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As we begin a new calendar year, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about education, my profession of choice. I’ve been thinking about where it’s been, where it is now, and where it’s headed in the future. I’m in my 21st year as a teacher, likely around the midway point of this career, so I’ve got experience along with a vested interest in what is to come. A few ideas have bubbled up, which means it’s likely that this could turn into a multi-column event!

When I was in one of my education classes in college, I vividly remember a class discussion on whether teaching was a science or an art. After all, my degree from Winona says that I am a Bachelor of Science. However, my Master’s degree from St. Mary’s is a Master of Art. So which is it?

The scientific aspect of teaching would seem to mean that there are certain formulas that you follow to obtain the results you desire. You try different things to see what works, but once you discover that, you’re set. Of course, it’s not as simple as that.

At Winona, we were taught the Madeline Hunter form of teaching. I was to begin every lesson with an anticipatory set, have an objective ready, input the basic knowledge to the students, model this new concept, check for understanding, provide both guided and independent practice, and finally bring closure to the lesson.

I tried that method, I really did. But it simply was not the formula for success for every lesson I taught. I discovered quickly, at least in English, that if I was that rigid and formulaic in every lesson, the kids quickly became disinterested. Plus, I had to be ready to come back to a concept that I thought the students had shown good knowledge in if they struggled with it later in the year. Just because they got it once didn’t mean it was going to stick for good.

Grammar is a great example of that. We might work on something such as run-on sentences. By the end of a lesson, the students were showing that they could eliminate those from their writing. However, when writing an essay a few months later, I would find a regression back to this bad habit. Back we would go to hammer at it again. Hunter’s method had shown me that the kids had mastered the lesson. And they had… for a time.

The government seems to think teaching is a one-size-fits-all concept with specific rules that will work for every teacher and every student. They continue to come up with initiatives that will supposedly make every teacher great and every student show success in some way. That’s a nice goal to have, but I was taught many years ago to never use 100% as a goal since you’ll rarely reach that. Make a goal attainable, though difficult to reach.

We’d love for every teacher to be an inspiration to all students. It’d be great if every student could read, write, and complete math at or above grade level. But we all know there are many factors, especially from outside sources, which can change the outcome of any scientific endeavor. Add an extra amount of a chemical to your formula, and it might fail. The formulas provided by the government to judge teachers and students always fail to take into consideration the many different factors in every kid’s and teacher’s life.

Clearly, you can use the context clues here to see that I lean more toward the teaching as an art side. Sure, there are some formulas that I use that work time and time again. Reading out loud to kids works well in comprehension for most students, and it helps them enjoy and appreciate great literature. But I can’t do that for everything we read. I have to feel out the material and learn, through trial and error, which works are best done verbally and which need to be read silently.

Discipline is an area that has evolved so many times in my career. We were taught various methods in college, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that I had to change constantly in how I dealt with negative behavior. I’ve tried things that worked for a year or two, but I’ve never settled on one thing that works all the time for every student.

This year is a good example. How I deal with behavior varies from class to class at times. I’ve tried different things with classes that just have a hard time staying under control. I’ll admit that with one class, all it took was Mr. Domeier really losing his temper one day, and they’ve been one of my best-behaved groups ever since. That’s what it took to get their attention. But that doesn’t work with everyone, and it’s really not the way I’d prefer to go. You have to pick and choose; if I yelled every day, it wouldn’t be very impactful.

Good artists adjust and change as they create a masterpiece. It is rare that someone who is painting, sculpting, writing, or composing ends up with a finished project exactly as they imagined it. Good artists have a feel for what will work and aren’t afraid to admit when they made a mistake and have to try something different.

Teachers are artists. Artists might know that blue and yellow make green; that’s a basic formula. But they also know that the amount of each color that you add changes the shade of green that you get. Our students need to be different shades of green, and we need to mold and shape them to be the green that works best for them.


Word of the Week: This week’s word is hemidemisemiquaver, which means a 64th note in music, the shortest possible note, as in, “The band director knew that he finally had a group that could handle a piece with many hemidemisemiquavers in it.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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