But in the 20 seconds or so that it took me to come up with an answer, I knew that, yes, becoming a parent did change the way I taught.
I don’t think of teaching in terms of educational theories. I’m not one to put fancy names to ways I do things. I don’t operate or think in that fashion in general. But what I do know, is that in my 15 years as an educator, I know that my styles of teachings have changed over the years to meet the needs of my students. Some of that is from becoming a mother and observing first hand how babies learn and grow into toddlers, and how toddlers learn and grow into children. I also had the opportunity to watch that in my classrooms.
My first few years of teaching, I would call myself a “Traditional Teacher”. The kind of teacher that curriculum theorist Franklin Bobbitt would be proud of. I was making sure my students were ready for their next step in life – Grade 2. They needed to be able to read, write, add and subtract. I pushed worksheets, memorization and made sure that they would conform to societies norms and expectations.
After a couple of years, and a particularly “ingenious” idea to get rid of annual “messy desks” speech, I decided to get rid of my rows upon rows of students and bring in round tables. This small change would begin a major shift in the way I taught my students.
I guess this is where I began to move away from the Bobbitt approach to teaching and lean more towards John Dewey‘s way of experiencing learning. This is where I adopted a more constructivist model of learning with my students. I would observe my students sharing what they were doing with those around them. They would support each others learning, discuss ideas and debate answers. I remember one student grabbing manipulatives to show a table-mate how to make groups for multiplying because he knew that that student needed hands on materials to help with his learning.
This supportive environment allowed my students to become more socially aware of those who they worked with. Now, it wasn’t all roses and diamonds… There were definitely some students who couldn’t handle themselves in groups and needed a more defined space to work. But that was adapting to the needs of the students. Some students thrive with a more constructivist approach to learning, while others require a more behaviouralist approach. Regardless of how they are learning, the important fact is, is that they are learning.
Today, some classrooms and schools are adopting more “modern” ways of teaching. Inquiry based learning, genius hours and Makerspaces are dominating conversations throughout schools. Technology has also played a huge part in the shift of classrooms. I remember having 1 computer in my classroom and using programs to help students learn to type. Now, students are coming in with their own devices in Grade 2 already savvy enough to download apps and search Google for answers to pressing science questions.
I recently viewed a YouTube clip called “I Just Sued The School System!” which described how archaic our school systems can be and how we need to allow change to happen. Some school divisions are excelling at allowing changes to happen in individual classrooms and schools. But this isn’t always the case and some teachers, division offices and (mostly) parents feel that kids should learn the way they did 20 years ago. I personally believe that small changes help others “get their feet wet” and allow them to see why these changes are beneficial to our students.
Cars didn’t evolve overnight from a Model-T to a Minivan. Cars changed as society changed and as technology advanced. So too must our education system.