As a parent, one of my biggest pet peeves regarding teachers is when they think they are teaching students something by being hard on them. I have had my share of parent-teacher conferences with teachers who thought they were motivating my child by either comparing them to their sibling or by treating them harshly.
I believe that there are students for whom these strategies work, and there are students for whom they do not.
I have a daughter who suffers from bi-polar disorder, and has for many years. However, this is typically not diagnosed until adulthood. Now that she has the diagnosis I understand so much more of her behavior as a child. She is a very bright and talented young lady, but had her share of struggles in middle and high school.
Every student is an individual and should be treated as such. No two students are the same. I believe that as a teacher it is my responsiblity to be flexible to the needs and learning styles of individual students; to use differentiated instruction, not just expect them all to benefit from my one-size-fits-all method of teaching.
I have been taught that when a student fails my class, it is not just because the student didn’t try hard enough, though that may be part of the equation, but it is because I, as a teacher, did not meet that student where they were educationally. It is my job to pull that student up to meet my expectation for their success, not wait for that student to find their own way up. Some students will find their own way, but others need more work.
I almost feel as if teachers who have the one size fits all mentality are being lazy. I understand that they hold a high standard and work hard putting together lessons that are challenging and meaningful, but if that is all they bring to the classroom, they have failed their students.
Differentiated instruction has been used by good teachers for many years, though it is just recently coming the to the forefront of education. It consists of three primary components:
1. Brain-based research which studies parts of the brain used for learning
2. Learning styles and multiple intelligences; every student is very different. Some learn best with their hands, other through reading, some through hearing. Some students are good with words while others are artistically creative.
3. Authentic Assessment of what they have learned, not just what was taught.
Students are also culturally, ethnically and socially diverse. Few teachers know where their students come from every morning before school and where they go every evening after school. Even if you know the socio-economic make-up of your school, you still do not know each individual student.
1. How many of your students ate breakfast this morning?
2. How many of them live with one parent? How many have two parents?
3. How many of them have a medical condition that affects their ability to learn or focus at school?
4. How many of them have social or learning disorders that have not been diagnosed?
5. How many of them look like they are one ethic mixture, but are actually another?
6. Have you ever assumed that a student was hispanic, when in reality they are caucasian and african american?
Do you know enough about your students to make the decision that your one-size-fits-all approach is the right approach for every one of them? Do you know why it matters?
In my experience, a teacher can never know enough about their students. A teacher can never assume that a student is giving their all, and they can never assume that they are not. Until you walk a day in your students shoes, you cannot take anything for granted. They let you know what they are willing to let you know, and you only accept what you are willing to accept.
How many of your former students that you thought you were reaching never learned a thing from you and thought you were the worst teacher they ever had? How many thought you disliked them because you were unwilling to be flexible? How many disliked themselves because they were not good enough for you?
A teacher’s heart must be open to everyone and everything. A teachers heart must be as willing to learn as they want their students to be. A teacher who believes they are helping their students by being tough and equally firm on all rules and expectations with all kids needs to re-think what they are doing and why they are teaching.
I know that I cannot reach all of my students, but with a teacher’s heart and willingness to be allow each student to be different, I can sure try. I know that not every student will like me, but most will know that I wanted what was best for them. What are you doing to reach them all at their level, in their learning-style?