“Accepting students for who they are, rather than what they do, is integrally related to the teaching of a whole child”
– Alfie Kohn, The Whole Child
People often ask me why I am a teacher, they say things like “Well, you must have a really hard time with all the testing and standardized learning” or “That must require a lot of grading.” When I respond with “ No, the school I teach in does not believe in testing” or “ I really don’t grade, we write individual assessments on each child’s progress” they look at me with a sense of great confusion.
You see, I teach in a progressive education school. A large majority of people don’t really know what a progressive school is, or what it is all about. When I explain to them that it is very much about fostering self- directed learning, and being supportive of students finding what they are truly interested in, it becomes a question of the credentials, or validity that we as a school have. I often explain with great optimism that it is a place for kids to thrive in, a place that they can be who they are. So many schools today focus on product rather than process, and don’t really allow students to be active participants in their own educational experience. Everything these days from schools to the workforce is about competition, and standardized outcomes. From my experience of teaching for seven years in this sort of environment I have realized a few things……..
Children require trust, humor, gentleness, encouragement. They need to be seen AND heard. Growing people need others to care about their interests, their personal hopes and aspirations, their strengths and weaknesses. Children need to be nurtured! Kohn states that “the best predictor of whether children will be able to accept themselves as valuable and capable is the extent to which they have been accepted unconditionally by others.” (TWC pg.21) The environment I teach in is supportive of this theory. Because we have the wonderful opportunity to get to know our students, and our school is small, there are daily opportunities to learn from each other, within a community. Relationships are formed, lessons are learned. It’s quite a sight to see a child who has been told they are a failure start to grow wings and fly in our school. I have seen many transformations take place with children learning from other children, and being able to teach others.
While this might sound like utopia, or that I am a fluffy overly optimistic teacher, I believe this kind of approach to education is ultimately going to help make great people, not ‘sheeple’. I realize that I am fortunate to have found the school I teach at, and that many children cannot afford a private school, let alone be able to go to a school like this. I have a large amount of gratitude, and I myself reflect on what my own interests are, and what I want to learn about when I am taught by my students. What is the recipe for our future generations? I’m not sure, but I believe I am in the right place.
I am a high school graduate, obtained two associates degrees from the local college, and graduated from The University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Art Education. I am K-12 certified, and proficient in my content area. I have attended many teacher development seminars, and am thinking of obtaining my Master’s degree, further pursuing my career and path in education. I am a product of public school, and while I had many negative experiences attending them, I had a few teachers who cared and fostered my desire to learn. Today I write this by request of one of my student’s parents, and the more I sit here, the more I realize I want to learn…..perhaps I am a product of my environment, and maybe, just maybe, I practice what I teach.
I am delighted that Jennifer wrote this post for me – she’s been involved with my son’s education for 4 years; helping him hone the storyteller in his soul. She is an excellent teacher and well loved by her students. Watching her ‘in action’ it’s easy to see why this is so.