One of the best parts about home educating is that I really know my students. They are my children after all, but since becoming their teacher, I have come to a much deeper understanding of their learning interests and styles. Hopefully my blog posts of the last two weeks have illustrated this; I tailor my kids’ education directly to their personalized needs and interests. And a teacher can only do that if they truly understand what those needs and interests are.
In a normal school setting, teachers have 25-30 kids all in one classroom, and they only spend one year with them. The herd is shuffled on from teacher to teacher, year after year. There is no meaningful consistency – no personal history being established. I experienced public school as a parent for while before we started home education. Each year we had to basically start over: my kids’ abilities had to be proven; their challenges had to be painstakingly explained. This took (and wasted) precious time every year, and we were only as successful in our advocacy as each individual teacher was receptive (and they weren’t all receptive).
Let me use my son as an example. He has tremendous academic abilities and remembers things with a single exposure; he doesn’t need to have information repeated in different ways. In fact, repetition breeds boredom and restlessness in him and significantly lowers his performance and attitude. Instead, Ian needs to be briefly exposed to information and then be allowed to explore the meanings and/or applications in a deeper manner. He works well on the computer or on a white board, but if you give him a pencil and paper his mind wanders. He is an amazing musician and requires intentional and diverse instruction to nurture his gift. I’ve also learned that if he gets too restless during “class” time, I can send him to his drum kit for 5 minutes. He’ll play something amazing, release all that pent up energy, and come out of the music room refreshed and re-engaged.
I could write a book about Ian’s educational needs and strengths, as could many parents about their own kids. They all have amazing gifts and tricky challenges that take time and energy to understand and nurture (or overcome). Enter one teacher, faced with 25-30 of these dynamic children, expected to understand and meet these diverse needs all at once, and only have one year to do it before he or she starts over with another group. It’s an unfair situation to both the kids and their instructor.
What if we could do it differently? What if there was a way to connect teachers to students and provide the consistency that my children enjoy? There are many ways we need to reform education, and I have specific ideas about ability grouping and grade level among other things, but I’m not going to go into that here. For now let’s assume the traditional set-up of elementary, middle, and high school.
1) Reduce class sizes to a manageable group: 8-10 kids at most. This way, teachers can spend intentional time with each student and truly get to know the individual kid while fostering more personal group dynamics. Obviously this is a budget issue, but right now I just want you to consider the idea of it. Do you think your child would do better in a smaller class size?
2) Through the elementary years, assign one teacher to one group of kids and keep the teacher and students together throughout the elementary school years. Assuming that elementary school is K-6, this will give the teacher 7 years of relationship-building with his or her students. Long-range plans can be effectively paired with short-term goals and objectives. Students can be more involved in their education as they see themselves as part of a team rather than a herd. Teachers will be able to actually differentiate education for their students, because they’ll have had time to understand what the differentiation needs are for each child and get better at addressing those needs with each year.
3) Through the middle and high school years, assign students a coach who they meet with regularly. This coach works with the students to discuss their student-designed goals and objectives. Students have different teachers for each specialty that they study, but they always have that consistent figure serving as their coach and mentor from 7th grade through graduation.
4) Establish ongoing communication between these consistent teacher and coach figures and students’ parents. Taking staff turnover and family relocation out of the equation for the moment, a family could conceivably enjoy a long-term team approach to their child’s education with one teacher for the K-6 stage and one coach through the 7-12 stage. This would be a drastic improvement to the current setup in which parents have to re-advocate for their child each year, or worse, in which kids go through each year with no outside advocacy at all.
These long-term relationships could have many benefits for kids. Students’ hidden interests could be revealed and fostered over time. Learning challenges could be consistently addressed, and progress more deeply understood. Education could be married to fostering kids’ individual passions, as teachers would have time and long-range commitment to their students’ success.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from parents, students and teachers. If the obstacles could be overcome, do you think this setup would be an improvement over our current staffing of education?
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