Imagine one of your favorite teachers. I guarantee that, when you imagine him or her, you do not remember their use of effective assessment techniques, their differentiated instruction, or their alignment to state/national standards; rather, you remember their ability to captivate, ignite inquiry, and empathize with your interests and needs.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think there is an immense amount of validity to educational research, and I would be a silly man to say that we should throw out what we know about effective assessment, differentiation, or standards-based learning. However, I think I would be equally as silly if I said that mastering these research-based techniques makes a master teacher.
Today, like the greater Chicago area, I feel that I am in the midst of an autumn storm. My colors were bright and vivid as I entered my third year of teaching, and now, as my fourth year begins its rising action, I can’t help but feel that my leaves have been violently shaken away from me, leaving me bare and left to revel in a mess of decomposing matter that, I like to think, grew over the past three years.
For the first time, I am questioning who I am as a teacher and whether or not I belong in a classroom.
After being discouraged to talk about same-sex marriage with children, I can’t help but think that my original convictions for becoming a teacher have been absorbed and dissipated by the science behind what teachers have been asked to do. Once again, I am entirely in favor of valid and reliable assessment (In fact, it really intrigues me.), and I truly believe that differentiated instruction allows for all students to grow at a pace appropriate to their development and needs; however, I also think there is validity in the immeasurable. I believe there is validity in the lessons that cannot be calculated and ranked with percentiles.
I believe there is validity in teaching our children how to be human.
Learning to be Human
We live in an age where our world is becoming more interconnected and more interdependent. We are entering an age of empathy, a time in which generations are becoming more accepting of diversity than ever before, and a time that is beginning to confront controversial issues through tolerance and open-minded discussion.
The millenial generation is the most accepting of the LGBT community and the most willing to discuss differences. Even the friends I have that disagree with same-sex partnerships have been open to opportunities to discuss our opinions on the topic. While the inability to convince them that a same-sex relationship is just as fulfilling as a heterosexual one has been more than disheartening, I value the fact that we have been able to discuss our thoughts openly and naturally.
This is what kids need to learn. They need to know there is more to school than the three-digit score they receive after taking their seasonal benchmark test; they need to realize that learning doesn’t always mean you are meeting the (3) on the proficiency scale. They need to know that some of the most valuable learning cannot and will never be measured quantitatively.
They need to learn the value of empathizing and reaching understanding through open dialogue, and that these lessons cannot always be seamlessly integrated into a unit of instruction. Sometimes they are “teachable moments,” in response to a child’s thought or a historical event.
Notice, I am not saying they need to learn how to agree with mainstream values, because yes, same-sex marriage is becoming a mainstream value, but I am saying that they need to at least learn how to discuss it rationally–and when the need arises.
By silencing controversial discussion, we are not teaching children to be empathic individuals; we are teaching them to be individuals who operate through rigid objectivity rather than through rational and logical subjectivity.
Now think back to that favorite teacher–the one who ignited inquiry or just “got” you as a person and learner. What would he or she want?