I’ve been considering the notion of starting a blog for some time, but I felt that I didn’t really have anything particularly substantive to contribute to the various discussions regarding the sphere of education. However, I’ve recently started to think that adding my voice may be contribution enough. But I’m here mostly because I’m incredulous. And frustrated. And sometimes angry.
I’m a high school English Literature teacher in Alberta, Canada. I’ve been teaching in this capacity for ten years, but it’s only been recently that I’ve started to delve into the world of education beyond my classroom and my school. This was likely prompted by my first experience with a horrible administrator. I wanted to arm myself with research and facts and knowledge.
At the time, Michelle Rhee was Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and my initial impressions of her call for rigour and accountability in education were quite positive. As a teacher, though, the more I read and heard, the more I felt like this was not the right bandwagon for me. Applying market principles to education and ignoring key factors surrounding student achievement just made Rhee seem uncompromisingly dogmatic – and not in a good way. There was a bit of schadenfreude in watching her crash and burn.
In following Rhee’s rise and fall, I also familiarized myself with those speaking out against her and who favour a “progressive” model of education – Alfie Kohn, Diane Ravitch, Pasi Sahlberg, and far too many people in my own backyard. The intentions behind these philosophies seem entirely altruistic, but they lack a realistic and substantive methodology. Again, the more I read and heard, the more I felt that these ideas were too ethereal. Applying some kind of Utopian model of education in a less-than-Utopian world just seemed to make these “progressives” seem uncompromisingly dogmatic – and, again, not in a good way.
Immersed in all these philosophies of education and pedagogy, thanks to Twitter, I came across some inspiring people including Harry Webb, Andrew Old, and David Didau, who helped crystalize some of the bigger ideas I’d read about in Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? In the current educational climate here in Alberta, one that’s been concretely developing over the past five years, I was beginning to feel like some ancient artifact that was no longer seen as relevant – a remnant of the 20th century in a future where “everything is changing.” So when I came across these ideas touting the benefits of a traditional educational model (direct instruction, knowledge-based curriculum, content-oriented lessons, and the like), supported by RESEARCH (!), I felt somehow vindicated.
But my school district, and the entire province, seems to be going full-bore with its plan to “transform” education and “redesign” our system (I’ve used quotation marks because these are actually key buzzwords all over Alberta Education literature), despite an already noted failure in applying a discovery/project/competency-based model to the area of Mathematics. So my hope is that rather than the “progressive” rhetoric that’s got our policymakers under its spell like the pied piper’s tune, reason may prevail as more voices come out in favour of a more traditional approach to teaching and learning, supported by research and evidence – an approach to education that has served Alberta very well over the years.
I’ll be honest: I employ project-based assessments in my classroom, albeit minimally. I use basic technology on a regular basis and I dabble in new technologies. I employ formative assessment. But these are secondary elements of my teaching practice. I would absolutely define myself as a traditional teacher, because my pedagogical approach is based on tangible and discernible theories of cognition and learning, as well as on evidence-based methodologies. So I think I’m like most reasonable people: I have an opinion on the issue, but I’m not opposed to exploring another perspective. It’s not like I’m some dictatorial tyrant who abuses students with a singular focus on rote drills that will inevitably kill their spirits. Who is?!? Most of us understand that there’s a common-sense approach to teaching and learning, one that’s becoming increasingly evidence-based, but we also employ a spattering of secondary methods, sometimes if only to change things up a bit. But it doesn’t seem like that’s good enough for the educrats and their disciples. My school district, and the whole province of Alberta, has embraced these “21st Century” philosophies with absolute reverence – and dissenters are not treated favourably.
So I’ve decided to splash my thoughts onto the screen. At least it’s one more voice. For me, it’s a start.