Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kids Smarter Than Teachers


Are any of the students smarter than the teachers nowadays? Bet that's true!

LOL UniquelyEmber! I don't know if this question was a joke, serious, or a jab at teachers, but I'll try to answer it seriously.

I honestly believe that 'smart' is subjective. And I also deeply believe that it doesn't MATTER if the teacher is less smart on certain topics than the students. I also believe that it's okay to acknowledge that kids are smart, and adults have different strengths and weaknesses.

For a modern teacher it is a huge strength to acknowledge, in public, to the children, that you do not know everything. Modern teaching, at least in Australia, does not require it. And it's true. We don't. My first degree, which I'm basing my grad entry teaching degree on, was in History and English- does that mean I'm an expert at Maths, Science, or PE. But I have to teach them anyway. I'm put through a one semester course on each subject. Do I now know all there is about science? No. But I hope that I have the intelligence and skills to find out and teach myself.

Here's how modern Australian teaching works. We don't have teaching textbooks to work through. We look at the curriculum, and then decide how we want to teach that aspect of it. They're really broad, it's not "Child will know multiplication by the end of year 3". Then we pick what we want to teach, and go out and research it. We check what the children already know, then build upon that. This means that every year will be different. We often pick things based on gaps we see in the student's learning or skills, rather than 'semester 2, this means I should be teaching Australian History now'. I might notice 'oh wow, these kids have no idea about how people lived in the past!' and then do a unit on that. The next year that same year level might be obsessing over animals, so I do a unit on animal cruelty. Those are both society and environment topics.

The kids are *supposed* to be bringing in their own information. It is normal and common for a teacher to say "oh wow, I don't know the answer to that, why don't we look it up?" It's stupid to keep on insisting you're right when the kids say you're wrong though. But recent teachers are trained not to do that. And every year, teachers should improve their skills and expand their knowledge. Revise what they did last year, and add to it, or take away things that were irrelevant the year before.

The other day I made a really stupid mistake with tens and units and pop sticks. I said "If you want to minus six from a hundred, you unwrap this 10 here, and put ten of them in the ten's column, remove six and then put the four left over in the units". One of the students was like "Don't you have to move that 90 down to the tens?" and I said "Oh yes [Child's name]" you're right, I forgot about that step, why do you do that again?" and she explained to me (though I already knew what I'd done at that point.) I knew that I had to move it down, but I just forgot because I was holding 100 popstick bundles up in the air pressed against the whiteboard so they could all see. My mistake was no big deal.
If I'd gone "Oh yes, I was just testing you!"then that would have been very stupid.

If a child asks me a question, I reply with the best of intentions (ie, no bullshitting) and then they say "but what about..." then I should take that as an opportunity to model 'how do we find out more information' which is an important skill for adulthood. If I later find out that I made a mistake, I'll happily announce that to the class and say I was mistaken, here is the real information. It's about modelling.

As a class, we're all entitled to make mistakes, without embarrassment.

Modern teachers cannot be afraid to go into teaching as a partnership, as a facilitator of learning, nor to give up the old fashioned attitude that they are the all powerful, intelligent, all knowing, teacher, and that it'd ruin the children's perception of you if you didn't know an answer straight away. So you don't know the answer- what do you do about that? No one knows the answer to every question in the world.

However! Some teachers do not do this. Some teachers refuse to acknowledge their gaps. I consider that extremely stupid. But they've been doing that for all time, that is the traditional way of teaching. So I don't think that you can say that students are smarter 'nowadays'. In the past there were many, many stupid teachers, many uninformed students, and also many intelligent teachers and students. We now all have to think for ourselves, and not use textbooks.
And there would be the teachers who not only don't teach smartly (ie researching the best they can, and then helping the students answer their questions), but ... simply don't have much in their heads.

There are many intelligent children. In the past, I think teachers refused to admit that children could know a lot. And children have a different sort of intelligence. They aren't in training to be part of society, they already are part of society, and are people. And people have different strengths. Little Timmy might have wonderful reasoning skills for example. But I'll probably still 'know more' in other ways, because some sorts of intelligence just come with age.

In the words of my fellow student teacher

"And that's okay."

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