Tuesday, February 23, 2016

the art of teaching...

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I set up a small gallery of tiny boxes to show the kids what I've been up to, but more importantly to show them the kinds of quality that can be achieved in work, and to frame a conversation about the hurry I sometimes find in the class.

I know that showing my work is a mixed thing. I don't want my students to feel badly about their own work, and I know that when I show them ideas they, too want to do what I've done, and those things are generally beyond their level. I could set things up so that they could go through the process and get exactly the same results,  but only by doing much of the work myself.

I felt the need for the display in response to my 4th, 5th and 6th grade class, which had been given a set of assignments related to their school travel. They did well on the tools that were turned on the lathe, taking time to go carefully through the various grits in sanding, after first having paid attention to forming nice shapes. But their making of the other tools seemed rushed, and that put me under pressure as the kids demanded almost in unison "what's next." The idea of the display was to get things slowed down so that we could talk about skill and caring, and the reasons for it, and so that I could encourage them to put more attention and mindfulness into their work.

Yesterday by private email Knud Lund asked an important, as follows:
A question is why sl√łyd hasn’t worked, or should that be why it hasn’t been allowed to work? I would speculate there are more than a few reasons, an obvious external one must be the perceived higher cost of progressive schooling, which with the perceived uselessness of same schooling to society’s needs would yield a very poor cost/benefit ratio. A reason internal to the educational system (teachers, administrators) could be a form/content divide.
The reason that Salomon said that his faith was in teachers and not systems was perhaps that in some cases sloyd probably worked well and in others not so well. And I think some of that must have had to do with what Salomon described as “tact” and also with the idea that sloyd must be personalized rather than taught in the collective. When 30 kids were put in a classroom (as they often were) and were expected to go step-by-step somewhat independently through the models you can see that with some teachers and some students it might have worked. But I am regarded as a good teacher and I’m nearly overwhelmed with 8 students in a class. Each has individual needs that come up in a time-specific manner, and not all exactly at the same time so they could be instructed in a collective fashion. So the teacher must have tact in the way he or she gains the confidence and understanding of the kids. Some teachers work in an authoritarian manner, and I’m not that person at all. So teaching requires a great deal of exchange of caring and concern for each other.

When I’m frustrated with something, as I had been today, we have meetings to reach collective solutions. And how my classes are working of serious enough concern for me that I wake up in the middle of the night to come to some kind of plan for the next day. Unfortunately, many teachers would prefer to see what they do as just a job, and invest no more in it that is required. In many, and perhaps most cases, they are overwhelmed by the number of students and are never allowed to be the quality teachers they might have been under better circumstances. They and their administrators look for methods and systems that allow for the application of less attention and less mindfulness and in the hopes of more consistent and efficient outcomes in the same way I might build a jig.

The unfortunate (or fortunate) thing about people is that we are each unique, come from slightly different backgrounds, and have different perspectives and circumstances that do not allow us to be easily jigged up as one would a stick of wood. And so when Salomon was talking about his faith in teachers, he was considering those who go above and beyond in the care (tact) they express for their kids.

 One of my students, in response to the show noted,  "you're not a teacher, you are an artist." It was intended as a compliment. "No, I am a teacher, I replied, and then explained that teaching is the best art of all. Like any other art, we keep practicing and getting better at it.

So what do we do about schooling? Knud notes that truly progressive education would require an investment of a great deal more money than we are spending now. That may not be the case. But most certainly, if we add together the general costs of education, and the costs associated with doing it so poorly, perhaps we could examine and consider the true cost. When you add the economic costs of institutions of education and incarceration, and consider the lives wasted through the two we might arrive at a different set of values when it comes to teaching our kids.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the joy of learning likewise.

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