Teaching Then and Now


One of the things I've reflected on over the years is how students and the whole education environment have changed.  I was born on the leading edge of the Baby Boom.  I started grade school in the 1950's, was in public school all through the 1960's and in college in the early 1970's.  After that, I went into the Marine Corps.  I don't remember my parents ever interacting with a teacher. They assumed no news was good news.  If a teacher had ever called about me, there would have been Hell to pay at my house. 

There were no mid-term reports. No conferences ad nauseum.  A parent would never try to tell a teacher how to do their job.  Parents didn't hover over the students or run interference for them. If there was a problem, it was the student's job to fix it or suffer the consequences.  If you missed the bus, you walked to school.  If you forgot your lunch money, you didn't eat.  If you forgot your homework, you got a zero. If you failed a test, it was because you didn't study enough.  Nobody agonized over this stuff.  The prevailing wisdom was "There, let that be a lesson to you".  It worked.

As I look back on my own student experience from decades ago, teaching was in the Dark Ages and math was the worst. It was dull, unimaginative and repetitive.   Read the chapter.  Do the homework.  Take the test.  Start the next chapter.  There were no games.  No hands-on activities.  No excuses for late homework.  No test reviews.  We were lucky to get a day's notice about a test.  Often, it was "test tomorrow" as we walked out at the end of class.  Then at the end of the test, the teacher would assign the new chapter and homework problems for the next day - before they had even taught anything.  When the test came back, what you saw was what you got.  No retests.  No corrections.  No remedial activities. 

If I had taught math that way, 90% of my students would have failed and I would have been out of a job.  Teaching has to be much more engaging now - which is mostly a good thing.  Teaching the old way would be terribly boring.  I enjoyed the challenge of finding new ways to do things and including new technology to present a subject I am passionate about - mathematics.  Students recognize and respond positively to a teacher that has that passion for their subject and genuinely enjoys teaching - chaos and all. That may be re-stating the obvious but there are a lot of teachers out there who just go through the motions.

Overall, the classroom much more student friendly than I remember but there is a downside to this new paradigm. The students are pretty savvy in technical areas, but their work ethic and problem solving skills are shaky.  They are used to parents running interference on their behalf and rarely experience any actual consequences for their shortcomings.  If there is a problem, the teacher is expected to fix it.  Interventions and modifications are a way of life.   In addition to the kid glove treatment of students, the care and feeding of parents are major concerns.  Throw in clueless administrators, budget cuts, lawyers plus No Child Left Behind and you have a very challenging environment.  Be forewarned - if you try to put some genuine rigor, standards and personal accountability in your classroom, expect some serious blowback.  You'll know you've matured as a teacher when a parent threatens to "consult with our attorney"  and it rolls right off your back while you suppress a yawn.


Si facile, omnes esset facere....Mister L.