Today teachers are feeling the push to cover more material faster. More and more schools that I enter are using scripted education. Districts are purchasing programs which require the teacher to follow an exact script. In that way they feel like every student will have the same opportunity to learn valuable concepts. No student will be penalized on the test because the material wasn’t covered in class.
In our race to raise test scores we seem to be sprinting all the time. Teachers tell me “I have to cover the material from pages 75-79 today. I can’t get behind. Every student in the grade level needs to be on the same page at the same time.” No detours allowed.
But real life seems to be all about the detours. Or maybe that’s just my life. This rush…this cookie-cutter formulated approach to education makes me sad. Why? My years in the classroom have revealed to me that students learn best when we engage both their minds and their emotions. If you have to cover pages 75-79, do you even have time for a great story from “real life” that illustrates the concept in a way that they will remember for the rest of their lives?
Sometimes slowing down is the only way to build better understanding. Activities take more time than merely covering pages in a book or program. Learning games and discussions that engage students and build comprehension can be time-consuming. But they are worthwhile. Do you know what a teacher does when he needs to cover ground quickly? He calls on only the students with their hands up. They are tempted to overlook the student who isn’t making eye contact. We have to keep moving.
When we call on a student who looks confused, one who doesn’t have her hand up, we have to wait and let her think about her answer. When I’m confused and people rush me I become more confused, don’t you? When we have the courtesy to wait we are really saying, “I believe in you. I know you can get this concept. Your understanding is important. You are worth my time.” When a student is confused they need that extra beat.
Great teaching is about allowing the extra beat. It is about engaging our students with a true story or a lively discussion. It is about having time to notice when they are hurting about something personal. Their pain and the timing of their understanding doesn’t always happen between pages 75 and 79. No matter how great a script writer you are, it is often the detours that include the teachable moments. A great teacher knows the power of watching and yes, waiting for those breakthrough moments.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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