Respecting the Student Experience

This week in Exploring the Teaching Profession, we have read part D of Everyday Anti-Racism. This section is subtitled Race and the School Experience: The Need for Inquiry. To supplement this reading were two articles on gender and the school experience which open up the topic of those who fall upon the borders of gender normality experience school. For this weeks blog I focus on the inputs to learning and what kinds of inputs have the greatest effects on the outcomes.

In secondary education, especially pre-high school education, the focus is on encoding the students to complete objective tasks. These are addition, subtraction, states and their capitals, biologic and geologic understandings of the Earth and many more. These objective tasks are decided by the representatives and senators who create and vote to law education policy.

So what is the teacher’s goal amongst the objective purposes of education? From my 16 years as a student and my limited experiences as an educator it is not the goal of the most effective teacher to meet prescribed learning objectives. What part D of Everyday Anti-Racism and the articles about gender speak to is the student experience and what the most effective teacher focuses on; student experience.

There have been many acts that take the approach of objectifying education into tangible inputs and outputs, median income and test scores, or race and misbehavior. No Child Left Behind and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as well as the National Defense Education Act all attempt to meddle with the murky balance of inputs and outputs in a student’s learning. A teacher however should be mainly concerned with student experience and how to best reach each student in their classroom. To try to objectify the learning in ones classroom leaves some students at the margins. When we focus on student experience we invite all students to learning.

The flaw of No Child Left Behind (the most recent education reform act and most recently abandoned) is that it focuses on money, materials, and the tangible inputs of education. Material benefits are nice, but the biggest inputs to a students education are more intangible. Everyday Anti-Racism speaks to some of the intangible inputs concerning racial/cultural identity. The ones that I specifically like are Kathy Schultz’s investigation of why students go quiet in the classroom and how to explore their possible experience and why they are quiet. Doug Foley describes the tools to investigate the cultural experiences in the classroom and how to gain insight on your own teaching style from the students. Erika Sokolower-Shain talks about exclusion from the gender binary in the classroom and how what most people find as a basic identity can exclude students from learning.

These essays are important to future teachers like myself because the greatest barriers to learning for students in my classroom will not likely be the quality of the textbook, or the technology available, or even if there are chairs for everyone. The biggest barriers to education are the intangibles. The family life, the safety in the classroom, and the feeling of belonging. Those are the biggest walls between a teacher and students.

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