Rookie Teaching: Looking at Changes in Classroom Education

You may be young, eager, and willing to bend over backwards to identify with your kids' needs, but you're going to find that the kids you're teaching will little resemble the kid you were at their age (even though, in some cases, you're not that much older than they are). Here are just a few of the ways in which contemporary education may differ from the way it had been in the not-too-distant past.

Changes for the better

Most people see the past as a simpler, more peaceful, and more idealistic time. They hearken back to the "good old days" and view modern educational theories and advancements as unnatural and unnecessary. However, to defy that natural tendency of human nature you should first focus on how education has improved in the past 50 years or so:

  • Schools afford the same rights to students of different races. It wasn't very long ago that schools were segregated.
  • Sexual stereotypes restricting female students are not as common or pervasive as in the past. Girls took home economics and boys took industrial arts — that's the way it was. When it came to advanced math or science courses, girls were actively discouraged from enrolling. To add salt to the wound, girls were told that their brains weren't capable of handling the abstract thought that went into such courses and were steered away from such classes "for their own good." This is, of course, ridiculous.
  • Teachers are adapting their coursework for students with different types of learning styles. It's not uncommon for students to say, "I'm a visual/spatial learner — can you draw a picture for me?" The response, "Well, I'm a bodily/kinesthetic teacher. Would you like a punch in the mouth?" is, at best, counterproductive.
  • Schools are addressing student needs other than curricular needs. Your role as an educator is more than simply an imparter of knowledge. You must also demonstrate and model acceptable social behavior, especially in this increasingly depersonalized age. Unfortunately, much of society expects teachers to act as surrogate parents, and at times you'll feel overwhelmed by all the different roles you have to play in your students' lives. However, if not you, then who else?
  • Teacher salaries are beginning to rise. While the pay is still nowhere near proportional to the skills you possess and the training you endured, no longer does teaching mean a life of poverty. However, make sure to look carefully at the salary scale for your school system. Some schemes draw you in with high initial salaries but will only offer you modest increases for the rest of your career and max out fast. If there isn't a lot of disparity between the starting and ending salaries in your district, ask yourself if the money you're making now will still be attractive to you when you're retiring.

Changes for the worse

Any criticism of education is typically a criticism of society in general. Kids are changing, parents are changing, and rules are changing, but most of these changes are simply repercussions of other, more sweeping societal changes occurring outside school walls. You can do your best to mold the minds of your students, but remember that you only see them for so many hours in the day. Many other influences are at work in the children as well.

Following are ways in which teaching has changed for the worse:

  • Teachers, as authority figures, are not automatically deemed worthy of respect. When, exactly, did school become the establishment and students become the oppressed minions? Was it the day teachers started wearing Viking hats and reinstated the whipping post as punishment for sloppy handwriting? No one knows for sure, but the type of respect that Beaver Cleaver had for his teachers on television isn't the norm anymore. Authority figures don't have the same inherent influence they used to.
  • Parents are more willing to side with their child in a student-teacher conflict. Chances are, if your teacher called home to tell your parents you were misbehaving in school, man oh man, there was going to be trouble when you got home. Not so anymore.
    First, believing their child means that you're the one who has the problem, whereas their precious angel remains without blemish. Second, what does a new teacher know? If you were an experienced teacher, then maybe they'd consider the charges, but a rookie has to have the facts all wrong. Finally, punishing their kid causes conflict in the household and is, all in all, a real downer for the whole family, especially if the kid is being punished for a reason the parent didn't even witness.
    Have your facts, evidence, and witnesses straight when you approach a parent conference or phone call.
  • Parents are far quicker to bring legal action against you. Again a reflection of society, parents are fully aware of both their rights and the rights of their students. If they feel you're infringing on these rights in any way, they won't hesitate to climb right to the top of the ladder to complain.

Don't become overwhelmed by the way some things have changed for the worse. People in every profession face most of the same challenges, in one form or another, so society's not picking on you personally, even though it sometimes feels that way.

What's with these kids today?

Today's kids are a different breed than they were even ten years ago. Here are just a few of the differences:

  • Kids know a lot more about sex a lot earlier than they used to. Even very tame and family-friendly television shows talk about sex frequently, and they often depict it quite graphically. This type of programming is not scheduled with the ultimate purpose of corrupting our youth; it merely reflects the standards by which the majority of society abides. Kids don't know about sex because there's a lot of sex on TV; kids know a lot about sex, because sex is everywhere.
    If you're teaching kids who are entering puberty, you end up with kids who have sex on their minds constantly. If there's any way what you say in class can possibly have some unintentional sexual connotation, your students will find it.
  • Kids probably know more about technology than you do. The good news is that your students are more than willing to teach you what they know and help you become more comfortable with computers if you're not already.
  • The gap between students who want to do well in school and those who are uninterested in school has widened. The students falling into the latter category are more scientific in their approach to meeting those minimal requirements. You'll hear students say things like, "I have a 62 average in the first three grading quarters for your class, which means I only need a 54 percent this quarter to pass. So, I'm not going to waste my time studying for this test."
    On the other hand, students who are intent upon always getting high scores are fighting tooth and nail for every point they can manage. These "grade grubbers" will argue every deduction on a quiz.
    Stand firm in the face of grade grubbers and don't kill yourself trying to motivate the chronically unmotivated.
  • Kids are coming to school with a lot more emotional baggage than they used to. Although depressing to think about, histories of abuse, neglect, and indifference leave some students emotionally unavailable to you when you begin class. It takes time for these students to trust you, and sometimes even trust is not enough for them to overcome the issues they're dealing with at home to allow for a successful academic year.
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