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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teaching From the Edge: Thank You, Teachers, For All You Do

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

So, it's the end of the year, and my only child is finishing up elementary school. She'll enter middle school next fall after having a great elementary school experience. She's in public schools in Virginia, and they've done a fabulous job integrating our tough standards, and managing our painfully intense testing and accountability, all the while keeping a positive focus on the child.

Like every educator parent, there were times when I cringed a little about what was going on in class, or what wasn't going on. I think for those of us who have taught, we feel a little in the know and have our own ideas about how we might approach certain content strands or projects.

But I think I was always pretty good about just supplementing her learning outside the classroom. My daughter loves science, the outdoors, reading, piano, dance, and, of course, technology, so we've had lots of time and opportunity to link her out-of-school activities to what she's learning in the classroom.

As the year wraps up, and her elementary school days wind down, it's time for me to say to all the educator readers out there, and teachers everywhere, thanks for the great job you do. It's because of people like you that she's had such a great schooling experience during these early years.

Those of you who push the envelope a little, try some new technologies, and integrate some learning tools that might have met with skepticism from your peers -- you rogues are the ones who have helped make my daughter's education something more than just standards-based, robotic, accountability-driven education.

You've excited her; you've made the content "stick" better than it would have otherwise. You've made her come home and, on her own, want to keep doing what she did at school. She's had a great experience, and it's been exciting.

This corny message has been brought to you by a proud parent -- someone who is in schools all over the country, talking to teachers all the time. I hear your struggles, your frustrations, your need for more equipment and less restriction. I also hear you fighting the battles, not giving up, and putting the needs of your students out front.

If you've tried something you think pushed the envelope a little this year, share it here. Maybe you stretched your own comfort zone to do something edgy, but it ended up working out well? Now's your time to tell us about it. Were you hesitant at first with a new technology or approach? Why? How'd you pull it off?

Whatever you did, keep plugging along, because you are making a difference. It is appreciated, even if you don't always know that firsthand.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Barbara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

"Those of you who push the envelope a little, try some new technologies, and integrate some learning tools that might have met with skepticism from your peers -- you rogues are the ones who have helped make my daughter's education something more than just standards-based, robotic, accountability-driven education."

I loved this paragraph - I think teachers often are afraid to push the envelope because they have so many time constraints and they are afraid if they add something new it will cause them to not meet a dealine. You are absolutely correct that the rogues are the ones that teach our children how to become life long learners by creating that spark that makes them want to investigate and look for more information. As teachers we need to feel confident enough to know that stepping out of the box - using new technologies is okay and it is okay if we stumble a bit during this process. It is okay to allow students to show us the new technologies, then we can apply it to the requirements. In fact using these new technologies creates students who remember and apply more of what they learned, than those that only use textbooks, paper and pencil.

Tim Hand's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Just dropped my ten year old daughter at the local school bus-stop- and reflected on your post. In Sydney the public primary education experience is generally excellent. My daughter attends a delightful community based school-yes like you Chris I see things that need addressing, but on the whole its a positive, supportive environment; with all kids sharing and caring. Unfortunately,the same doesn't quite transfer to the secondary system. My son is experiencing the typical sense of being overwhelmed by a school which is too large and a system which has one aim : to groom for university entrance. Its a step too far from that lovely primary playground, exploring the world together. Now its a plod on a treadmill to a university placement of dubious outcome.

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is interesting to hear this from a parent's perspective. I am currently working on my Master's Degree and one point that has been made is that to be a true professinal in this field you have to push the envelope and do what you think is best for your students.
I am a rule follower. It is hard for me to push that envelope. So to hear you say thank you will help me next time I get the opportunity to try and step out my comfort zone.
So to you- THANK YOU!

Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was a great blog for me to read on a very sad day. Not to get into my own personal issues, but I can understand extactly what you are saying Chris. I too am a parent of an only child and I often talk to her about what she is learning in class and I will often work with her on things at home that I feel will help her at school in the long run.

I am a second grade teacher in a small town and I like to think of myself as one of the envelope pushers. Everyday I have to think outside of the box and take any opportunity I can to teach the students; if that opportuniy takes me off track from the teachers manual - oh well. I have to teach what I can at the moment. I'll be able to fit it all in some where down the line.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I am so proud of my 8th graders - all are writing their own novels this month with the Young Writers Program of National Novel Writing Month (http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/). I made the decision to offer this challenge to my students in lieu of all other scheduled work in November, and they bravely took me up on it. I am so fortunate to have a supportive principal and enthusiastic students and parents! We even made the news:
http://petaluma.patch.com/articles/teacher-scraps-all-classwork-homework...

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