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Thursday, February 21, 2013

John Meeks: "Student-centered" learning is a joke!

By John Meeks

"Student-centered" learning is a joke.  The problem is that there is nothing humorous about this new piece of education jargon that seems to be more designed to frustrate and intimidate teachers who are working to serve our students.

George Orwell would be proud of how education leaders and bureaucrats define "student-centered."  In reality, students do not appear to be served much by forcing teachers to put on the dog for the sake of keeping up appearances.

What is frustrating most to me as an educator is not that we are not trying.  The trouble is that there are legions of educators who sacrifice their time to follow orders only to scrap their work when someone with a wild hair decides that something else better has come along.

It is foolish and silly for professionals in any field to put in the time to comply with directives that will only give way to something else the next week, month or year.  This capricious and arbitrary leadership, in my opinion, is abusive and would not be tolerated in any other sector of employment.

The refrain from on high, however, is that we have to do this for the students.  This is a cheap shot that implies that educators do not care about their students when they fail to see the value of investing time and effort into labor that will be disrespected and discarded.  This is a cheap shot that fails to trust teachers to do the right thing for their students.

In this age of data-driven instruction, we all find ourselves fretting over the numbers.  When the statistics rear their ugly head, everyone from principals down to paraprofessionals must jump like servants answering their master's bell.

And, where are the students in this equation?  They are consigned to being used as weapons with which to condemn the good work of those whom the public trusts to help.  It should be no surprise that bullying is increasing in schools because the metrics in modern education do not give any reason for administrators or teachers to care.  Evaluations are centered around student performance, but not student morale, happiness or safety.

While we cannot paper over student test scores, we can easily ignore and under-report student discipline because it is convenient to focus solely on the math and reading scores.  The failing of this mindset is that students who do not feel safe on campus and do not feel supported by their schools are the same students whose families will eventually opt to remove them from public schools.

Parents and families of public school students should be alarmed that educators are being trained either overtly or covertly to look the other way because any sincere attempts to protect their students is perceived as distracting from the mission to create employees for the workforce.

In my opinion, the school system is currently designed and organized around benign neglect of the social and mental needs of students who come from broken homes, abusive families, low-income circumstances, and other situations that will never factor into why our schools face challenges.  To speak up about this horrible situation is to be dismissed for making excuses.

Can I afford to stick my head into the ground like an ostrich?  I would benefit greatly from doing so as it helps my numbers and gives my superiors the impression that I am a busy beaver.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I have a different idea of what "student-centered" means.

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  1. Well said! To me a student-centered classroom is one where the children feel safe and at home. A place where children learn from a teacher primarily, not each other. It is a place where a teacher interacts with students instead of creating 4 or 5 centers to move the kids through so they can only work with low-achieving students. A place where it is recognized that RTI can't replace a teacher who truly knows their students, one who teaches at a pace where all can learn and feel successful. I work in my classroom for my students and stopped caring along time ago whether or not administrators, that normally didn't spend half of my 20 years in the classroom, like what I do or not. At the end of the day I'm not educating administrators, I'm educating students.

  2. Every referral at my school is miscoded so that the consequence is less than the Code of Conduct calls for. Teachers are pressured to not write referrals, which means throwing the victims of bullies under the bus.