I believe that the goal of education is to turn out well-rounded individuals who have mastered the skills they will need to succeed in today’s society and who have the ability to think critically and create the society of tomorrow. If students can only spit out facts upon request and cannot use them, or if they have a high self-confidence and good citizenship skills but do not possess even basic knowledge, the educational system has failed them.
As a teacher, I wear many hats and fill several roles. The day-to-day activities and lessons are my responsibility as a planner; as the children explore and discover, I am a guide. When covering new material, I am the expert, and as they learn life skills, I am a model and mentor.
The environment in my classroom is changeable and orderly. It has an area where everyone can focus on one speaker, be it a student or myself. There are areas where children can explore and learn on their own or in groups. An area with carpeting, various things on which to sit and lots of books make up the indispensable reading corner. A computer center provides the children with many other opportunities to explore and learn. Games and various activity areas are a necessity for the younger grades.
In an ideal classroom, there would be a computer for every one or two students. I know that at this time most schools do not have the technology budget or space to allow that, but I hope that it will soon be a reality. Computers are such a large part of our modern world that children need to learn how to use them effectively. They are a doorway to the world, presenting content that is not available through other media.
While as much learning as possible should involve discovery, exploration, and experiencing the knowledge, there is still a need for lecture and discussion. Students should learn through a variety of channels: reading, listening to the teacher, testing an idea by applying it to something, working at terminals, playing educational games, and yes, even using practice worksheets. Once a child understands, she should be encouraged to help a fellow student with the concept.
Tests and quizzes can check that a student has reached the set goal or objective. Though old-fashioned and rigid, the students must master this knowledge if they are to succeed in school and in the “real world.” The tests need to check the student’s ability to apply the knowledge, not just require an answer quoted word-for-word from the book. The ability to apply knowledge and processes should be tested in other ways as well. In addition to the student’s work earning a simple letter grade or percentage, a portfolio of a student’s best work shows his progress, and can influence his grade. For example, if a student in the third grade started out unable to write his name and has reached a second-grade writing level, his enormous progress should be taken into account. The portfolio provides this opportunity.
Since there are specific government and school objectives set for the students, I believe that I need to set out specific sub-goals and structure the lesson plans so that they will be reached. New ideas, processes, or formulae are logically explained or discovered as a class, step by step. Once the topic has been introduced, the children have access to extensive resources with which to explore and make it real. Another method I like is multi-level inquiry (spiral) planning. Starting with the basics, the children have the opportunity to find the details in groups or by themselves, and share their discoveries with the class. In this way, the concept is build right in front of them by their own hands and minds.
Classroom discipline is key to learning, and is especially important in lower elementary school. Ideally, the students should be able to choose the rules at classroom meetings. Although that is not always practical, if they can be involved in setting the specific rules and consequences, they will be much happier abiding by them. Rules of any kind are best kept to a minimum; I prefer to use guidelines that cover most situations. A good example is found in the Bible, in the book of Matthew. Jesus was asked which was the most important rule, and he replied that all of the laws depended on these two: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Likewise, classroom rules such as “respect yourself and others” cover a lot of ground quickly, and the details of how it is applied can be discussed on the first day. When discipline problems do arise, I feel that the teacher should be swift and fair in applying the agreed-upon consequence. No hesitation or bargaining should take place. The same applies to positive reinforcement, which goes a long way toward encouraging correct behavior. If a student has a continuous problem, I make sure that he knows the correct alternative to his actions, and work out a contract with him to lower the frequency of the problem behavior.
The education of our children is a partnership between parents, teachers, administrators, the community, and the children themselves. If we all work together and support each other, the students will reach beyond the academic goals set for them to create the society of tomorrow.
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