being a teacher, change, choices, education reform, hopes, Student-centered

What Have I Done?

I wish I could say that I run my classroom like a well-oiled machine,after all isn’t that what effective teachers do? In truth, it is more of an adventure as our day unfold. Sure the destination has been determined and even a tentative path, but often my studentts’ questions or wonderings are just too juicy to pass up. So we veer off the path and in the end, end up with more knowledge than I could have planned for.

I teach the way I hope my daughter is taught one day. I teach my students to find their voice, to speak up, to share their ideas. At first this seemed like a trap to them, like if they really spoke their minds about schools, they were going to get into deep, serious trouble. Now, about two thirds of the year has passed and these kids are not afraid to tell me the truth. If I am speaking too long, they ask me to let them work. If a lesson is boring, they tell me so, but even better, often offer up suggestions on how to make it better. The same thing goes for praise; if they love something, the tell me, they blog about it and they tell their friends.

And so I wonder what have I done? What have I set my students up for? I will not be passing on students who are used to sitting in their desks listening to a teacher deliver all of the learning. My students will want a voice, a choice, and a goal presented to them. My students will be demanding, honest, and have high expectations that their input will be valued. What have I done?

As we change our approach in the classroom and get more in tune with how we think education should be, are we instead just harming our students by showing them a different way to learn? Would it be better if we shelved our ideas for more student-centered learning and let our students remain in the mold they have fit into for so many years? When we reform are we really just setting our students up for failure? I would love your thoughts on this.

12 thoughts on “What Have I Done?”

  1. As a 5th grade teacher, I struggle with this, too, particularly in social studies. In the past, I've centered my instruction around motivating lessons that are fun and exciting, and minimize textbook reading. However, this year, after seeing what 6th grade assignments look like (Read entire chapter, take notes, define words), I've started teaching one particular note-taking strategy per quarter. We focus on that strategy the entire quarter and do more book work, interspersed with the same fun and motivating activities I've done in the past. I feel like I am setting my students up for future success (they'll have at least 4 effective note-taking strategies to use in the future), and they are still enjoying social studies. In fact, a few parents commented at conferences that social studies is their student's favorite subject! So I think it is much like everything in teaching, balance is key.

  2. As a parent, I thank you for what you have created in your classroom. It doesn't do them a disservice to prepare them for worse. You'll be the teacher they remember when they're adults.

  3. How can teaching them to think for themselves set them up for failure? If they "fail" because they don't act like a post-industrial factory worker, or even worse a conscripted soldier, have you really failed them? Isn't this nation screwed up because of how we have promoted the system as we find it today? The point is moot anyway, because you will continue to do what is best for your kids, and "preparing them" for the next grade level isn't it.

  4. I think you are doing your students a great service. You are making them agents of change. They will not be content to sit and listen through stand and deliver lessons. I think as educators we need to worry less about preparing kids for the next level and worry more about teaching kids. It is a shame Michelle that you feel the need to teach your kids note-taking. The 6th grade teacher should be feeling pressure to make their classroom more engaging.

  5. I teach first grade, and even as a primary grade teacher every spring I think…What have I done? I worry that my students won't be prepared to "play the game" – filling out worksheets and creating written responses for every single thing they read. My goal as a first grade teacher is to create a love of learning and discovery, and I think this goal can be carried out well beyond the early years of a child's formal education. I always remember from my own days as a student when teachers would tell us that we had to do certain things in a certain way because "next year you'll be a ____ grader, and your teacher will expect it." Hopefully when my students enter the next grade level throughout their school years they will be adequately prepared because they are eager to learn and ready to apply their very best thinking.

  6. First of all, thank you for starting this discussion with me. I have discussed this with my husband many times as I implement changes in my room that are different than what they can expect in a typical classroom. It definitely depends on who the teacher will be next, perhaps a similar freethinker will not be as taken back by some of my students. However, a more traditional setting may be harder for them. i think both a curse and a benefit of the American school system is that students have to adapt to a new teacher every year. This is a wonderful life lesson as we learn to adapt to new jobs or social situations. However, I often wonder if we can create disillusioned students by giving them too much freedom one year?Lisa's comment really resonates with me; we should never teach our students one way just so they will not be disappointed later. We should give them the best educational experience we can, no matter what the future hold for them.

  7. Often we throw out existing good practise in favour of new practice. I believe, like everything we need a both and approach. The skills you are talking about such as skimming and scanning are exactly that, skills. The students need these skills to succeed in the world of the future more than ever. They need the skills to be able to skim through large amounts of information (websites) quickly and efficiently, indentifying key points making judgements on the relerence of the material. We just need to ensure that we are teaching these skills in meaningful contexts using an inquiry methdology. (Glenn – twitter GCD28)

  8. I love the sound of the way that you teach and would love to be able to apply more of it myself. As a secondary school teacher (age 11-18) that's much harder because the students have to cope with so many different teachers and this is dealt with at least in part by lots of routine & rules, as well as exam hoops to be jumped as they get older. That's not my ideal, but I'm in my first year and not confident enough to challenge it much yet. I do get the occasional glimmer though, and I especially love it when I set an assignment and a student warily sticks their hand up to ask if they can approach it differently – those students have had a teacher like you somewhere in their past and they're a pleasure to teach!

  9. It's been wonderful to read through these comments because it's been a struggle of mine, too. To be honest I wasn't really thinking about it until somebody said to me, "Boy, I feel sorry for your kids next year." That really got me thinking about "what I've done" to them.As I read through your comments I realized that what I've done is simply provide a different type of learning environment and given them a voice. They are still getting the skills they need in my own special way, and because I see them posting to our blog and on our wiki from home, I believe that I am instilling that passion for learning in them. Just because of who I am I think I will always worry about whether or not I did right by the kids. Next year I'll be in the same building as 6th grade so I'm sure I'll hear first hand about the "trouble-makers" I'm sending on.Is it wrong that I kinda hope they "cause trouble" by asking lots of questions about why they do what they do?

  10. I don't think you are doing your students a diservice in the least. In the world of school and beyond, they will find that they have to adapt to many situations. Chances are, that they already have places in their lives where they can't act the way that they do in your classroom. The important thing is that you are showing them a beautiful possibility for how the world could be. Even if they don't ever have your type of classroom experience again, it will stick with them. It will shape how they make choices and how they ultimately choose to interact with the world.

  11. I have the same problem when some subs come in to my class. I have a certain way of running my class that looks a LOT like ordered chaos to those on the outside looking in. Students voicing their opinions about their learning often is seen as rude or defiant. I often think the same thing, am I setting these students up for a tough time in the years to come? However, I believe that I shouldn't change how I teach because other teachers have a more "traditional" way of teaching. Perhaps they should change?

  12. I believe what you are doing is exactly what students need. Students need a learning environment where they can have a voice, or a place where they are encouraged to think critically for themselves. Yes it is a huge diversion from the traditional American classroom, but that's great. Instead of learning how to memorize and repeat all the information other teachers have drilled into their head, they can come to conclusions on their own. You are teaching them how to learn rather than teaching them simple facts. It's much more abstract and complex, and in my opinion that's the part that seems to worry you. Your classroom doesn't resemble the other classrooms your students sit in, so now they have to adjust.The challenge becomes to teach them how to walk in both worlds. You are a very rare teacher, and you understand that the other teachers won't model their lessons around the students; however, you know (and I agree) that your teaching pedagogy is very beneficial to the children's development. Don't give that up. Make them aware that other teachers won't require them to think the way you are challenging them to do, and show them how to apply those critical thought processes to other classroom environments. I don't think you are setting your students up to fail. I believe you are showing them their potential in a whole new dimension they have never seen before. The results in your class are much different than what other classes deliver. Classes like yours are much different, but the things that go on during your lessons are rare. The students creativity mixed with the lessons we are required to teach is something more beautiful than any information we could throw at them. Even when we are giving the best lesson we have to offer, nothing we do can come close to their ideas. My name is Miles Bubbett, and I'm a student at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. If you get the chance, look me up on twitter if you use it (@milesbubbett) or find my blog at Thank you for your thoughts!

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