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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Impacting Instruction

Today I went to observe a colleague's ESL classroom to look at how "academic discourse" is used in our school. The experience got me thinking about the variables that impact a student's classroom education. I made a brief mental list of the things that contribute to a student's experience in the classroom: what the teacher says, materials presented (and order they're presented in), the behavior and studiousness of their peers, the physical setup of the classroom (desks, wall art, etc..) Then I started to wonder about who contributes to the quality of these factors. Who can we blame when an educational experience is subpar? Who can we credit when it's excellent?

Most of the factors I thought about are significantly impacted by the teacher and their methods. Classroom setup, the materials presented, what the teacher says, and even the behavior of the students are all directly affected by teacher behavior.

And so, on the surface, it seems that the media are correct when they suggest that the teacher is the most significant influence on quality of education experienced by students. Of course, if you have any significant experience working in or around classrooms, you know that's not the entire story.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the relatively poor quality of education I'm offering to my students. I have, unfortunately, not been meeting all the needs of all my students. A number of my students receive instruction in my classroom that is not on their level. Of course, I do my best to meet their needs. I attempt to differentiate my instruction. I employ students who understand the material to help those who do not. But it's not enough.

Were my students to be offered a truly excellent education, I'd need more time to think about my curriculum and conference with colleagues about creating a comprehensive learning plan for my students in both the content area I teach and within the grade-level. I'd need a few teachers aids in each class supporting the work of students who are easily distracted. I would need the time to conference with each of my students and their families on a regular basis about their performance in the classroom. I, and other new teachers to the school and district, would need additional time at the beginning of the year to meet with experienced staff members to talk about school culture, procedures, and curriculum. Even better, teachers would be paid to do work over the summer.

My behavior strongly impacts the quality of education received by my students. But even as an experienced educator, my behavior is strongly impacted by supports offered me by the district and requirements imposed on me by lawmakers thousands of miles from my classroom.

3 comments:

  1. You have so eloquently captured what it feels like to work in a Title I high school. I constantly feel downright BAD about about the quality of education I'm providing - it's definitely not nearly as good as the education I received and I know it's not the very best I can do. I just feel so constantly crippled by all the other stuff that goes along with being a teacher, it's literally impossible to perform at my best. Example: we're experimenting with a new evaluation system, so I spent 40 minutes of my planning period typing up this totally BS set of "reflections" about some BS instructional strategies. That's 40 minutes that I could have been writing productive comments on my students' essays, contacting parents, tweaking lessons - you know the stuff that actually MATTERS. It's just so absurd I try not to think about it too hard or my head will explode.

    You are a very gifted writer :)

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  2. i've just recently come across and have been reading and enjoying your blog.

    i recently interviewed and subbed at a school of at risk kids. class sizes capped at 20. made a huge difference. i could spend more time with certain students, teaching just to and for them. i could also much more easily stay on top of and eliminate off task or misbehavior.

    so in regards to this post, i wondered why don't other schools manage their funds such that they can do the same? we feel like "bad teacher" - not meeting the needs of all our students and the main reason is there are just too many kids at too many ability levels and with too variant of behavior issues - it's very difficult to help them all at once. but just down the class size and so much is better.

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  3. Anon at 907: I completely agree. I think the easy answer to your question is cost. Everyone seems to be trying to play their budgets so they can use their money in "creative ways" to impact instruction, when nearly everyone with significant classroom experience knows that excellent teaching and small class sizes are the nuts and bolts of a great school experience. Unfortunately, it's more money than we're willing to pay.

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