Walking along the way in my journey

Bird Droppings October 12, 2021
Walking along the way in my journey

I walked nearly twice as far today as I did yesterday. I am trying to build up my endurance. As I think back over who I am as a teacher and person, I often wonder how I came to be the way I am and why I take such a differing outlook from so many teachers to my endeavor. I recall my father teaching me how to teach as a swimming instructor and in various Red Cross programs. Tell, Show, Test, and Check was his favorite for teaching a subject or skill. I have used the FIDO principle many times over the years Frequency, Intensity, Duration, and Over again.
As I attended college and began thinking about teaching as a profession, I had courses in teaching and what to teach to various groups of children and adults. We talked theory and realities we practiced, taught, and were observed by professors. I look back and wonder, how does a professor who has never taught outside of college level teach anyone how to teach, say elementary school-age children? But within it all, I became who I am as a teacher, parent, and person. I see this enterprise as an ongoing continuum and one that truly is never complete. Going back to my favorite Aerosmith quote that I have used so many times, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.”

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who does not know how to read.” Mark Twain

I spend a good bit of my day reading and find it so hard to understand when I see comments that I do not read or have a favorite book. I may look at ten or twelve books in a day, looking for thoughts or ideas for my writings. But to profess to not reading, how can you consider yourself even semi-intelligent. For it is through reading that we increase our vocabulary and understanding of the world around us. It is through reading that we develop and progress beyond where we are today. It is thorough reading that we move along the journey.

I was speaking with a fellow teacher today about such things. Why do kids not read, for example? Some are a lack of encouragement at home during those hours away from school. Some is the example set by parents who are not readers. But I think a large portion is our current style of teaching to the test. We are teaching kids to pass tests that impact the teacher’s annual appraisals, and in some cases, even salaries are based on test scores. When we take away significance and choice and mandate specific memorization for test content, we lose an aspect of who the child is.
Paulo Freire is a radical in terms of education and his outlook on what teaching and education should be about. Freire was a teacher, activist, thinker, innovator, and college professor in various stages if not all of his life.

“As a teacher in an educational program, I cannot be satisfied simply with nice, theoretical elaborations regarding the ontological, political, and epistemological bases of educational practice. My theoretical explanation of such practice ought to be also a concrete and practical demonstration of what I am saying.” Paulo Freire

There is another side of Freire’s philosophy that interests me as well. How much more is gained when you can touch or apply what it is you are learning. That is very similar to Dewey’s that the democratic process is crucial to a classroom and that the teacher is a learner and learners are teachers.

“In the context of true learning, the learners will be engaged in a continuous transformation through which they become authentic subjects of the construction and reconstruction of what is being taught, side by side with the teacher, who is equally subject to the same process.” Paulo Freire

An ongoing back and forth process provides both teacher and learner with answers and questions. I once considered this process symbiotic, but as I learned and looked deeper, it became osmotic. There was a constant flow back and forth between teacher and learner; it was not a reliance on one or the other.

“The teacher who thinks ‘correctly’ transmits to the students the beauty of our way of existing in the world as historical beings, capable of intervening in and knowing this world.” Paulo Freire

I wonder how much of Dewey Freire read. Many of his thoughts run parallel to Dewey as Dewey saw the experience as a critical piece so often left out when teaching. All of the students’ experiences brought to the classroom are bits and pieces that can be built on and added to. I am amused that Freire uses quotes around the word correctly. How many teachers are teaching correctly in the world? Looking at how a teacher is evaluated in Georgia with a six or seven-question checklist and relatively simple responses, the process is complex and not conducive to yes and no checkboxes.

“It is easier to stick with what teachers have always done and believed, rather than go about the painful process of changing current thinking about teaching” Charlotte Danielson, from the book, Teacher Evaluation, Discussing why we continue to evaluate teachers in an archaic model

We continue to evaluate and judge teachers based on models that have been used since the early 1960s and tend to focus on ease and the most simplistic methods. Time seems to be always a factor. I am wandering a bit today as I think about where I am on my journey.

“There is no valid teaching from which there does not emerge something learned and through which the learner does not become capable of recreating and remaking what has been thought. In essence, teaching that does not emerge from the experience of learning cannot be learned by anyone.” Paulo Freire

I will have to admit Freire does get deep and philosophical at times. But this aspect of doing that aspect of experiencing that runs through his words to me is significant. Many teachers try and keep everything to a minimum in terms of how they teach. I was involved in a discussion on a new math program and was informed we only want students to learn function, not how it works. So students memorize a line on a graph which is this or that, which gets answers A-D, but in effect, they never understand or learn what that is or why.

On the other side, I watched a watershed model during a graduate class. I explained what was happening when rain or excess water was present and impacted the surrounding area. Our lecturer was versed in experiential teaching. He builds on teachable moments and hands-on experience. For myself, even thinking back to summers of teaching biology to kids who had failed biology during the regular session, my main objective was to have them pass a comprehensive exam approved by the school and department. We would spend the first hour each day learning vocabulary, doing what I hated but without vocabulary, you cannot even read a biology test, let alone answer questions.

After that, we organized and categorized all the trees on campus. We studied hands-on ecology and interactions. We watched various settings deserts (The Living Desert by Disney Studios), Jungles, and the Arctic (National Geographic films). Occasionally we would get out one of my ball pythons and talk about reptiles and amphibians. I have had live animals in my room since I started back teaching eleven years ago. Amazingly all of them passed the finals, and in the three years I taught intersession, only one student quit coming, and it was a family problem. The system changed and went to seat time as the criteria and worksheets were the lessons I stopped doing in summer school. It was no longer teaching simply babysitting.

I often wonder about the whys and hows of so many teachers and think back to great teachers and ones I consider excellent even in our high school. Those are the teachers who get kids excited about learning and look for ways and means to bring life to the lesson and who are always learning. I would consider only a handful of teachers great as I think back and always a story or two. My middle son had biology in ninth or tenth grade, and a presentation was made. In that presentation, he used an overhead slide that he knew incorrect, and waiting till class was over, he went to the teacher and told her. At first, the teacher was reluctant to listen until he said, ” My brother has that animal in his salt water tank, and I am familiar with it. She said she would fix it so it would be right. Several years later, in an advanced class, Zoology, the slide and again the wrong name and scientific data were attached. This time being more mature and angrier, he stopped the class and said the slide was wrong. So here is a student who tried to help a teacher who was not interested in learning.

“Why not, for example, take advantage of the student’s experience of life.” Paulo Freire

“A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of the actual experience by environing conditions but that they recognize in the concrete what surrounding are conductive to experiences that lead to growth.” John Dewey, Experience and Education

Dewey taught we need to build from not exclude the past experiences in our endeavors to teach children. I have found this in the Foxfire Approach to Teaching to be a critical element.

“New activities spiral gracefully out of the old, incorporating lessons learned from past experiences, building on skills and understandings that can now be amplified.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 7

In one of the books I have read several times, A wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn, The discussion of the old method of forcibly taking Indian children and placing them in boarding schools to modernize them and make white Indians is a crucial element. I wonder if we learned anything in looking at how we treat children in schools even today. We make them live by our rules and standards, imposing guidelines that fluctuate from class to class, often teacher to teacher. Granted, the boarding school days may seem somewhat at odds with today’s schools, but in reality, there is little difference. In a diversified culture, we demand language that may or may not be known. Coming from a special education background, I am always amazed at how we expect poor readers in their language to read and learn in another. Research shows you cannot, in most cases, exceed the level of attainment in a second or third language that you have in your first.

So I wandered and pondered. This is my reflection for the morning: I wonder and think about what we can do to change education as we know it truly. Freire points to Critical reflection as a means for educators to learn as well as teach. John Dewey builds on reflection, as does Foxfire.

“In the process of ongoing education of teachers, the essential moment is that critical reflection on one’s practice. Thinking critically about practice, of today, or yesterday, makes possible the improvement of tomorrow’s practice.” Paulo Freire

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

As I read this morning and thought through my various readings, I wondered if the commonalities I saw in Freire and Dewey were perhaps things as educators we should be trying to attain rather than so often fight against. In Foxfire Core practice nine, a thought that has been a key element of any teaching I do is making what I teach relevant and meaningful and have it been something the child can leave the room with, and it makes sense outside of class.

“Connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond the community are clear. “Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

I often wonder if teaching and teachers would ever catch on and be concerned more about the kids than the content, the community than the curriculum, and more about humanity than the National educational initiatives. So, I will stop, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts.

My friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

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