An Educator’s Conundrum

  • May 3, 2016

An Educator’s Conundrum

There is a debate in academia over two warring factions in teacher instruction. Is the goal of teaching purely content based? Or is there a greater objective, and, if so, at what point does a teacher decide what the specific goals of the classroom should be?

Many teachers, when facing the classroom, have the goal of content learning, this is brought about by state standards and end of year performance based assessment tests, along with a pragmatic and necessary approach to instruction. A certain set of concepts must be taught, and, hopefully, at least 75% of what goes into the students’ ears will stick. This is, of course, where the teacher profession hits a conundrum. Students typically retain between 15 to 20% of what they learn in a class (and I’m being generous with that statistic). After 7 years, they may remember one thing from any given class, and it is usually not the Quadratic Equation or the Declaration of Independence. This is the issue. Should teachers and education in general make their goal primarily the transfer and importation of critical content OR should the focus be on teaching students the joy or learning or how to learn? If so, how does one teacher impart to a room of 28 students the importance and joy of continuous learning? The downside of instructing life long learning is that in the short term, students will learn little since the instruction will be one a single subject or event that will need to be drastically differentiated for the entire room of learners. The upside is that, over the course of their lives, students will know and value continuous learning for professional skills and personal satisfaction. This approach also requires outstanding educators ably trained and passionate about their field of study to a degree that they are able to transmit that knowledge, content and passion to their students.

This is a tricky decision for any educator since few students are assessed their passion for watching documentaries in their mid-thirties; this is a difficult rubric to design or enforce. This leaves educators in the same pickle that started fermenting 15 years ago with the increased pressure in standardized testing as a way to assess student performance. The solution to the educational conundrum involves a great deal of change within the infrastructure of education and with the public’s value of continued learning and personal growth through a passionate pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowing.

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