27 Jun The Idealistic Science Educator vs. The Teacher in the Trenchesic
Over time I’ve become one of them: a teacher in the trenches. My post University idealistic nature was sucked right of me through 10 years of public school accountability, standardized testing and district doctrine. As I move back towards the passion that fueled me through my first few years of teaching, I’m reminded of what my ideal teaching environment was supposed to look like. Experience has taught me how different that ideal world is from the real world of elementary science instruction. Examine the following topics: materials, time, objective and method and see just how different the real world is from what we expected when we left the University.
Ideal – The science teacher has every available manipulative, resource, text, and expert to enhance the lesson at their discretion.
Teacher in the Trenches – Has a textbook (usually) and limited resources to complete the lesson. Often times has to buy some science materials out of pocket, solicit parents (with mixed replies) for materials, or restructure the lesson to use what is available. May not complete very valuable lessons because of lack of – or knowledge how to – access or use certain special materials (i.e. elodea, owl pellets, solar panels, etc).
Ideal – Time is not an issue and a lesson can be followed through until completion whether that is 10 minutes or 10 days. This gives the teacher and student the opportunity to retest hypotheses, generate new questions, research alternatives, etc…
Teacher in the Trenches – Must complete a lesson in a 30 – 45 minute time span everyday, and then must move on whether or not students completed the activity, discussed their findings, or even understood the objective of the lesson. Must complete certain units within a specified time frame so that all material can be covered before the state test.
Ideal – The lesson objective is determined by the class. Students have questions about the world around them, and the teacher facilitates a way for the students to be able to answer those questions.
Teacher in the Trenches – Lesson objectives are determined by a standardized source such as a textbook company, district, or other entity that does not interact with the students who will be completing these lessons.
Ideal – Teacher would be able to pretest students before a unit, modify their instruction to meet the needs of individual learners, accelerate those students who need an extra challenge, and remediate students who are struggling. Lessons would be inquiry based, hands on explorations of concepts where students collect data, analyze that data, generate questions, confer with each other, and engage like real scientists.
Teacher in the Trenches – Has no time to pretest, and very little training in how to modify their science instruction to meet the needs of individual learners. Quick to give the “correct” answer in order to make sure the lesson is done on time and that everyone has the “right” information. Discussion usually shortened or eliminated due to lack of time.
How do we move the teacher in the treches towards their ideal world? It starts with advocating for students. Talk to your district science coordinator about inquiry based instruction. Join committees, go to workshops, and read the research. Find out if textbook money can be used for manipulatives. Fall in love with science.