I was talking to a student the other day and we had an interesting conversation. The topic of discipline in schools came up. Another teacher mentioned how in China they were very strict about discipline and still believed in capital punishment in some schools. I recall my uncle telling me when he worked in Dubai the students were extremely respectful of teachers and it was like their word was law. He said the parents drilled into their kids that whatever the teacher said was final.
I remember being in Catholic school and being sent to the principal office and getting hit with a ruler on the hand. I told this to my students and they looked at me like I was crazy. Looking back I even thought it was crazy but no one else questioned it. So I thought to myself how education has changed over the years.
Here are 5 things that have changed about education.
1. Ways to teach
In the early days of education one had to really go and seek knowledge, or, you had to know somebody in that field of study and learn under them. I could sit and write about the 2000 year history of education but I’m not going to bore you with all that. Basically education was a way to learn the basics so regular people could have some opportunities too.
Education has changed from being a rich man’s venture to a privilege that is given to everybody. It went from being a pursuit of knowledge to memorizing facts back to pursuing knowledge and then to specialized learning with the addition of focusing on mental health. Currently the integration of technology into the way we teach has been a double edged sword. In one since kids are starting to get a lot of exposure to technology. On the other hand, how many skills are kids not learning?
It comes down to this, there is no one way you can teach any child. Each child learns differently and at their own pace. I still struggle with math, BUT, I can string together a story in minutes. As we progress as a people we are learning that the way we teach will have to change and evolve with every generation.
2. Where we Teach
Way back in the olden days a student would report to the teacher directly or in a hall. School houses started popping up and became a thing. From then on school houses became the norm and were expanded on. They got bigger to fit more kids and more teachers. There you have it, the short answer to the evolution of school buildings.
Today schools are specified and specialized. There are elementary, middle/junior, and high schools. After that you have community college, and regular college/university. Oh, there are also trade schools. On top of that schools have become specialized like art schools and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics). Today you can find a school specifically specialized for your child’s needs.
Long ago the teacher was seen as the patron of academia. They were philosophers and scholars. Men and women who went around the globe seeking knowledge and truth and bringing what they learned back to their people. They were revered and people went to great lengths to learn under them.
Things have changed, a lot. Teachers in America are seen as just regular workers. In other countries the position of educator still means something. While sitting here writing this I tried to remember who taught me how to read and write. I know my mom reinforced the skill but I cannot think of the teacher who made it click for me. I do remember Mrs. Dean, my daycare teacher. I remember her because I actually spent time at her house when my mom worked late and Mrs. Dean had to close up her building. I remember the faces of teachers who really put time into me.
*Think about this, from kindergarten to 12th grade I had around 60 to 70 teachers.
Teachers are there to make sense of all this information the world throws at us. Our parents nurture us and prepare us for the world. We sometimes get the 2 roles confused. They are supposed to work in tandem with each other.
As an educator I get it and I can admit I do not know everything. Also If I’m being honest, It’s hard to get up, run into a school and have a child give me attitude and the parent give me attitude when I jumped through hoops to make sure the child had every tool to succeed. I have sat with the child, called counselors, tweaked the assignments to help better understand it, and I still get an angry email from the parent and more attitude from the child. I then receive my check and it’s not even enough to pay my bills that month.
This is the unfortunate decline of the teacher in today’s society. The pressure to out preform our technological counterparts, difficult parents, politics, endless paperwork, and low pay puts a strain on being an educator. Those of us who get up and do it everyday in spite of all this really want to just teach children.
4. The students
At one time a student was supposed to come into the classroom, be quiet and wait for instruction. The teacher’s word was law and that was it. No one questioned the teacher, not even the parents because even the parents lacked the knowledge of the teacher. Even in high society, parents who had education, supported the teacher and students stayed in line.
Today students see teachers as just another person giving them information in the classroom. With so many devices and internet search engines kids don’t even need to read the information from a book. They can just look it up. I literally had a kid tell me, “Why do I need to learn all this. I can just Google it or look up how to do it on YouTube”. With the plethora of needs for each individual student, students have become lazy but also smarter at the same time. It’s an interesting Paradox.
Also I have to point out how the pressures for a student today are tremendous. Kids today have so many expectations on them. I remember growing up, the pressure of school and life did not really impact me until high school. Parents are setting kids up as early as 3rd grade. I talked to a mom who was a fellow teacher. We both were working summer school together. She told me how that summer she told her husband that the kids would have no activities. Her son went to school and was part of the school band and at night he had music lessons or practice for a sport and on Saturdays or Sundays he had a game or a performance. She said she wanted him to experience a summer of being a kid and hanging out with his friends. He went to middle school the following fall and I really respected her decision. With all the current news of mental health and how it affects kids and young adults it’s nice to hear from a parent who just wanted her kid to be a kid.
5. The Parents
At one time parents were just sending their kids to the schools and hoping for the best. They took what they got. The teacher could have been a racist, mentally unstable, verbally abusive, anything. You remember the principal from Matilda. Yup! that could have been what your child went to school and dealt with everyday. As parents got smarter and laws changed there was a big power shift in the dynamic of the parent and teacher relationship.
Parents run the school district. No I’m not being sarcastic, it’s fact. As a parent and an educator I look at this from both ends. I have seen a mom stop a decade-long tradition of bringing in cupcakes for a child’s birthday all because her child had an allergy. I have also seen parents change a whole classroom dynamic due to the needs of their child.
In one way it is good to know that, as a parent, I have a say in the needs of my child. On the other hand some parents need to be as far away from their child’s education as possible. I remember when I first started teaching. We had a student whose mom was known as being very irate. She was known throughout the district. Unfortunately the teachers in the district gave her son a pass every year. Fast forward to his junior year of high school. He was up for a basketball scholarship, one problem, he could not read or write past an elementary school level. Safe to say he did not get that scholarship. I really don’t know what happened to him after that. I just know as a parent I have to do my job and let the teacher do theirs.
Education has been through a lot in the past 100 years. I feel in America we are always playing catchup with everything. Progressive countries learned a long time ago that if you educate the people the country will reap the benefit. Do not get me wrong, America has its issues like any other country. My whole point is that our education system has changed so much and it’s not done but we, as a country, have to find a way to make a change that will benefit everyone, as a whole. There will always be outliners complaining but we need them to make sure we are doing what works for every child.