That was in the Past!

Here’s a question…. Should history be taught in school. If so, to what extent?

I am a history teacher at a middle school here in Texas. I personally LOVE history and I enjoy learning more about it. That said, I can also see why kids think history is pointless and irrelevant. They say that history isn’t applicable to normal life. In many ways, they are right. Sure, history shows you the mistakes of the past and what happened as a result, but it is rarely the same circumstances surrounding it.

So, how should history be approached educationally?

Here’s my idea. I believe history should be taught on a basic level. Individual battles should not be glorified. Students should be taught causes of wars and results of wars. We should teach more about economic and social impact of wars, documents, instead of diving deep into trivial details. Focus more on a solid foundation and save super in depth study to students wanting to learn more. Make most history an elective class intended for students seeking a career in the subject.

Focus more on Government and Economics. In a country where 92 million people (40 percent) didn’t vote government should be emphasized. In a country that is 19 trillion dollars in debt, economics should be a priority. In short, history should become social studies once again. Government would teach how the U.S. government functions and how laws are made. It teaches valuable information to help Americans become informed about the system that governs them and to let them know their rights and responsibilities as United States citizens. Economics would teach about the financial system, the stock market, and taxes. It would help balance a checkbook, do your taxes, and teach you the basics. Supply and demand, inflation, loans, and interest; these are all subjects that are extremely relevant in the 21st century.

I will continue to teach history to the best of my ability, but I will not acknowledge that the Battle of Saratoga will help the majority of Americans in their future careers. Let’s change the educational system to be more relevant and applicable to the job market and life.

What do you think? Should the educational system be reformed? If so, how?

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Let’s Bring It Back….Penmanship and Spelling

I have never had amazing handwriting. I’m usually in a hurry when I hand-write documents. However, in my defense, when writing slower, I have very legible handwriting. Obviously, I should begin slowing down and doing a better job more often.

As a history teacher, I get to see a lot of student writings. Granted, some have beautiful handwriting.  You can tell they had practice and someone at home working with them. The vast majority, unfortunately, have abysmal writing and their lack of penmanship is clear.

Part of the problem is technology. Schools stress the importance of technology and integrating it into the classroom. Teachers are appraised and judged on their ability to use technology with their lessons. Computers are very important in a global market and for a future of heavy tech use. That said, there are still many times that people need to be able to hand write and they must have some sort of training so that people can read what they write. Many of my junior high kids have the same handwriting skills as my 5 year old cousin. I’m not even kidding.

Here’s another problem. They can’t write in cursive. Since they can’t write in cursive, they cannot even read cursive. When asked to sign their name, they are forced to print due to no penmanship or handwriting training. They won’t be able to read any handwritten historical document or signature.

Spelling is also affected because of tech reliance. Students are so used to spellcheck and texting that they cannot spell basic words. Even words that they should be expected to know at their given age. As an English teacher the past two years, I attempted to stress spelling and cursive in my class, only to receive a lot of backlash from the administration because I was “not aligned with the STAAR training.” I was told not to do any more spelling or cursive training and instead, focus on reading and writing comprehension. That made no sense to me and still doesn’t.

Please stress spelling and penmanship with your children. We are losing some of our foundation to be able to read and write. What happens if computers all stop working? Chaos.

Be part of the solution and demand that cursive be brought back to the classroom.

“I’m Tired of Dealing with Them!”

Unfortunately, in American Schools, this is a common phrase when referring to students who are troublemakers. No doubt that those certain students are a pain in the butt, however, their behavior should not take priority over academic readiness when it comes to passing them on to the next grade.

As a school teacher, I have sat in on end-of-the-year meetings that determine whether or not some of the students should be passed on based on academic achievement through assessments and absences. These meetings are very important due to the fact that a student could be held back or made to attend summer school. One disturbing experience I had one year was when the principal and the teachers that had a certain student voted to pass him on because “he is annoying and a pain.” This student did NOT deserve to advance to the next level. I had him in my English class and he refused to do 85% of his work and the 15% he did do was guesses that showed no academic effort or progress. He was also absent over 20 days, which is at least four days over the supposed “allowed” absence limit. One of the grading periods, this kid had a zero average in 4 of his classes. In my class he had a 27.

He was passed on.

I argued against him getting passed on, but I was outnumbered and outranked. If I’m honest, I came out of that meeting discouraged and confused to just what exactly was happening in our schools. This was my first year teaching, so this was my first meeting of the kind. The quickness of their decision and the joking attitude towards the subject led me to speculate that this wasn’t the first time this had happened. It is sad to think that a school, an institution that is supposed to put the students in a place to succeed, makes decisions rashly and based on emotions.

Schools should not lower their expectations of students. If a student does not obtain a certain amount of mastery in that grade, then they should not advance to a higher grade. It’s a domino effect. If they get passed on without the proper knowledge, then the next teacher that gets them cannot teach the required grade level content because there is no foundation. They have to go back and reteach what the student should already know from the previous year. This results in lost time, opportunity to learn, and lower test grades. Lower grades on the STAAR test puts a teacher on the hot seat. STAAR is how a teacher is judged. That is a conversation for another post though.

I would urge school to stop taking the easy way out and to actually try their hardest to make sure the students are learning what they need to at each grade level. This goes back to my earlier post The American Education System….One BIG Fail talking about how we are a country of mediocracy. We can do better. We should do better.

If you’re a parent, please instill a good work ethic in your children so that they will do the work to be successful and well educated.

The American Education System…One BIG Fail

The American Education System is not new to criticism. I have read many posts and articles about just how it fails. They are all correct! However, as a classroom teacher who experiences school everyday, I feel compelled to add my two cents. I could go on forever on this subject (just ask my wife) but today I will choose to focus on how the schools do not prepare the average student for college or a contributing part in society.

Schools today are all about memorization and reciting information. Sure, some subjects like history have always been fact-heavy and a bit dry, but even other core areas such as math and science have become academically bulimic. The teacher expect students to remember everything they have been taught and make excellent scores. There is no room for creativity and progress this way. School is one big assessment that constantly measures your progress without giving you time to actually make progress. “Yep, still dumb.”

Listen to me though….

This is NOT the fault of the teachers. I am a teacher and I have tried everything. I have been taught how to differentiate instruction and modify and make things “fun”. The STAAR test (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) is to blame as well as the State Board of Education. We are so focused on the results of the STAAR, that we exchange REAL vital information for a few facts. We are the epitome of mediocracy.  Instead of cultivating a generation of self-reliant, innovative, and skilled workers, we have instead bred a generation of wimps content with mediocracy and dependence. Everyone is mediocre at everything.

We should teach kids the basics and then steer them on to a learning environment that suits their interests. If they want to weld, let’s get them on that and make them an incredibly skilled welder. I would rather have less well rounded people and more skilled craftsmen whether it be a welder or a doctor.

That is all I have today, but I will definitely be talking about the education system more in future posts. Let me know how you feel about the system and how it could be improved!