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The Wonder of the Cinema

Blogging Challenge: Week 1

My classroom.  G146

My classroom. G146.

What should be considered “essential” curriculum in any discipline?

I like to think my first job, even before teaching my students the English curriculum, is to help the kids to become good people.  I’m not certain if this something I came to realize on my own or something my father–a retired teacher–pointed out to me.  Think about what qualities “good people” have.  They are friendly and personable.  They work hard and follow through on their commitments.  They know when to have fun and when to work.  They help others.  They offer criticism in a civil and non-personal way that is more about the work than the person.  They can entertain a thought without accepting it(thanks Aristotle!).

That’s the essential curriculum in my classroom.

Are their “soft skills,” social skills, and/or literacy skills that should be taught in every classroom in addition to the content?

Teachers-apple-on-a-desk--007I’m not sure I want a gym/health teacher for example teaching literacy skills.  I would rather my colleagues in the physical education and health department to simply get the kids to read more.  Reading is like running… the more we do it, the better we are at it.  The only thing beyond simply “read more” I’d like to see is reading critically.  Too often the students are asked to “read” when we mean “find the answer.”  That kind of reading turns into a high-speed skimming for key words and that’s not reading.  We need to push the students for understanding beyond what is written on the page.  What implications does it have?  Is it correct or is it flawed in any way?  We need to teaching kids to question what they read.

Teaching Apple

A word cloud of the most used words in this blog post. From Tagxedo.com

What is the overall goal of public education? What should it be? How can we make it better?

I think the answer to this depends on that old axiom: location, location, location.  Certainly the ‘overall’ goal of public education is some kind of lofty and very wordy mission statement suggesting that “all students can succeed” at “either a post-secondary level, military or the work-force.”  However, what is the reality?  In some schools the goal is simply to keep the kids there.  If Johnny is in school, he can’t be on the street committing crimes and may someday become a “productive member of society”(aka a wage-earning tax payer who follows the rules of American society).  I attended a school like that when I was a very young child.  I didn’t see the flaws and cracks and, frankly, the bullet holes in the building.

If we change how schools are funded(and that’s a HUGE if), there might be a slow, but gradual increase in achievement and retention, a decrease in juvenile crime, and a general “up-swing” in our economy.  However, how do you sell this to taxpayers?  I try to imagine I’m a parent and my child is in Hershey High School where I teach.  Why would I want any of my tax dollars to be siphoned away from this award-winning school–where I moved specifically to be in a “good” school district–to some failing or sub-par school elsewhere in the state?  Why would I vote for that(or for a representative who would)?  It’s not in my or my child’s best interest.  While I realize money isn’t the silver bullet to solve education, without it… it’s tough to get better.

Ok, so the big-picture, macro changes to the structure and funding of education are out of the control of me, an English teacher that is ‘in the trenches.’  What can do?

  1. Instill in my students a sense of value for education.  Being smart and knowledgeable is cool.
  2. Instill a respect for hard work.  Thomas Paine perhaps said it best, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
  3. Instill a desire to be a life-long student.  Why should learning stop at the schoolhouse door?



About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


5 thoughts on “Blogging Challenge: Week 1

  1. First, I appreciate your use of images here to break up the words. They’re a really nice touch to the experience.

    Ok, down to the “meat.” I agree with your father’s wise words about the essential curriculum: helping students become “good people” who are friendly, hard-working, empathetic and thoughtful without being defensive. But what does that look like in an English classroom? What specific structures are in place?

    This year I started a “creative writing prompt” on Mondays and Fridays to begin bringing more creativity into my classroom. My hope was to recognize my students’ under-appreciated talents and skills in a fun way. More fun, more creativity, obvious win. Yet, I constantly struggle to preserve that time because of pressure to cover the curriculum.

    Likewise, I struggle between allowing natural consequences to happen (aka, poor grade for disorganization, laziness, lack of initiative) versus showing students how to be deeply empathetic and emphasizing the benefits of hard work over an arbitrary deadline or rule. Sometimes, the situation isn’t clear and I struggle to know which decision will teach my students how to become that “good person” I so want them to be.

    Posted by Brianna Crowley (@AkaMsCrowley) | October 22, 2014, 9:42 pm
  2. I think it is interesting that this is the second post in this challenge and it also notes that some of the most important skills students need to walk away with aren’t necessarily ones that we can measure with a state test or evidence with a diploma. I could go in a lot of different directions here, but I think one thing that stood out for me in this post was when you wrote, “Too often the students are asked to “read” when we mean, “find the answer.” In particular this makes me think of a conversation I had today with an honors student who had a MAJOR misconception going on about continental drift, and when I let her know we needed to revisit Monday, she said, “it doesn’t matter because I got the right answer to the test question”. I tried to explain to her that just “getting the right answer” isn’t really the point which she agreed, but I think it was more of a “you are right…but my right got me the points I needed so I don’t really care”. Kids know that right answers get good grades and good grades mean you did your job well (both student and teacher), but I think that sometimes the system itself sets students and teachers up to measure their own growth and accomplishments by how many “right answers” they can get. That is definitely something I am always struggling to find balance with in my classroom.

    Lots of other good stuff here! Nicely done!

    Posted by Melissa HL | October 25, 2014, 6:01 pm
  3. Hi Rob, in response to your point about funding, I taught in Maryland for a year. Unlike PA, they are county wide school districts. I taught in Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest counties in MD. My school, however was NOT in the wealthy part of the county. We were a high ESL, low income, transient school. The county wide funding was a bit of a joke among the faculty. Our parents were certainly not the squeaky wheel, so our building saw very little of that “Equitably Distributed” money.

    Posted by mjt2823 | October 27, 2014, 6:50 pm
  4. Love this post! I agree with the importance of reading more, even in gym class. I also liked how you clarified the importance of reading more critically. I agree with your three take-away’s and I wanted to share a little John Green that your post caused me to remember…

    In my fourth grade classroom I’m working to find away to instill that love of learning in my students, in what ways have you instilled that love of learning in your classroom? How can we encourage students, adults, and all humans to read more?

    Posted by Joel Crowley | November 2, 2014, 12:19 am

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