The real problem with the education system isn’t Betsy DeVoss or even Common Core, though they certainly don’t help. As an educator, I think the real problem is that we have taken the humanity out of teachers. Let me explain.
When I started my current job four years ago, I was told that I needed to build relationships with the kids and their families. I work at a homeschool co-op, and our school is a school of choice. Kids don’t have to attend our schools and we don’t get funding if they go elsewhere, so making sure our families were happy was the highest priority. I was terrified. I felt that I was a likeable teacher, but building a relationship with students and their parents was foreign to me. I had worked in a traditional school where I generally only saw the parents at Open House or Student Led Conferences. However, I took the challenge, and it was the best teaching year ever. Now, maybe I just had a great group of kids, but I think it had more to do with the relationship we built.
I was open with the kids and friendly. Yes, they loved my silly voices and accents, but what they loved even more were the stories I would tell and the daily interaction. The first time I gave an assignment and the kids just did it without complaining, I was so shocked. My room was always overtaken by these teens. When I didn’t have classes, they would be hanging out in my room, playing games and chatting with each other. They trusted me, they played pranks on me, they regaled their parents with stories of the day. I had several parents write me notes at the end of that first year telling me how much they enjoyed hearing the stories from their students.
Even when I think back on my days in the traditional school, my closest classes were always my drama classes. I had a rule that in drama, we were family. I played theater games with the kids and was silly and dramatic, and I never had behavior issues in my drama classes. At the end of the year, those kids were the ones who were the saddest to leave and the ones I missed the most.
So, what is my point?
After my first year at my new school, we moved into a new building and our population began to change. We got an influx of students from traditional schools who didn’t want to relate to a teacher. They didn’t want to hear stories or have their parents involved. I began to get called in to the principal’s office for sharing too much personal information with my students. The fact that students knew if I was having a bad day or that my husband was floundering after he retired from the military were considered “too personal.” I began to change the way I taught, to be less personal, and I began to see a shift in behavior as well. I had more students acting out and being disrespectful. Was it because they were different students? Maybe, but could it also have been that I became less human and therefore easier to ignore, curse out, or complain about?
I definitely think it could. In our society today with social media, we are seeing a rise of bullying and harassment. Why? Because it lacks humanity. We don’t have to say anything to the face of the people we are bullying, we can just post it on the internet and forget that they have feelings too. Removing their humanity makes it easier to say and do hurtful things. I think it’s the same with teachers. When teachers stopped being real and relatable because they were afraid of being sued or offending someone, they became less human and therefore easier to attack and bash.
Teachers are asked every day to teach, but make it interesting. We are competing with cell phones, ipods, and the drama that exists in schools, but we are expected to keep the kids’ attention without sharing personal information.
A few years ago, I attended a teaching workshop and the presenter said to have slides of pictures of your life and family on the first day of school so students could learn a little about you. I can’t imagine doing that now. I’m sure one of my students would complain that I was being “too personal.” Another idea that was presented was to allow the students to ask questions about you and answer them as long as they were acceptable questions. Another no-no in today’s world.
And how about practical advice? When students don’t understand a concept, I always try to make an analogy they can relate to in order to help them understand. Sometimes, the analogy is something that happened in my life. I was told to stop doing that. If I need to make an analogy, I should always refer to “a friend” who it happened to and never to myself. When did it become such a tragedy to know a little about your teacher?
When Standardized Tests became the new rage, teachers lost the ability to be themselves because they had to teach specific material to try and make sure students passed the test. They became less human. They also lost a lot of time having to either give practice tests or actual tests to the students. They became less human. Then Common Core came along and made it even harder. Teachers were forced to change once again and have students practice even more to pass the new and more challenging Smarter Balance test. They became less human. A new teacher evaluation system was put in place where a teacher actually gets scored higher if the students do more of the teaching than the teacher. The teacher becomes obsolete and less human, more of an overseer.
While all of these are issues, they all stem from the fact that we have taken the humanity from our teachers. We have told them not to be personal but build relationships. We have told them to entertain, but not with actual stories that happened to them. We have told them they are never allowed to have a bad day or share their struggles with students. In short, we have told them they need to be super human, while showing no humanity.
The problems is . . . teachers are only human.
Lorana Hoopes is an author of children’s books and adult inspirational books with a touch of romance.Her books are available at Amazon.