It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

What’s the point? March 26, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 11:53 am

I’m sure that we’ve all finished a day in the classroom, sat in our chair, and asked ourselves “What’s the point? Why do I do this job?”

We might find that we all ask these questions for different reasons: standardized tests, students who can’t read, students with behaviour problems, seemingly no support from parents or administrators, more and more paperwork, feeling like we need to prove ourselves, more curriculum to teach, less time in our classrooms with our kids, feeling like we are not just teachers but also doctors, psychologist, priests, counsellors, speech paths, police officers, parents…

I have felt all of these things at one time or another during my 10 years teaching. Some years are better than others. Some groups are better than others. Overall, the good times have far outweighed the bad, which is why I am still teaching. However, it is still makes me think: What is the point of teaching? I look at this question now not in the defeated way mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, but in an objective, overall purpose way: What is the goal of education and teaching? What do we want to accomplish?

In pondering this question, I read Nel Noddings’ 2005 article What Does It Mean to Educate the WHOLE CHILD? Noddings begins her article by situating the climate created by the No Child Left Behind policy in the United States. She underlines “its unattainable main goal of 100 percent of students proficient in reading and math by 2014.” (page 8 ) This statement seems to be making the point that the goal of education is to make sure our kids can read and do math. But is that it?

I share with you now a situation of a child I once taught. It is a situation where most of us have experienced similar feelings about a student. This boy that I taught was very smart; very very smart. He was also very troubled behaviourally. He was getting into all sorts of trouble at school. I remember sitting with a colleague, trying to figure out how we could reach this young boy, and saying: “This child will either be the head of a Fortune-500 company or the head of a gang when he grows up.” I felt so strongly that this boy had the smarts and the will to do anything with his life and that it would all depend on the decisions he made along the way. Noddings addresses this same idea on page 10 when she says that “too many highly proficient people commit fraud, pursue paths to success marked by greed, and care little about how their actions affect the lives of others.”

So where does this lead me? I KNOW that education and teaching is more that reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. I KNOW that my role as teacher is more than just teaching academic subject areas. But then, what is the goal? Noddings suggests several different visions of what that goal is.

Regardless of which vision fits your own, Noddings sums them up best: “They are meant to broaden our thinking – to remind us to ask why we have chosen certain curriculums, pedagogical methods, classroom arrangements, and learning objectives. They remind us, too, that students are whole persons.” (page 10)

This brings me back to the story of the boy who could do anything. I did my job by teaching the academic subjects. He could read, he could write, he could do math… But did I do the rest of my job. I’d like to think that I tried. I tried to give him a voice. It tried to teach him right from wrong. I tried to teach him that we all have choices and that our choices affect us, those around us, and that some decisions can go even further. I tried to teach him that he can and does play a role in our society as a whole. I tried to teach him that there is always more than one way to do things, more than one right answer… I tried to teach him that people are of value. Did he learn any of these things? I don’t know. He left our school a couple of years after I taught him. I often wonder about him.

Noddings leaves us with a series of questions (suggestions?) of how to more effectively lead to the education of the whole child:

So in the end, my belief is that the point of teaching IS to education the whole child. Although it IS important to teach the students how to add, read, and craft a well-written sentence, it is also my job to teach them the power of the words they choose to use and the far-reaching effects of those words. It is my job to teach them how to be a good friend and how to take responsibility for their actions. It is my job to make them aware of what is going on in the world and about how they can be a part of the change they feel is needed. I’m not sure how, yet. I try things. I try some of the things listed above. I try other things. I stumble, I fail, I succeed, but I’m doing something. That’s my point. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I teach.

So, what’s your point?

Noddings, N. (2005). What does it mean to educate the whole child? Educational Leadership, 63(1), 8-13.


3 Responses to “What’s the point?”

  1. Mary Worrell Says:

    Thank you for sharing this post and showing us how vulnerable we are as teachers, but that it’s okay and should be encouraged to share our uncertainties, missteps, and questions about the job no matter how veteran we might be to the profession.

    My philosophy of education is always changing. I feel like it changes and morphs a bit with every blog post I read with every person that takes the time to challenge my thinking. I don’t think that means I’m unsure or misguided – I think that means I’m still learning, which is an important trait in any teacher.

    I agree with you that it absolutely is our job to educate the whole child and not just the math student, the language arts student, etc. Humans can’t turn off the parts of them that aren’t needed in math class and so we shouldn’t ignore those parts in math class. School needs to be interdisciplinary, hands-on, and deal with real issues. We say this all the time, but I’m wondering when we’re actually going to do it.

  2. What a wonderfully transparent post. Who in education hasn’t struggled with these thoughts.

    I’m often reminded of the thought that we teach children how to think, but not what to think. Theodore Roosevelt (an American president for you crazy Canadians) said, “To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” So, I mean, there absolutely has to be some of that.

    At the end of the day, we do the best we can with what we have. I guarantee that student is better off for knowing you, even if neither of you realize it.

    Thanks for sharing.

    – @newfirewithin

  3. Marilyn P Says:

    I am grounded in this belief
    Be careful what you put into your soul!
    Yes I belief the entire well being of a child needs to be fostered. The placement of our words, ideas, actions & teachings are essential to the development of any learning.
    Hats off to you for looking at the whole child! I agree with Justin, your students are better because they have known you.

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