We were fortunate this past Friday to take a look, as a staff, at the new BC curriculum drafts and competencies. Personally, I am excited for these types of changes and the ability for teachers to focus on essential learning without feeling bound by lists of concepts they may feel like they “have to cover,” leaving room for students to find their passions and teachers to support them every step of the way. I recall experiencing a “big question/idea” direction during elementary and high school towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. I remember these teachers being the ones that inspired me to not only take what I learned in the classroom into the real world but also bring the real world into the classroom. This bidirectionality is an aspect that I could not live without now, especially as an educator.
When I think about times when I was truly engaged in learning, I tend to think of classes in high school where I was challenged. I experienced challenges not because the front-loaded content was difficult to remember or compute, but because I was asked questions that I could not possibly answer by searching for the already-formulated-answer on Google. As a high school student, the only way to engage difficult content was to explore the real-life implications of that content. Rather than being asked to repeatedly define terminology, organize information, and recite it, I preferred to work on a project that would require me to show my learning, encompassing the content, and convince my teacher that I had not only understood the content but had actually learned something. This new curriculum seems to allow teachers to feel supported when offering flexibility to their students.
When asked to think about teachers or classes that have shaped my practice, I always think back to one of my high school English teachers, who pushed all of us to leap from what we knew and wanted to know rather than be able to repeat what he said and the way he said or interpreted it. I will always remember how transparent he was about his teaching style – why he was assigning what he assigned, how he was trying to get us to think, and how he forecasted it might help us in the future. He was the first person to make me truly believe that being educated meant making meaningful connections in everyday life.
As a teacher, when I engage in conversations with students about the pressure they feel regarding exams that are based on rote memorization and recitation, I feel saddened. Although students say that they can “understand” what they are being asked to do in their exams, they are often stumped when we ask them how their “understanding” of a concept links to understanding the world. As we, as a staff, move forward with this understanding of curriculum connections, we will be faced with many challenges. As a lifeskills teacher and alternative program teacher who supports an inquiry approach and conceptualization of “learning,” I am constantly challenged with questions such as:
“What’s the use in playing and tinkering all the time if no real work is done?”
“Well, how do you know students actually know that?”
“Don’t students need to know the facts though?”
“What do you mean they have a C+? Are they actually able to test up to a C+ level?”
“How are you supposed to do anything with no content or foundation first?”
At the same time, one of the stigmas that I often face as a Lifeskills/Home Economics teacher is that my classroom is just a fun place for students to cook, eat, and sew. In addition to the curriculum design questions, I also receive some fascinating questions that touch on this stigma. I am sure many lifeskills teachers can relate to:
“Well, you don’t teach an academic course, so what do you really need to cover anyways?”
“Oh, that’s fun, I loved those classes in high school, they were such an easy A”
“That’s awesome, you get to play all day”
“Oh, well thank goodness you don’t have to mark papers and tests”
“I loved making muffins in high school, I didn’t really need to think!”
A belief that I always stand by is: a teacher is a teacher is a teacher. Teaching is a calling, and a calling to a collective that has its youth and children as its top priority. We don’t teach in isolation. One of the exciting developments with regards to the new curriculum is the opportunity for us teachers to think about collectively educating students. I dream of a day when stigmas don’t exist from discipline to discipline, and I also dream of a day when these “core competencies” are the goals for every teacher before covering content.
Take a look at my notes/highlights from Friday: