“What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher”
“Oh, what do you teach?”
“I’m a primary school teacher so I teach everything”
And, I can’t speak for secondary teachers so I don’t know if they feel the same but I hope they do. Because we don’t just teach subjects and content, we teach children! This recent, age old conversation got me thinking about my classroom, about my teaching philosophy and about what I really think education should be about.
The role of the teacher has changed so much over the past twenty years and it is going to continue to change as the world around us changes. We must prepare students for the future but what will the future be like? The truth is that I have no idea what the future holds but I do know that it is not going to be like the past! I do know that children need to be critical thinkers, researchers, connection makers and analysers. They need to be internally motivated, develop a love for learning and be confident to take risks.
Now, I think most people are going to agree with me regarding these obvious truths but when we start talking about what this actually looks like in the classroom we start to become divided. How much of what we do should be content based? How much should be skills based? And, how much should be attitude and inspiration?
In a world that is ever changing and where information is at everyone’s fingertips I truly believe education is playing a catch up game. Traditional curriculum’s are so content heavy and data driven that actually teaching children to think for themselves, find information and develop conceptual understanding is pushed to the side to allow for top down teaching, memorizing of facts, reviewing of content and testing. When a child leaves this kind of environment what skills will they have? How much content can you honestly remember from primary school? I remember starting my teaching career and having to research topics in order to teach them. Actually, I still do this and think the only way to avoid this is to teach the exact same topics and information each year!! Luckily most of us are surrounded by knowledgeable colleagues and just like our students, information at our fingertips. Of course there is some value in content, children need to learn how to communicate effectively through reading, writing and speaking. They need to learn how to solve sums and understand different strategies and concepts. But does an eight year old really need to know what chloroplasts are? Do they need to know what a hexagon, octagon and dodecahedron look like? Do they need to know how to read an analogue thermometer?
This year I started a new chapter in my teaching career, I started working at a PYP (IB Primary Years Program) school and I absolutely love it!! Is it 100 percent perfect, no! But is anything 100 percent perfect? What I really love about the PYP is that the children are given the opportunity to discover things, make connections and take ownership of their own learning. It is an inquiry-based curriculum, teachers become facilitators and help the children learn to think! And, I know what you are probably thinking but no, it isn’t a free for all and there is still stuff that everyone has to learn but we aren’t just handing them information on a platter. It truly in amazing how much children can learn when you provide them with the right materials, use good questioning and offer a little bit of guidance. And the best part is that all of these ‘skills’ are transferable. Everyone needs to think, make good choices, find creditable information, present findings and be good humans. So, why isn’t this a focus in all primary schools?
The PYP lends itself to this way of thinking, each day I am given the opportunity to actually teach children to think; they wonder and question, they make connections, they research and we find answers together. Of course we practice basic skills too but it’s in a more authentic way, it always comes back to the reasons why we need to know how to read, write or do Mathematics. Everyone can be an expert in our class and we are all are here to teach each other. Each day brings something new and it has totally renewed my love for teaching. It is so rewarding to witness children love learning and to know that each day they are excited to enter the classroom and learn something new!