Teaching and Learning in Elementary School

This article consists of reflection on 3 different author’s works that discuss teaching and learning in elementary school.

1. Reflection:  Teaching Outside the Lines

I can relate to Stinson’s childhood experience in school.  Although for perhaps more complicated and involved reasons I was shy and afraid to leave my house.  At school I was bullied by both teachers and students. Very likely my school experience was far worse than Stinson’s and to say that school wasn’t a welcoming place is an understatement.

Stinson talks about teaching social values in schools.  I have mixed feelings regarding the notion of the teaching moral and social values in school.  I very strongly believe that morality is subjective. Due to its subjective nature you easily run into the problem of whose morality or social values do you teach?  I believe it’s possible to teach these things in school. However, I also believe that when moral, social, or political ideas are taught they are sometimes taught as if they are absolutes.  I dislike this.

On the other hand, I feel that teaching morality and social rules is important.  In our modern society frequently both parents are working full time and children spend a large portion of their day at school.  In pre-modern times children would work with and learn from their parents but today that just isn’t the case. Additionally, our modern world is growing more and more complex and there are a lot of grey areas.  Students need people to guide them and teach them and in the increasing absence of parental guidance whose role is that? Often it seems like it may be the teacher’s role.

In our socially and politically tense society it seems people want to push a agenda and they want to see their particular views taught to children.  However, like I said before moral and social issues are precisely issues because they are subjective and there is often no clear answer. If there was a clear answer, then I believe these things would not be points of contention in society.

In an ideal world I would like to see students taught how to think and reason on moral dilemmas and social issues rather than taught  supposed values or solutions. This is beneficial for many reasons. One because of the subjective nature of morality. And two because of our ever-evolving society.  If we teach children the “answers” to social or moral problems without teaching them how to think what happens when society changes? Will they be equipped to handle the future?

2. Reflection:  Becoming a Life-Toucher

“We have the desire to touch lives” is the reason that Warfield gives for wanting to be a teacher.  She goes on to explain that when she asks others why they became teachers they often respond with some story of an experience with a teacher they had in school.  She then gives an example of a teacher who intervened in a student’s life. This student graduated high school but didn’t go to college. A teacher happened across him and was able to motivate him to go on to school to become a teacher.

             Warfield’s story was nice and it reminded me of my story and of a concept called “ikigai” that I had learned about at a wellness conference  hosted by my job at UMASS. Although this is a bit tangential ikigai is a Japanese concept that has been translated as “thing that you live for” and “the reason for which you wake up in the morning”.  Basically, Imagine a vin diagram with four over lapping circles. 

         Each respective circle represents a different concept: What you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you are good at.  The point in the middle where they all over lap is Ikigai. For some people teaching is where they find ikigai and I feel this relates to the “desire to touch lives” concept that Warfield mentions.

         I wanted to touch lives and I had considered becoming a school psychologist.  However, I feel that being a school psychologist does not fully encompass or make use of what I am good at or what I love.  That being said I feel that there are many ways to touch lives. I feel that I have had an impact on people’s lives already and I hope that my future plans will involve that as well.  

3. Reflection: Qualities of Caring and Committed Teachers

In her length essay Nieto discusses several core qualities that she feels that good teachers should embody.  These include a sense of mission, Solidarity with, and empathy for, students, the courage to question mainstream knowledge, improvisation, and a passion for social justice.  I will break my reflections down and discuss each of these topics individually and in order.

First Nieto discusses a sense of mission.  I agree that having a sense of purpose is important.  This goes for anything. I think that people who become educators need to do some soul searching and figure out who they are and why they want to be a teacher.  Additionally, I feel that this is an ongoing process that one must go through. Something that someone should consider before they become a teacher but also throughout their career.  They must regularly be doing self-evaluations regarding who they are, what their purpose is, and what they hope to achieve with their teaching.

Secondly Nieto talks about Solidarity and empathy with students.  Nieto describes this is a type of love for students. Reading this reminds me of a concept called unconditional positive regard.  I feel it’s important to both have unconditional positive regard and to teach it in the classroom. Essentially the idea is that you are supportive and caring regardless of what an individual is or does.  It’s important for a teacher to be impartial and supportive like this and they can embody these qualities for their students.

Next is the topic of challenging main stream knowledge.  This topic ties into my previous comments on the idea of morality not being absolute.  I feel that it is important to challenge ideas and assumptions we might have. But it’s also important not to teach certain morals as absolute truths.  For instance, this section talks a bit about native American and challenging ideas about them. However, I have native American heritage, I’m related to the indigenous people of the northeast especially from Nova Scotia.   But I would be, and have been, criticized for talking about that part of my heritage. Isn’t challenging the assumption about what people with native American heritage look like important? And yet these same people who supposedly espouse challenging assumptions would citizen me for discussing this because I don’t look native American.

Then we have improvising which reminds me of class room differentiation.  Although school might be run on paperwork, curriculums, and lesson plans I feel that it’s the teachers goal to improvise to meet the needs of the students.  Like we discussed in class students may have different strengths and classroom activities can be tailored to fit their needs. Additionally, the needs of a classroom might vary day to day and season to season so it’s important for teachers to improvise to meet those needs.

Lastly, we will discuss social justice.  This is another area where I have mixed feelings.  I whole heartedly agree that teachers should be sensitive to the needs of a potentially diverse student population.  However, I feel that many people take this and actively discriminate against men and white people. I was born into an extremely disadvantaged situation which I had no control over.  However, in today’s modern society I am told that everything I’ve been through isn’t a thing because I’m “white” and a male. I am extremely opposed to this. Additionally, because of the horrors that I have been though growing up I know that there are other children of similar demographics that are going through the same things that I did.  It is not ok for schools to tell them that they are “privileged’. It’s disgusting that this goes on in schools and in today’s society and I am extremely opposed to it.           

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