Dr. Walter Greason
Norristown Times Herald
How do you honor the best teachers in your life? Do you name streets after them? Are there statues built to remind future citizens about their lessons? Schools and universities themselves are symbolic monuments to the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Under this model, questions are more important than answers. The search for new knowledge is the priority. Too often, the attempt to standardize instruction and learning leads school boards and administrations away from these goals. Assessment and measurement become replacements for rote learning that dominated teaching before 1950. These approaches betray the purpose of education and dishonor every generation of students that suffers them.
Unique teaching recognizes that students are the center of every classroom. Teachers that understand and connect with their students make learning the joy it was conceived to be. It is the students’ questions that drive the most dynamic classrooms. Responsive instruction establishes the existing knowledge a classroom shares, then it organizes the learning organically in response to the values of the audience – not the instructor or the administration. In this way, past knowledge is a foundation – not a limitation – on the possibilities for growth. Start each class with questions, not answers, and encourage discussion and exploration of the reasoning underlying every subject. Help every student understand that extraordinary privilege of school and give them the tools to create projects celebrating their new knowledge.
Experience remains the best teacher. Endless lectures on the arcana of accumulated information are useless today. Process is more important than product, as Father Edmund Dobbin of Villanova University often said. The ways that teachers model their own learning processes are priceless. Demonstrate the intense focus of lab work, critical reading, or program design. Techniques like” research simulation tasks” let students learn about their own strengths and weaknesses, while also acquiring the most relevant data they need to move forward. For more than a decade, “supervised research experiences” have provided a transformational bridge into academic excellence for lifelong learners at every age. They challenge both students and instructors to maximize their intellectual efforts with sustained consistency.
Educators like Sonia Nieto, Karin Sconzert, and Vidhu Aggarwal have demonstrated a variety of strategies to energize classrooms around the world. For Nieto, attention to the structural inequalities that marginalize girls and students of color opens the door to both honesty and integrity among teachers to create inclusive excellence in education. Sconzert shows the importance of metropolitan geography in shaping the classroom experience as students and teachers must account for their cultural backgrounds in making a positive learning experience. Aggarwal is one of the leading scholars and artists using digital formats like “Specs” – an online literary journal – to raise difficult questions, leading to provocative and unexpected answers. Every community can look to these innovative models to celebrate local teachers through events each year. The teachers who reinvent their classrooms in constant response to the widest range of students deserve celebrity status. Take more time to publicly thank and honor them at their schools, in the malls, and in your homes.