The Genius Of American Education …

If one were to ask you the names of your favorite teachers from kindergarten and throughout your schooling, it may be not too difficult to answer. Without doubt, there is one specific teacher or more perhaps, who stands out in your mind. Also, there may be some satisfaction in answering; it may bring back some of the more fond memories of school, and those who have touched your life in meaningful or even inspiring ways. And, the memory of those good teachers last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the memory of those who may have impacted one in negative ways, may also leave their mark and remain vividly in one’s memory. True, teachers leave an indelible impact.

Good teachers and good teaching, what a blessing they are to students! Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason.Good teaching is about caring for your students, and thoughtfully putting your finger on their intellectual, mental, social, and identity pulse. And, a good teacher is artfully empathetic to the makeup of the whole child, and his or her total personality, including hereditary and environmental factors notwithstanding.

All good teachers have a mastery of the subject they teach, and of the art and science of teaching and learning and, they have a passion for it. Good teaching is based upon solid research of child growth and development, differentiation and adaptation. It is about conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students. It is about letting students know that they are important to you, that you care about them, and that you are there for them, each of them. Good teaching is about turning students “ON” to the success, joy, and excitement in learning. Good teachers are determined NOT to turn students “OFF” to what is exciting when learning new concepts and skills.

Most students require reinforcement by a supportive and nurturing teacher. For the gifted and talented students, a good teacher will provide learning experiences at the operational level of the learner: grade or subject Core Standards, not withstanding. For some other students, the need for constant positive reinforcement is also most necessary. These students, for one reason or another, have strong feelings of defeat. The defeatist attitude is consistently reinforced by failure after failure. When a student is tuned off with a defeatist attitude…. “I just cannot learn it ” ….no amount of repetitious homework, drill exercise, or comments such as “you better learn it, it will be on the test” will change that attitude for the better. But rather, the student already has a feeling of sinking further and further into the dark tunnel of the defeatist doldrums. He or she sees no way out of that dark dilemma. In fact, the student may choose to seek other avenues for recognition…positively or negatively.

Teaching at the elementary and secondary level is far more than a teacher unloading information (facts and concepts) and expecting the students to regurgitate back this information in rapid fire order. There is a science to teaching, but it must be artfully and creatively applied. Instructional strategies should clearly be based on sound science and research, by knowing artfully when to use certain strategies and, with whom, and to what degree. Every student is different, just as every adult is different. And, a passionate, thoughtful, and creative teacher is well skilled in determining the precise moment and learning activity that is best geared for a successful learning experience for each individual. That, right there, is the earmark of an extraordinarily talented teacher, core standards not withstanding.

We hear much these days about Common Core Educational Standards.

If nothing else, these standards are causing a conflict of interest and students are well aware of this conflict. In fact, some students pathetically have indicated that the Common Core standards display a mistrust of teachers. And this is at a time when students are searching for those in whom they can trust and confide.

I am writing this piece at this time because I care about education and I support what great teachers have done for me personally in the past. They stood for the students’ individual right to academic achievement, I am indebted to the great teachers I have known in years past and in the present.

In education, good teaching is based upon solid research, that is, that each learner is developing distinctly as an individual. Excellence in teaching demonstrates that there is a dynamic between the teacher and the individual learner. That, right there, is the heart of instruction. There is no “common standards” bureaucratic model that can measure this dynamic. Such measurements may work with nuclear power reactors, quantum physics modules, or sophisticated business models. So, one might ask, why can’t it work with students? As one high school senior put it, ” students are NOT robots”. In short, in education, one size does not fit all.

For example: we are told that the average sixth grader in the typical American public school is 11 years of age. The average sixth grade male student is 80 pounds and is 56.5 inches in height. The average sixth grade female student is 11 years of age, weighs 81 pounds and is 56.8 inches in height.. The average female sixth-grader wears a shoe size of 5 in kid size and the male student wears a 7.5 kid size. The average arm sleeve length for both female and male 11 year olds is 23.5 inches. So, suit up a group of sixth graders with clothes fitting these dimensions and then have them participate in a test run. There will be some students with a perfect fit. And then there will be others where the pants are too loose or too tight; too short or too long. There will be some with shoes just too tight … even when shoehorned in… or too loose and the shoes fall off. And then, there will be mittens too tight or sleeves too long. “What do you mean they don’t fit? This is the size that 11 year olds should wear!” And so, you get the picture. The result is similar to what happens in academic standards testing… and we are concerned with poor testing results? Another example may be…we are told that the “common” 75-year-old male has, on average, three chronic health conditions and is on 5 prescriptions. If one were to follow the common standards approach, the gentleman, upon visiting his physician, would be told..”well, you are 75 years old, we need to find 3 chronic conditions you have, and we need to get you on 5 prescriptions.” Thank goodness, physicians do not follow the common standards approach in medicine.

Teachers are overwhelmed with “standards-related” paperwork, testing and test preparations, meetings, training sessions, pull-out schedules, and paper work, ad nauseam. Unfortunately, bureaucracy seems to be deflating the ingenuity, if not the very life, out of the teaching profession. Teachers desperately want to TEACH, and to provide students with an atmosphere and an opportunity to LEARN. The framework for that to happen is being, seemingly, seriously eroded.

It is true, standards are absolutely necessary, but they must be comprehensively defined in light of what is known about how students learn. And every learner is wonderfully unique; and, it that special uniqueness that is the challenge for the teacher. Therein, is the science and art of teaching. And, therein is the challenge of establishing Educational Standards. Hopefully, these Standards are not so simplistic, that the genuine powerfulness of the art of teaching is grossly minimized; and, the factual scientific data of child growth and development are degradedly dismissed. This would truly set education back to the dark ages. For, the art and science of teaching truly trumps any “standards” that stand in the way a child’s right to learn. For each learner is unique, and the learning and teaching style needs to be artfully tailored to that uniqueness. Standards, that weaken the fabric of employing strategic teaching strategies, cannot help but be a disservice to a population of students waiting to learn. The bottom line… artfully skilled teaching is truly THE GENIUS OF AMERICAN EDUCATION, common core standards notwithstanding.

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger, a resident of Gowanda, an award winning author, and professor emeritus at SUNY Fredonia and Distinguished Professor at Capella University.