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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

Old School vs. New School

At the end of the school year, we got together at the school for an end of year brunch which is an annual tradition and is provided by our admin team. It's the time to say good bye to the teachers that are moving on to other schools, Long Term Occasional teachers who's contracts have ended and to teachers that are retiring.

This year, we were submitted to a retirement rant that lasted almost a full hour and was all about how we need to get back to doing things the way we used to do things because it was better back then and what "we" are doing now is such a disservice to the students in our classes. If I'm being honest, I thought it was painful to sit through and was so disconnected from what is actually happening in our school and in our classes and in our society that I'm glad that this teacher is retiring. I never had a problem with this teacher personally, but after hearing that rant, and taking note of what teachers were loving it, I couldn't help but be a little offended but moreoever, I was upset for the students in our school, seeing how pervasive this "the old school is better than the new school" paradigm really is.

This teacher was saying that kids are so soft and afraid of failure these days because they never fail. That's true. I think kids need to fail and they need to learn how to bounce back from failure. What I think is the real problem, is that in the "old school", kids fail and never get the chance to learn from failure. There aren't really a lot of chances in our school system. If you fail a unit test, you failed and you don't get to learn from it and redo it, because we're on to the next unit. The timelines are too tight for students to learn from their failures. The retiree went on to talk about how much she loves baseball because a good ball player fails more than 70% of the time at the plate and is still great.

I often find that there are a lot of parallels between sports and education, but not in this sense. The idea of standing at the plate and hitting a pitch less than 30% of the time is not the same as failing a science test, or an English exam. If you fail a test, students are under the impression that their performance on that test is a reflection of their character. If they fail a course, well, that's it, they're never going to get into a post secondary school now. They feel like they might as well just quit now. Some even think that if they get less than 90% they'll never reach the career they're really hoping for! IT'S THE OLD SCHOOL THAT MADE THEM FEEL THIS WAY.

It's the old school that made students feel like if they don't go to university right out of grade 12 they're never going to get a good job, they're never going to experience any kind of success, they'll never be able to support their family, and they're going to be a major disappointment to everyone around them. It's like A.J. Juliani said in his most recent blog post:

The Game of School Rules: Make the adults at school happy, and the adults at home will be happy.

THESE RULES NEED TO CHANGE. There is going to need to be an entire cultural change, but I'm going to start by trying to change the culture in my classroom. I'm not entirely sure how yet, but I'm working on it...little steps, one at a time.

And while I do agree that students need more opportunities to fail, they need more opportunities to bounce back from those failures, so that they can learn that there isn't only one chance in life and real success comes from learning from your failures and money and statistics isn't they only measure of success. I was listening to a really good podcast on The Art of Manliness that went on to say that:

When our success can't be measured, it can be defined by our networks

but that's something I'd like to write more about at another time.

The teacher who was retiring was also talking about how we need to get away from multidisciplinary approaches and back to history teachers teaching history, math teachers teaching math, English teachers teaching English and science teachers teaching science. This, in her mind, is how we teach our students the fundamentals and it isn't until our students get the fundamentals that they can start solving problems creatively. She gave me the impression that she thought that academics are the most important thing to focus on and students can learn the rest on their own.

Here's my argument. The fundamentals, and the academics, are all on the internet. This teacher seems to have forgotten, well, actually, seems to have dismissed the fact that the students in my grade nine classes were all born in the same year as Facebook. I've only been alive for a short 34 years, so I haven't been though a lot of the changes that some of my older counterparts have seen, but I am going to venture a guess that we (as a society) have never seen anything the likes of social media. We are in a technological revolution, I would even say that we're only at the beginning of it!

With that in mind, if I'm being totally honest, I think it would be asinine to go back to the old way of teaching things. In fairness to this teacher who is now retired, I think don't think that they fully understand what is happening in our "new school" classrooms. Anytime there would be talk about doing new things, I think this teacher and her like-minded colleagues would shut down and stop listening because they've been doing this job long enough that they've seen so many things come and go and they have all said that it all comes around in cycles and they're hesitant to change because they know it's all going to come around again at some point.

But again, I have a really good feeling that nothing is ever going to be the same again, or come around in cycles, because of the speed at which technology is changing...advancing. Why in the world, would anyone want to go back to the way things used to be when the rest of the world is moving forward?!

The other thing that I have to always remind myself is that when I want to do something differently in my classroom, I may be challenging the sense of purpose held by my more "traditional" colleagues. I read an amazing blog post by George Couros in which he quotes a teacher with whom he was speaking and she said: “When I became a teacher 25 years ago, it was because I wanted to stand in front of kids and inspire them to learn about an area that I was passionate about and now you are encouraging me to get out of the way?”

I'd like to give this teacher that has retired the benefit of the doubt and this quote from George Couros I think applies here, like it did with that other teacher with whom he was speaking:

Her purpose of why she became a teacher was disappearing in front of her eyes. I knew this teacher, and she was wonderful with students, and her focus was the same as mine; to do what is best for kids.

The point I am trying to make here, with this post, is that it doesn't matter to me how you want to teach your students. It might not work for me, and it might not be in line with my philosophy, but if it works for you and the students in your classroom are healthy and happy, then you do you. But on that same token, let me be me. Don't tell me about all the reasons that what I want to do won't work, and don't tell me why your way is better. If your way is better for you, I'm cool with that, but don't try to make me feel like a weak teacher because I want to do things my way.

I'd like to end this post with a simple "END RANT," but I have a feeling there will be more :)

Keep on keepin' on and thanks for reading. See you next time!

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