• ,

Voices from the Classroom:Common denominators

IMG_3762Editor's note: With school back in session, we thought we would take a look back at our Fall 2013 series in partnership with WWNO, Voices from the Classroom, which interviewed a diverse selection of New Orleans teachers about education in the city. The following article is an overview of what we discovered throughout the course of the series; you can find the features on individual teachers here

In the realm of New Orleans education, what do you  has changed in the past year? What has remained the same? Email comments to [email protected]

They’re twentysomethings and sixtysomethings. Some are new at their jobs, others veterans. They teach English or technology, math or social studies. East bank, West bank, Uptown, downtown. Their students are 10-year-olds and teens and every age between.

But one thing common to every teacher interviewed in our recent Voices from the Classroom series is that element of passion. You hear it in the voices, see it in the eyes. The people we spoke to online and on air care. They want to make the system work, and they spend a lot of hours trying to get there.

Here are a few commonalities garnered from a week of conversations with teachers at public schools in Orleans Parish.

It takes more to motivate students these days.

Whether it’s due to a more global world, the advent of technology or sheer ennui, students in the 21st century don’t seem to have the same work ethic as those from the past. Or perhaps it’s a matter of attention spans. They’re diverted by video games, texting and easy visuals. They want to Google answers instead of research them. They take things at face value.

This is not a condemnation, but a challenge. It means that teachers have to be a little more resourceful in the classroom, to draw on personality and individuality to engage kids. The irony is that kids today are more sophisticated and yet more naïve about the real world than a generation or two ago.

Like it or not, teaching to the test is here to stay.

Whether it’s the LEAP test we have now, or the PARCC test coming in two years, some kind of standardized evaluation is a fact of life in the classroom. It’s a mixed bag, say teachers – certainly you want to level the educational playing field across the country, but teaching a set curriculum can stifle larger lessons and creativity.

All the teachers agreed that it’s vital to have autonomy in the classroom, and to be able to develop individual style. Most find that basing both student and teacher evaluations solely on end-of-the-year tests makes for an imperfect system.

One of the most impressive traits shared by these teachers lies in their desire to develop individuals, not merely teach facts. All of them concentrate on critical thinking and analysis, rather than rote learning. And that’s something you can’t easily test.

Life in the 21st century brings its own challenges.

All the teachers express the importance of parental involvement; all but one said they see little of it. At least one teacher finds a silver lining to that cloud: Kids today tend to be tougher and more self-motivated when they have to do it all themselves.

A new wrinkle in educational challenge is the constant turnover in classrooms around the city. Many schools see immensely changing populations from year to year, which impacts peer groups, stability and a teacher’s potential for long-term influence.

And teachers, too, need support systems – from other teachers, from administrators, from parents. Instability – not only students, but teachers, too, coming and going – is stressful in the classroom.

Innovative teachers look for a unique approach.

Most great teachers, we’ve found, find a hook. A way to engage students, keep them steady, develop the whole child. For some, it’s sports. For others, the arts. Still others, technology.

But whatever the approach, these teachers believe that incorporating a methodology and system that engages students paves the way to success. Engaged students – whether on the field, the stage or in front of a computer – tend to score higher, and think more critically. Such platforms also take students from classroom into after-school hours, and incorporate lessons about team-building, leadership and winning and losing.

Voices from the Classroom is a joint project of NolaVie and WWNO radio. Send your comments, thoughts and observations about the series and New Orleans teachers to [email protected] We will publish select responses online at NolaVie.

 

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]