The Learning Curve is a Circle

In my short career as a full-time teacher, I have discovered that the idea of learning the curriculum and settling down to teach is a fantasy of a by-gone era.  This is true for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I have yet to “settle down” myself into one grade level. That, I hope, is going to change and I can at least know where I will live at school for a while.

With that being said, what we are defining as curriculum has changed. In the No Child Left Behind years it was “I know what the reading, math, science and social studies TEs want me to do and the pace the district wants me to teach these subjects. I have developed activities and projects to go along with it. Done and done. Send forth the students.” Right? You could develop a master plan and play on repeat for years with little tweaks here and there.  After a few years in one grade level, you were a master.

Then something happened. Universities and Corporate America were irritated that our top-scoring students and the workforce had no idea how to think critically, to create innovative products, to work collaboratively with their collagues or to communicate effectively with their cohort and/or global partners. The “best and brightest” students and the workforce wanted to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. The problem was that the world changed while no one was watching, and the we were not equipped with the skills the world needed. When that happened, all eyes turned on teachers with an accusatory glare.  As if.

So here we are, in the 21st Century, with newly defined learning goals that have reading, writing, math, science and social studies embedded within them, but are not defined by them. We have a new definition of literacy that includes coding and effective use of social media. We have students who live in the fast-changing world, not just neighborhood and are so used to getting their needs met instantly that rigor and failure are not something that come to school with having muscles for.

What does that mean to me, as 21st Century teacher? It means that there is no “learning curve” to becoming a master teacher. It is a circle. My primary teaching tools are not textbooks and pacing guides because they will not provide my students with the skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration or communication.  My role has changed from dispenser of information to guide, and the people “on my tour” constantly change as does the landscape out the window.  The tools I have at my disposal for guiding seem to be innumermable with varied levels of efficacy – more and more being “sold” to teachers all the time. It is exciting and confounding trying to make sure that the tools are more substance than flash, that they are learning and expression tools and not just gimmicks.

The biggest challenge, I believe, is to help students quiet down the inner noise and discover the great questions – the questions that they wanted answered incessesantly when they were three years old: “Why? What if?”  Our textbook, memorize and repeat system has “schooled” the very skills our students arrive with and need to succeed in our modern economy right out of them. It sure was easier, in many respects, to teach students how to work in the widget factory than to teach them for unforeseen the jobs of the future.  And as long as the world keeps up its pace of changing, I will have to keep up with it. The learning curve is without end. That is exciting, friends.

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