Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Let Teachers Teach

In eighth grade, I had this amazing history teacher. His name was Mr. Roberts and he was an assistant coach on the high school football team and helped with weight lifting for many of the other sports teams (I think.)

He was amazing because he made history come alive and while I had always -- and still do -- loved history, I knew several people in my class that didn't share the same passion. But then Mr. Roberts would roll out his own personal stocks and he would put some kid in there for a day. He had his own guillotine, and he used newspaper Halloween masks to perform beheadings of King Henry the VIII's different wives.

For one of my favorite projects, Mr. Roberts placed a crown on his head and declared himself the King of England, put us in companies that were off to settle America and had us write journals as to how we prepared for the voyage across the Atlantic. If we didn't mention in our journals that we had brought dried fruit, he would tell us that we got scurvy. Once we reached the colonies, if we didn't sign a peace treaty with the Chief (also Mr. Roberts, wearing a headdress) then the Indians would poison our water source or burn down our fort. The company that lasted the longest won. We got to name our ships, and I'm pretty sure that we got bonus points if we named our ship after a Beatles reference.

During the Revolutionary War unit, we had to make a Colonial newspaper. I had fun coming up with different Classifieds and writing the obituaries. We had to interview one of the Patriots.

And then in the Spring, class shut down and we didn't do any learning through activities and presentations, group projects and crazy stunts from Mr. Roberts. Instead, we had boring lectures and flash cards, all presenting the information that we needed in order to complete the standardized test that was coming up. Every single one of us hated those two weeks and the test afterward. I still hate standardized tests, because I do not take them well. Mr. Roberts was as stressed as we were. We were yelled at for talking when throughout the year we had done nothing but laugh as we learned.

In Washington D.C. on Sunday, there was a SAVE OUR SCHOOLS rally. Matt Damon flew in to speak because his mother, a long-time teacher, asked him to speak. His speech was empowering, I think, and worth reading.
“I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.

I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.

I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.
And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.
I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.”
(Via the Washington Post)

Not every teacher I had was amazing. But I can say that I had more good teachers than bad teachers. And I believe I can still name them all. For a long time, I was one of those weird kids that enjoyed school and it was because of these special teachers that loved and believed in what they were doing. For a while, I have debated about whether or not I wanted to become a licensed teacher. If I do, I want to be the kind of teacher that Mr. Roberts was for 90% of the school year. Not the kind of teacher that he had to be in order to make sure we passed those tests. And that was when I was in eighth grade. My sister who graduated just a year behind me, had more tests to take than I did.

As a nation, we can't continue to think that standardized testing is a way to dictate our school systems. It stifles creativity and learning. No wonder the kids of today depend so heavily on video games and the media to provide entertainment.

1 comment:

  1. Jason Bourne rocks. Now, I am even a bigger fan of Matts.


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