By AKOM Guest Blogger Sally Hunter
I am struck by the reality that schools today require teachers to become skilled performers in an increasingly complex and critical balancing act. In more and more public classrooms, elementary teachers are asked to spend the bulk of their day following impersonal lesson plans, preparing students for mandated tests, and completing layers of benchmarks and reports to document their efforts. Schools are overwhelmed with well-intentioned but imperfect government mandates, liability inspired paperwork, over-emphasis on high stakes testing, and the bureaucratic tendency to jump on new ideas and methods simply because they are new. Evaluating schools, teachers, and students has become a checklist of what is easiest to test, rather than what will prepare individual students to become confident, active, productive citizens.
Successful teachers must strive to balance their instruction by finding time and energy to focus on each individual student and help every learner develop crucial connections:
- connections to their own minds, learning profiles, and potential passions
- connections to their own creativity, talents, and personal strengths
- connections to the power each individual has to bond and collaborate with others
- connections to the future through their own dreams and actions today
Without these essential connections, students will never reach their full potential or have truly successful and satisfying adult lives, no matter how skilled they become in reading, math, and science.
My hope for the New Year is that all students would have teachers who tip the instructional scales in students’ favor by creating learning environments in which these connections are inevitable; naturally integrated throughout a curriculum that includes character education, social studies, and the arts. Teachers who provide the structure and flexibility for students to explore the world and apply their discoveries in creative and meaningful ways. Teachers who train students to work together, build on one another’s ideas, respectfully disagree with one another, and provide supporting evidence for their ideas and perspectives. Teachers who encourage students to set and pursue their own goals while helping them develop strategies to achieve those goals. Students must understand themselves and their place in the world before they can begin to understand the rich and amazing possibilities the world has to offer them.
Sally Hunter, a 4th grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in the Austin Independent School District, was named 2010 National Council for the Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year. In addition to teaching and writing curriculum, she is a Schools Attuned facilitator for The Learning Center of North Texas.