August down! Alright! Ok, so maybe that isn’t very fun for many of you. For example: students and teachers. Which I am one of. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your opinions), Cal Poly Pomona starts back in late September, so I still have some freedom. Today I wanted to talk a bit about the schooling system. Specifically, I wanted to talk about teachers.
I’ve had a lot of good teachers. In fact, I’ve only had a handful of teachers that I did not like. From the perspective of a student, it’s pretty easy to divide between “good teachers” and “bad teachers.” From the perspective of someone who was raised by teachers, it is a little less clear. For example, one of my “bad” teachers, according to my classmates, was actually a fine teacher. She was nice, and covered all the material in a way that was both engaging and interactive. However, for the most part, students I talked to were unhappy with her as a teacher. I think that this was because she was incapable of seeming genuinely interested in student livelihood. Teaching was a job, not a passion.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this teacher was one of the better teachers I’ve had at covering course material in a clear and easy to comprehend manner. Which means that students learn from more than just the presentation of course material. I now think to my favorite teacher ever, a nice man with a beard, shorts, and long socks. And a really solid memory. He was a history teacher, and to help us learn about the development of railroads he had us play a game over multiple class periods in which we developed and competed with each other in order to build the best railroad. At once, he taught us about the difficulties of railroad politics while also teaching us meaningful aspects of human interaction. In addition to this, he was a quirky person with a lot of love for his students. Before he retired, I one day found myself on campus to recruit for sports, and he remembered me well enough to pause class and ask how I was doing. Nothing extensive, but checking in because he legitimately cared to see how I was doing.
Which worries me, because I think this is something we are moving away from in schooling. Of the teachers I’ve experienced that are younger—as in, 30 or younger, there is this awkward problem for me. I know part of it is that every teacher needs to “get their legs” as people have put it, which can take a few years, but at the same time the problem felt like it may persist. Which is this sort of…by the books aspect to learning. While I don’t think standards are inherently a bad idea, they do create this weird teacher-student dynamic where a teacher has a set of guidelines and as long as they follow them, what the student does isn’t really relevant to them. There’s less focus on real learning, and instead a focus about putting information out into the air for students to (hopefully) grasp at. Which means that if a student isn’t sure which bits of the flurry of information are important, they will grab at it in one of two ways. The first being that they will grab for too much, and end up with their hands full, or the second way, which is where they don’t know what to grab for, and hesitate out of uncertainty. It takes a certain kind of student to grab accurately, but this kind of student is one in a million. And nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine students struggling to succeed when a bit more teacher caring is all it takes for them to try is all it takes is not much to ask of the schooling system.