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Education 101

I've been working as a teacher aide for a term now. It's an interesting line of work to take on at this time when there is so much controversy as to what, if anything, should be done to improve education in this country and with the spectres of performance pay and league tables hovering over our schools.

I don't work with precisely the "bottom 20%" of kids in the classes I'm attached to, I also have some able kids who need encouragement to extend themselves and I Don't Do Maths, but it's reasonably close. Our school also differs from the average in that poverty and lack of parental involvement are not major factors but we do have a high proportion of kids who have been unhappy in more mainstream schools. It may be a testament to our wonderful teachers, though I suspect that it's universally true, but not a one of the kids I work with would have all their problems solved by having a "better" or "more skilled" classroom teacher.

Some of the kids I see just need time and support to catch up - they may have missed something due to switching schools a few times, or their learning suffered due to bullying in a previous school, or they've come from another school system where things are taught differently, or their learning has previously been in a non English speaking environment. Some of the younger students just aren't ready for formal learning quite yet. These kids will be fine, given time, but you can't ask 26 other children not to learn anything new while their classmates catch up.

The rest of the students I see just think differently. Some have learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyspraxia, or sensory processing disorders. Others have uncommon learning styles or need more time and fewer distractions than their peers. There are kids who are visual thinkers and can't put an idea into words until they've drawn it. Kids whose brilliant ideas dissipate as soon as they pick up a pencil. Kids whose brain cannot process a whole word or sentence but must painstakingly sound out each letter. Kids who need to interact with each piece of information many times before they remember it.

When I work with these kids my job is to help them identify their strengths and challenges and to help them find strategies that work for them. I reteach the things their classmates seemed to learn with ease. I act as secretary, recording their thoughts so their struggles in one area don't slow them down elsewhere. I'm pretty sure I help but, as someone with half a teaching degree from the 1990s who only sees most of them for a couple of half hour blocks each week, there is a limit to what I am capable of doing. These kids are so bright, so full of ideas, so interesting in the way they see the world and they need so much support to unlock all that potential. They don't need standards to tell them what they can't do or a super teacher in front of them and 30 other kids. What they need is someone beside them who understands how they learn and cares how they feel and who will not give up on them ever.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 2nd, 2012 08:54 am (UTC)
A very thought provoking piece. Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective. It is really helpful to read.
Fiona S
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )