Sunday, May 14, 2017

Who Are Schools For?

Some things students say can just stick with you.

I clearly recall a moment that occurred the week of midterms for our elementary students this semester. I haven’t given tests as of the past few years, and it’s during spring that we have a cool movie-making project. During this time when students were motivated, interested, and able to use their creativity came events that the students dread. It was on one of the days the week of approaching the midterms that a student said to me, “I’m so tired. I don’t want to do anything.” Normally, a teacher could become frustrated at a comment like this, try one’s best to encourage the child to stay motivated, yada yada yada. What actually happened was I took time to listen to him and some of the recent reasons of which caused this tiredness. Number one was, of course, cramming for the tests. Day and night.

This memory came flooding back when I saw this image tweeted by Adam Welcome (#kidsdeserveit). It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with admin and teachers, Chinese and foreign, about the connections between how some things have always been done and the serious effects those same issues can have on a student’s love of learning/growth. It pains me to hear students say (and even some teachers show) that they don’t want to go to school. 

Students despise homework and teachers complain about grading and then having students fix mistakes? My reply: Why do students need homework? Do students love learning? How can high-stakes testing be removed while true, consistent assessment stays strong?

Students loathe morning exercises where they run to military music. My reply: Can students have free time? Why not play Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Michael Jackson, or other modern music while running? (Many students have voiced their opinion about various songs or musicians.)

Students detest the need to miss specials, clubs, and free time to “fix mistakes.” Usually, the number of corrections is more than a couple times. My reply: Why are students making so many “mistakes” in the first place? How should students learn? How should they view mistakes in the course of school/life? How can they rebound and move forward on their own?

The list goes on, and so do my thoughts regarding the new school that I’m planning to help open starting this fall. I read a considerable amount of research, and if a school within the Chinese education system wants to just focus on student enrollment and raising scores/grades along with somehow expecting to genuinely push innovation forward, the leaders must revisit traditional habits, teachers must be open to new ways to educate, and both must examine how they relate to students in 2017. Start to have conversations that most likely lead to collaborative research, discussions, and plans for change. (Side note: Finland did this back in the 1990s. 1990s!)

Like I told my future principal, “You want more students to come during the first few years? Get rid of or cut down homework considerably. That will get students talking and sharing on social media.” Hopefully that and other changes could be seen as indicators that we would be making the best decisions for the students, seeing that…

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why I'm a #TESOLteacher

Originally when my wife and I moved to China, it wasn’t because I had a deep desire to be a #TESOLteacher. I have to be honest.

There was a Teacher Recruitment Fair put on by my alma mater. At the fair, there were several school corporations represented. Personally, I was hoping for a Special Services position. But there was an organization that a “practice” interview had gone well for. The kick was that it was located in China. That organization’s interviewer then connected me with the private Chinese school that I have worked at now for nearly six years. 

In my time here, I have stayed up-to-date on current global education news, research, and networks. I clearly recall my first year teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in China. It was quite the transition from American Education, and I was flexible and open to learning, which can be a strength and weakness. It can be a strength because of being willing to learn, try, reflect, analyze, and move forward alongside Chinese and other foreigners. It can also be a weakness because of going in naive, taking all kinds of advice, and not knowing how to discern what kind of education is actually best for the students. 

Since my first year, I have known that any growth or forward movement in my teaching would need to improve by connecting with others via Twitter, blogs, etc. Through this and continual reading, to be quite frank, I have found myself more connected with the students in our school than I have with other teachers. You see, the students and I agree on many educational issues while school leaders/teachers across our city look more at student numbers, test scores, and factors that an exam can't measure  The importance of these data continues to spill over. (Side note: It’s worth mentioning that China is not alone in this regard.)

These are just a few of the reasons why I’m a #TESOLteacher. I desire changes necessary for the betterment of education. No matter if it’s education in America, China, or the world, I don’t and won’t accept what has always been done.