Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Striking a Balance...

With a nod to fellow blogger teachers, Remote Access and The Daily Grind, I 've been thinking about teachers who ably prepare their students to be “globally competitive” . As I read Remote Access’ excellent reflection on the importance and challenges of a state of the art education, I nod my head in agreement. Yes, we need to model and teach advanced reading and writing skills. We must pave the way for our students to master the necessary higher level math skills. Critical thinking, deep and broad exploration of issues, goal oriented and open-ended at the same time….. the characteristics of a model curriculum and a teaching style couldn’t seem clearer. And yet, the teacher who can create “an environment which pushes kids, which motivates them to excel, which forces them to look at old questions with new eyes, and look at new problems in-depth” is rare indeed.

Then I ask myself where I, a teacher of emotionally disabled little ones, fit into this paradigm. If all things work in their favor, (a big IF) my 8 first and second graders will also face this globally competitive world. However, their challenges will be all the more daunting due to their emotional and behavioral problems. In a world where mental illness is still a mighty taboo, and prison is as likely a future home as any street corner or bridge underpass, I cringe at the thought of what lies ahead.

And what if I am successful at teaching them to read and write? If I can motivate and inspire them to embrace the sciences and math and history and the arts… all of it… what good will it do if they cannot effectively communicate their needs? If simple frustration turns into a fist fight, or worse. If the problems of daily living become so overwhelming they don’t get out of bed, or never take their medication, can’t keep a job, or beat their children? If they cannot sustain the relationships in their lives, the very relationships that can save them from a life of loneliness and despair, then they will still be lost.

Mr. Mc at the Daily Grind asked about the techniques and strategies that we as teacher are putting aside. Which of our former ways have become obsolete? My personal answer comes easily to mind: no longer do I plan a single lesson for a group of children (differentiation is the key)…. AND I balance the academic with the social/emotional. Like Clarence at Remote Access, I believe “the days of cut-and-paste assignments need to end, and students need to think.” Time will not be wasted. There is too much at stake.

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