Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Relevance of Education

One of the topics I discussed in my presentation, "Lifelong Literacy and the Changing Face of Reading," is relevance. 

Our society today recognizes that education is a must...but almost as an item on a checklist...something we just have to suffer through...the end product, the diploma is the most important thing...not the education/knowledge a student receives somewhere in the middle.

I do not agree.
Are you shocked? ;)

Today's society does not see true relevance in an education.
We, teachers are partly to blame for that.
Yes, I did just say that.

As a professional devlopment provider I've met many teachers, especially content specific specialists, who've given up on relevance and just teach the content.
They tell me daily, "I have to cover the content; that is my job."

My response to that is...
"What good is covering the content if nobody is learning anything??"

Relevance means "the relation of something to the matter at hand"
"When am I ever going to write a research paper again?" 
"When am I ever going to work algebraic equations in my life?" (never, I hope ;)

Our students, and the rest of the world, for that matter, misunderstand what's going on in our classrooms (or what should be going on in our classrooms).
Comp I, for example, the first college level transfer writing course students on our campus have to take, is not just about writing essays.


The essay itself is the end result of reading, thinking, analyzing, evaluating, strategizing, making decisions, logically justifying your opinions and then communicating all of those things through writing.

Even in an algebra class (I'm sweating profusely even as I type this thinking back to my days in algebra classes)...the symbols and numbers have abstract meanings all their own that the student must decipher...the student must evaluate the information given, make decisions about which formulas to use or steps to follow given that information (more logic) and try not to go crazy, as was in my case, as he/she makes the wrong decisions and has to evaluate and find the mistakes :)

The knowledge/skills that our students should be getting in our classes is the kind of knowledge they can take with them.  It is so not just about covering the content. 

My parents were very young, working class Mississippians. 
No one in their families had ever gone to college and they seemed to be following in the footsteps of all those before them when I arrived.

But, somehow they wanted out.
They wanted a better life.
So, they went out to find it.

They found the road to a better life on the campus of Mississippi State University.
They lived in married student housing and scraped by every single day of their lives.  They wanted education; they had to work for it; they had to sacrifice for it. 
My dad completed his first degree, and as you can tell by the picture below, I was always expected to be a college graduate. 

I was expected to get a college education because my parents experienced firsthand its relevance. 

My job as a teacher is to make sure that my students are learning, regardless of the content I cover. 
There is no classroom or teacher on any campus anywhere that can teach students everything they need to know for the rest of their lives.

A student who truly learns something in class will then take that knowledge and be able to use it in a variety of ways, for a variety of purposes, academic related or not, and most importantly out into the world after they leave our classes.

THAT is relevance.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Lifelong Literacy and the Changing Face of Reading

Last week was absolutely nuts...a good kind of nuts...but nuts just the same. 

Last week was so nuts that I'm going to continue my trend of breaking my own rules
This week my blog is going to be somewhat of an academic blog :)
But, in a good way, I promise.

The chaos started when several months ago I was notified that I would be receiving the Humanities Teacher of the Year Award for my school.  This award is sponsored by the Humanities Council for the state of Mississippi and I was honored and humbled beyond words to receive it.  I had to prepare a 30 minute presentation which took place this past Tuesday and I will also have to attend the statewide award presentation in February.  My parents attended the ceremony, reception and luncheon as did my middle and youngest child, Soccer Boy (representing my firstborn who was on a Senior field trip), the administrative cabinet from my school, faculty and students as well as a host of local media, a representative from MS Humanities Council and a representative from the governor's office.


Now that you've got the facts, let me give you the "real deal" Peppermint style ;)

I am not a fan of acolades.  I'm going to do what I do no matter what.  It's nice to be recognized but not at all necessary in my book.  I almost get embarrassed...is that silly??

I LOVE a captive audience.  My students would roll their eyes at this statement.  I do not get nervous about speaking in front of people...not even this kind of crowd.  I think that stems from my passion about what I do.  I'm that sure that what I'm saying is what the audience needs to hear. 

The title of my presentation was "Lifelong Literacy and the Changing Face of Reading." 

I can talk about literacy with my eyes closed.
If I couldn't, then I would hope someone would show up to take my Ph.D. away.
I mean that.

My stand on literacy is not always popular with fellow teachers because I believe at least part of the problem is what is not going on in the classroom. 
Students enjoy hearing someone finally say that the problem is not because they are so "dumb," but faculty, not so much because that means they've got to examine themselves a little closer.
Effective teachers examine themselves and their classroom practices constantly and adjust things as needed.
Ineffective teachers...well...they don't.

Before any fellow teachers out there who stumble on my blog get their hackles up, I do not think the fault lies completely with ineffective teachers.  And, some ineffective teachers are ineffective because of local, state and national policy constraints. 
One of the local media asked me point blank "Whose fault is it that literacy levels nationwide are so low and that each year more and more students who graduate from high school need remedial education when they enter college?"

Holy Smokes! What a question.
A good question, but certainly a scary one to answer.

I told her there are too many variables to point fingers in one direction. 
But, the system itself seems to value test scores more than student learning.  Until that focus shifts, the literacy situation in our country is not going to improve.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Just for fun, here's a shot of me telling my story...

More tomorrow...