Learning with a Note to Politicians

Learning is a multi-faceted topic.
What initially caused me to think about learning was that I am a writer, and thus a life-long learner. No one can write and not have learning tag along. There’s the research, of course, but there’s also that one of the wonderfulnesses of writing is that it can always be better. Therefore, there is always more to learn, more to practice, more to experiment with. For me, it’s magical. I love it, love it, love it. I guess I self-righteously feel sorry for people who aren’t writers.  But perhaps for many there is an aspect of never-ending learning in what they do. I hope so.
 I saw a Star Trek once where people had become nothing but brains. Now I’m not suggesting that kind of single-mindedness (did you notice my pun?). I think writers and other learners have to get up off our butts once an hour and get physical with something other than our brains and fingers. If for no other reason than to create think time while we plant gardens, go for a walk or wash those darn dishes. I suggest that writing is 90% think time and 10% writing time. I bet other occupations are like that, too. What about children?
 Consider the third graders I teach. Whether they learn or not is not completely my decision. They come to me with a myriad of experiences and learning styles. I come to them with a myriad of experiences and possibilities for how to help them understand. That’s only the beginning. Each day is a brand new experience because of what happens at home. If my husband and I are in sync and I have had a great prayer time with God, I expect better outcomes. If a child smiles when I say “Good morning” on the way in the door, I anticipate a good day. On the other hand, if the old man and I have been at loggerheads or the guy in front of me on the highway wanted to go five miles under the speed limit, or there seemed to be a closed gate on the bottom of heaven, my kids may not receive from me what they are hoping to learn. If a student refuses to smile, even when I act silly, I expect that learning may have to take a back seat to caring for the hurt under the straight lips. And we haven’t even tried to learn anything yet.
Once class starts I have to consider that one student cannot learn sitting down, and another cannot learn sitting in the back, and still another cannot learn if there’s much noise.That’s only 3 of the 32. Some are advanced, some are not at grade level, and some are hanging out somewhere in the middle.  I make sure to illustrate what my mouth says because most people do not retain the spoken word as well as the seen word or picture or diagram. I play multiplication rock because music is an effective learning tool. I do phonics with puppets so they’re eyes don’t start glazing over. We start memorizing math facts with a Tarzan yell because I’m up against TV and video games. We pretend to take the California Trail in 1867 so that they will understand the sacrifices made to give them what they have. I practice checking for understanidng with their white boards and their discussions and give them equal opportunites to respond. I open my brain so I can model thinking that they can copy.And on and on. But do they learn? Most of them learn something. Some of them learn many things. Let me add that my third graders teach me as much as I teach them. Especially in years like this one when a third of the class has what we call behavior problems.  
I hate to end on a negative note. This is definitely not all I have to say on teaching third graders, except this, if politicians think they should pay teachers based on the scores from a test that doesn’t really test learning, they will find that the good teachers, the dedicated ones, who came for the kids, will find something else to do. That will be a crime of major proportions, not by the teachers, but by the politcians. We have a set of intelligent people who have settled for lower pay for the love of educating children, and now we want to say that regardless of the situation they are in, we will only pay better wages to those who have good test scores three days out of the year on a test we have to teach the children how to understand. We ignore: parental support, living conditions, prior knowledge, language issues, the discipline required to learn, the difference in learning materials available, the convoluted way the test is written, even the difference in facilities. Not good. Politicians need to come to school.

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6 thoughts on “Learning with a Note to Politicians

  1. Let me play politician's advocate. Kids who learn well despite all those factors (including crappy teachers) are rare. So it would be rare to find a crappy teacher passing the standards just because they have smart kids, no? There needs to be more research on this before going forward. Maybe there is and I just don't know about it. Do you?

  2. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, it seems like the only way it wouldn't work to get rid of crappy teachers by grading them according to how their students perform, is if crappy teachers in general have students that do well despite the factors you name above (including crappy teachers). Though it is possible, it is probably rare–but I'd need to see actual research to reach that conclusion. Was curious if you knew of any.

    I'm also curious if there is a way to find out which factors are actually contributing to a student's doing poorly, in such a way that can prevent good teachers from getting penalized for factors beyond their control–factors that would be taken into account when scoring the test. Those factors remind me of “contaminating the evidence” so that the results of the test do not accurately reflect the qualifications of the teacher (that's basically what you are saying above). I am wondering if there is a way to take those contaminating factors into account in a generalized way, seeing as polititians cannot visit every classroom to get a feel for the effectiveness of each teacher. So, for example, if a teacher has students with learning disabilities, that counts in their favor rather than against them. But if all their students are a-okay, then there should be no problem, and their students ought to be meeting the standards. There ought to be a way to gauge this sort of thing which does not penalize good teachers (but actually rewards them), and effectively weeds out the bad ones.

  3. I think the reason it isn't logical to pay teachers based on test results is that there are so many variables in a social situation that it is impossible to say that a child's or a class's performance on the test are the teacher's responsibility. It would be like paying a waitress more because her patrons won a marathon. I also think that isolating factors would work in a lab, but not a classroom and that if a teacher has all A-OK students he/she does not work in this century, or perhaps any other. I think the actual problem should be dealt with by the teacher's unions when it comes to teachers who are doing a poor job. I also think poor teachers are few and far between.

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