Being the time of year it is, the conversations revolved around testing: is it good for students and/or for districts? Does it give good information? How should we prepare students for tests?
During the chats, I got into discussions with two different people, both passionate educators as well, and I'm sure both very good at their job. Both conversations came back to two central themes.
First was the theme of competition in the classroom. I am a competitive person. I play team sports to this day. I was in little league way before the whole 'everyone gets a trophy' mantra. I have run track, played hockey, coached and played soccer, and even was on the high school bowling team. I find value in competition both in building character as well as a tool for building relationships. There is definitely places for competition in schools - I just don't believe learning is one of those places.
This is not a philosophy for a classroom setting
Those that know me know that I am not a fluffy, cuddly teacher. I don't give out candy for right answers. I have a high level of expectations and demand students reach them. However, I do it with a blanket of emotional safety. They quickly learn that saying a wrong answer in class will never cause a problem, but laughing at someone for saying a wrong answer will. We play games in our room, often competitive ones, but the end game is not to find out 'who is the smartest.' It is to find out 'what do you know?'
My philosophy doesn't revolve around the belief that all students can learn - I have the expectation that all students will learn - and it is my job to make sure it happens.
And there lies the antithesis of the zero-sum philosophy. Everyone can get an A. If you don't do an assignment correctly the first time, you have to reflect on what went wrong, re-learn the material, and have another go at it. Assignments are not one-and-done. This is how I get them ready for life.
This leads to the other major theme: getting students ready 'for the real world.' There is competition in real life. However, in nearly any real life situation the competitor chooses to compete. Athletes choose to be on a team, employees choose to compete for a higher position. Students have no choice to compete in the classroom if that is the culture the teacher creates.
True, not all competitors have a choice.
Are any of these 'real world' skills? Do you want your employee to possess any of them?
Also , we can't hide behind 'school gets children ready for the real world' and then excuse ourselves out of it when it suits us; never in the "real world" have I ever
- gotten a detention for chewing gum
- had to raise my hand to go to the bathroom
- gotten in trouble for doodling during a meeting
Maybe I'm just not in the real world yet.
Those are my thoughts - slightly more rant style than I usually blog, but there it is none the less. I'm hoping to hear from others - with any view points. I truly value hearing all the arguments. No two schools or classrooms are the same - it takes all types of teachers - and I'm glad there are a diverse pool out there!