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Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.

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What was your biggest obstacle or frustration during your years of conventional education?

I want to know how to make the next generation better, so after telling me your issue or obstacle, I am also curious to hear how you would translate that into some small change or action that can grow outward from a single classroom to a school and then further.

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    Mar 20 2012: One of many was certainly the incident where the class was given the, at that time, standard ‘school career test’. I was 16, the year before graduating from High School. The teachers were confused with my results, which indicated a broad interest across the spectrum of subjects instead of, what they were used to, a clear preference for either A studies (anything not B) and B studies (Medicine or at least Engineering).
    Since they didn’t know what to do with me I wasn’t bestowed the attention, support and direction the other, especially B, students were given in information on opportunities for further studies. I was on my own. Besides being branded as weird for not having one clear-cut interest it resulted in a lifelong quest for ‘What is that one thing I’m supposed to be best at?’

    So, although it resulted in a very interesting ride so far, the change I would like to see is: Teachers being better equipped and educated in guidance of students with regard to career choice.
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      Mar 20 2012: Yes! Brilliant point, Astra. I'm very passionate about meaningful counselor ratios and supplementary training for classroom teachers.
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      Mar 20 2012: Astra, that would not be my biggest obstacle at that time but since you mentioned it I found that counseling in the Italian school system was very very very bad. Just like you I had "potential" in all of the subjects we used to study and I ended up by choosing something I had never ever heard of before. But the question "what should I do when I grow up" is still haunting me....and I guess I fully qualify for grown up now.
  • Mar 20 2012: Subjects would start without creating curiosity towards them. If there aren't questions in the mind of students then there is no interest towards the subject.

    Teachers would care more about kids doing homework and writing things down rather than care whether they learned or not - this drove me completely mad.

    Lack of regard for curiosity and creativity.
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      Mar 20 2012: I agree. In my experiences as a student and as a teacher, I have always been amazed at how few teachers seem to feel excitement or curiosity of their own toward different (sometimes any) subjects. At the same time, the few who did REALLY stand out for me. It's interesting to think about how we could create and select for those kinds of teachers, but even more to think about how we can infect the already existing teachers with a meme that would spread.
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        Mar 20 2012: I suspect that teachers often get distracted from the passion for subject matter that brought them into the field. There are several factors that may be at the root of the problem. First, passion for a subject does not always translate into the ability to convey it to students. We see this often in universities, where passion and expertise in the subject are not typically the issue. Pedagogical struggles may come across as a lack of interest in the content. Second, someone who loves a subject may become worn from not being able to manage well the need also to organize and orchestrate a classroom of energetic young people. New teachers have a great deal more trouble typically with classroom management than with developing lesson plans. The teacher gets worn out daily, which distracts him from his passion for his subject, or at least conveyoing it. Third, sometimes the passion for the subject is drowned out by aspects of the work environment that stifle the teacher's ability to meet her students' needs. For example, standardization of curriculum that does not allow differentiation to meet different students' needs is very hard on teachers who are passionate about and naturally creative in their service. Excessive paperwork and meetings can have the same effect.I think progress in improving education depends on recognizing that this is not necessarily a matter of having the wrong people drawn to the field.
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    Mar 30 2012: There are 2 sentences that made me go in the wrong way:

    - "Yes, you've got the right answer, but you didn't explain enough how you find it"
    Actually, I understand now that I don't think in a linear way, and nobody could teach me to think this way, with diagram, sketches or plan, instead of the classic linear way to explain maths. I didn't fail, but I was always average. I totally agree Ken Robinson : teachers have problems to walk in their students shoes,

    - "You are too good in class to do short studies". I did always love to work with wood, metal, clay, etc. But I wasn't bad at writing at school. And of course, all my teachers wouldn't imagine that a good student would want to be a woodworker if he could have an "intelligent" work. And now? I have a master's degree in communication, I worked several years as a communication executive, and I am bored. At 29, I plan to become a woodworker, starting all over again. Teachers, parents, education experts: Everybody should invent ways for students to discover and develop their skills. And encourage it, even if they are not "intelligent". The world doesn't need only big brains, but also skilled hands, strong arms, sympathetic smiles. I think THIS is the main problem of the education. How can we avoid it? I don't know. In a dream world, every child should spend some time with a worker, discovering a job he like, and every worker should show his job to kids.
    I don't know if it's clear, I think it's pretty much Ken Robinson's ideas, and I know it's really difficult to change a system like that... But we need it!
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      Mar 30 2012: Yes, Sylvain, I agree. In the U.S. and elsewhere, crafts and trades have fallen in prestige over time, and I think we need to restore the pride and respect those careers deserve. If you are not familiar with the Confreres system in France, you should look it up. That is a model we could do well to emulate.

      I also agree that part of this is the fallacy of reasoning that has created an artificial dichotomy between intelligence and craft/trade jobs. We need to redraw that Venn diagram to give the overlapping area the credit it deserves, and then we need to post that diagram in every classroom.
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    Mar 22 2012: I think my main obstacle, with regards to my development, was the fact that, according to what the teachers said, if I was good at something it was because I was a girl and as such, a person who gets results especially because she works hard and not because of intelligence/talent/determination. The biggest obstacle in high school was the lack of participation to the process and the necessity to standardize your behaviours in class.
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    Mar 21 2012: I thought that most of the stuff they were teaching me was irrelevant, and I asked my calculus teacher, in true High School brat fashion, "When are we ever going to use this?" He smirked and assured me that I would.

    I still plan on going back and telling Mr. Spencer, with the stupid, ugly ties, that guess what? I never used it.

    I think that creating a powerful educational experience means relating the material/concepts to the student's lives in whatever form that takes. Even asking the kids themselves how they can apply what they've learned.
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      Mar 22 2012: It's so sad to hear when teachers say that kind of stuff. If someone said that to them, they would be frustrated and unsatisfied, and if they said that to another adult, the absurdity and disrespect would be more obvious. I fail to understand why we talk to our young people any differently.
  • Mar 20 2012: Structured learning. I functioned much better with units that I could do independently, use amount of work done as a partial metric, and investigate areas I wanted to learn more about relative to the lessons. I wanted to make my own connections between my life and lessons learned to establish a general mapping system for lessons learned. The more cross-connections I could make on my own and relative to my own interests, the more enthusiastic I became in doing the work. I wanted a bit more control over what and how much i learned.

    I think if school had approached learning like the Boy scouts approached learning, i would have done better and gotten more from the experience. The lessons I learned needed to be illustrated as relevant to my life with projects, exercises, problems, labs and application. Had the cirirculum been presented as a set of 'must do's" , 'should do's" and 'might like to dos' for additional understanding and credit, i think things would have gone better for me in college.

    I think having 30 students in class everyday all day was a waste, particularly when we were old enough to start taking control of our own education in high school. Spending time in labs, shops, computer centers, civic meetings, in volunteer opportunities, farming, visiting museums, botanical gardens, and participating in extra curriculars like band, sports, debates, underclass mentoring, and similar things would be time better spent and leave a more lasting impression.
  • Mar 20 2012: well I'd say that's entirely regional, though. There are many areas in the US where discipline isoverboard at home, just as much as there are regions where it is undeniably lax.
  • Mar 20 2012: My biggest obstacle is a complete and total lack of interest in school. But hey, i school in Africa. I don't think school is as boring in US as it is here
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    Mar 20 2012: I have a curious mind and posed a problem in a very disclipined classroom. If I could suggest one thing it would be to design course modules and allow kids to progress at their rate of learning. I got in trouble because I completed assignments and was expected to sit there while the teacher spent time with those who needed assistance. I spent much of school years waiting for others and was frusterated. I was told I was a touble maker, had medical problems, need mental assistance, got swats, oh well you get the picture. We promote smart kids into the next grade and again until we have a 12 year old in the 12th grade. We applaude his academics and deny his social development. Through modular development we would reward his academics and retain him with his peers for social development. We are at a threshhold of entering for profit on line education and, unfortunately, diploma mills. We need to revamp brick and mortars schools before it is lost. There are many other aspects that need addressing but we are limited by space. I appreciate you interest and accepting outside input. Best of luck. Bob
  • Mar 20 2012: I went to a religious private school. Their emphasis on discipline was so great that some days we spent more time on "let's interrogate everyone slowly until wef ind out who threw the balled up piece of paper" than "let's learn our subjects."

    Conversely, I've grown into an adult who looks at the current crop of public school kids and see nearly no discipline at all. No dress codes, no respect for their elders, video taping teachers and you tube posting them, unbridled bullying, and a basic lack of any grasp of their subjects.

    I think there needs to be a balance between a concentration camp of a school and a free for all.
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      Mar 20 2012: That's a great point, and the problem is compounded by the changing standards of discipline in students' home lives too.