February 22, 2014 by Margo Page
Teaching in a public school classroom is one of the hardest professions, if not the hardest. It is beyond challenging. In some cases it nears impossible. The public school system is one of the most complex and dire challenges the United States faces today. I have spent a good deal of time in a variety of county public school classrooms. I have spent days observing classrooms, and I have spent years substituting and assisting teachers in elementary, middle, high and special-needs county public schools. I interned full-time for half of a year as an elementary school art teacher, and half of a year as a middle school art teacher. I attended K-12 in the public school system. Although I plan to, I have not yet seen “Waiting for Superman”. I avoid horror movies because they scare me too much, and I’m a bit afraid to fuel the fire I have burning inside of me about our public school system.
The students, nor the teachers are ever to blame. As every teacher knows, there is always at least one or two students in a class who continuously disrupts the peace, like a monkey stealing things from your purse on a tropical beach as soon as you shut your eyes, or a fly buzzing in your ear. Some characteristics are inherent, but being well-behaved is not one of them. It is through nurture, at home and in school, that students learn to default to behaviors that contribute to a positive classroom environment — respecting others’ property, using kind words, putting effort into their work, and being quiet when the teacher is talking. Therefore, in my heart, I never fault the student for the behavior h/she displays in the classroom.
Likewise, amidst the many inspiring and enlightened teachers, there are some teachers who have developed destructive perspectives, attitudes and behaviors. Most teachers themselves grew up in this faulty public school system. They may have learned the old-school method of discipline rather than the new-school method of positive reinforcement. Teachers have to work under a high cognitive load. Finishing a thought is a moderate task. Finishing a thought while maintaining the positive classroom environment in the classroom, teaching the class as a whole, making sure none of the students are falling behind, making sure none of the students are bored, appealing to the wide-range of learning styles, ignoring the innocuous humming from a student to your right and maintaining focus despite the four hands in the air of students who want to go to the bathroom or sharpen their pencil is a feat. A small amount of cognitive resources remains to respond to a student who gives an unexpected answer. So, teachers rely heavily on rehearsed modes of interacting with students, which can be either telling a student “no, you’re wrong”, or “I’m not sure I understand, can you explain more what you mean?”. In my heart, I never blame a teacher for lacking the rehearsed methods which most encourage student learning.
All students want above all to be liked and feel appreciated, but some have lost their way and have diverged from the path that could lead them to that goal. All teachers want to make a positive difference in the world. Few teachers are apathetic, and those who are are usually that way because they are jaded and feel beaten down by the tiresome task of trying to inspire students who are more heavily influenced by the unhealthy home environments they live in. Teaching is a tedious and arduous job that demands much effort, and rewards only with very small successes and gains.
The school system is the confluence of knowledge, vision, and policy. Through training, expectations, and rules, the school system integrates teaching and learning methodologies, psychological growth and development principles into practical lesson and course strategies. I will cite specific student and teacher classroom examples to illustrate how the school system needs to provide a more cohesive and salient vision of positive and effective teaching methodologies.