This article was written by Adam Hatch - UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.
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For many teachers, the job has become one of adhering to prescribed systems and curriculums, and any variation or customization is treated with hostility. This is very much a tragedy - teachers are trained professionals with a passion for education and inspiration. When they have the freedom to teach what their classes need, students learn more and enjoy school more. Here are the five most important reasons why we need to trust our teachers to innovate:
1. No class is the same.
Every class is made of students of different learning styles and a range of abilities. These students likely come from varying cultural backgrounds and have very different experiences at home - some kids are raised by single mothers, some have grandpa and grandma at home along with mom and dad. And then throw in differences in income? It’s nigh impossible to bend a standardized, sterilized, bureaucrat-approved lesson to adequately serve the needs of these students. The solution to this problem, of course, is to throw cookie-cutter lessons out the window and let teachers make their own choices about how to cultivate the minds of their students.
2. No student’s learning curve is the same.
Just like each class is made up of different groups of kids, each of those students is very much an individual with individual needs. Some students are best served by a quick overview of certain topics, while others need more in-depth exploration. Some students will reliably do their homework - others, not so much. How do you make sure each student is learning and also held accountable? Give teachers the latitude to customize their lessons and grade their students according to individual needs.
3. Teachers in control are better teachers.
By giving teachers the room to develop their own lessons and curriculum, or at least teach a curriculum according to the needs of their particular class, teachers become vastly more capable of instilling knowledge and skills in students. The demands of standardized curriculums and tests are roughly equivalent of tying a teacher’s hands behind their back - they simply can’t do as much when they are constrained. However, when given the freedom to run their classes as they see fit, teachers come to enjoy the work more, feel more passion for the curriculum, and students pick up on this. A teacher’s love of their curriculum and methods will inspire students to love it as well, and therein lies inspiration and a passion for the material.
4. Teaching “by the book” is usually not enough.
Much is made of the handful of students who aren’t quite up to mastering the curriculum. This makes sense - a good teacher isn’t one who can teach the “A” students, a good teacher is the one who can take a failing student to a solid “C,” and focusing on kids who struggle is an imperative part of the job. However, the majority of students can handle the curriculum, and are even capable of exceeding it. Again, by giving teachers the room to do even more than the state-sanctioned curriculum allows for, students have the opportunity to not just simply earn a grade, but to develop their minds.
5. Students learn from humans, not from systems.
For years, scientists have been studying the effects of educational TV and videos on students. The result? They are largely ineffective. What researchers have found is that children don’t learn from “materials,” they learn from other people. This is true for toddlers, older children, teens, and even adults. It then follows that no student has ever learned from an administrator-designed curriculum - they have only ever learned from their teachers. If students learn from interaction, modeling behavior, and observation of their teacher, doesn’t it make sense to allow a professional educator the freedom to run their classroom according to their professional considerations instead of a one-size fits-all approach?
Educational standards are important and necessary in the increasingly complex project of educating society. However, the pendulum has swung too far to the side of standardization. Teachers ought to be given ultimate control of what is taught in their classes and how they teach it. Given this level of freedom, students will learn more and appreciate it to a greater degree. Extrapolate those results across society and the benefits are staggering.