Someone asked me once, “Why do you think kids in magnet or private schools do better than kids in public schools?” After sharing my opinion on the matter, I thought it was worth writing down. It is no secret that the education in the United States is in a constant state of reform. Reforms focus on student motivation, migration of students, vouchers, school overcrowding, lack of funding, or teacher pay seeking to fix an elusive problem. I am sure those are valid depending on your perspective. Yet, I think there are more fundamental reasons for the differences. Furthermore, addressing certain fundamentals do not require additional funds. We know education is important, yet so many kids are not learning.
Ask me how I know. My research is won after 5 years of volunteering in classrooms while my children attended public school. On one occasion, I asked a first grader to count to a hundred. He did well until he got to twenty-three. He then started counting out of order. I have many other examples of deficiencies I experienced in working in the classroom with kids. I always asked myself, “What went wrong that this kid does not know this information?”
It occurred to me that their foundation for learning was missing. As soon as a child is born, they are learning. If there is no reinforcement toward sustainable knowledge areas, the child, satisfying the insatiable need to learn, will pick up the lessons that are valued in their environment. But, more troubling, teachers in the schools my children attended seemed to misunderstand their responsibility in the transaction.
When I mention teachers I am speaking of any adult that has contact with any child no matter the length of time. Everyone shares in responsibility for the learning in children. Yes, parents are the first teachers. They set the tone and structure the first learning environment. They learn so that they can teach their little ones. Children learn from us no matter the subject. We teach with ours actions as well as our mouths. That is why it is crucial to be cognizant of what we say and our actions. As teachers, we must be mindful in our approach to education.
The opportunities are numerous. It can be anything from teaching to tie a shoelace to teaching physics. What makes you an effective teacher is not the fact that you can pass someone to the next grade or that you taught a certain subject. The criteria for effective teaching is that you taught responsibly. You considered the child as an individual. You provided the lessons and the environment that they needed. You modeled patience, even tone, understanding, and intentional time. If you have to go back to basic or foundational knowledge, you do. You do not complain about what the child should already know. You are the teacher—the one person in a child’s whose professional responsibility it is to correct any deficiency. When it is all said and done, you ensure that the child has learned.
[Taunya is nurse, author, and director of MAWMedia Group’s Health Literacy efforts. Find her author page at facebook.com/authorTSW]