Some Further Thoughts on Education

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” – C.S. Lewis
“Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Learning

Does the educational system betray the trust of parents?

No, I do not believe it is the educational system that is betraying the parents.

As long as the decision making is top-down and void of real meaningful collaboration with stakeholders (schools, teachers, students, etc.), the educational system is doomed to failure. Equity must be applied across all students so that they have access to the same opportunities; their assessments should be based on individual differences not differentiated opportunities otherwise, a number of school districts will needlessly suffer. If the disciplines of algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry (if it hasn’t already occurred) have not shifted to a more formal presentation in middle school and therefore in-line with the rest of the world then our students will lose their competitive edge. When a top-down authority arbitrarily decides to “raise the bar” on our students, it demeans the principles of the educational system and demoralizes both teachers and students; it is an action void of lofty thought that inadvertently punishes the very people it heralds to want to help.

The following quote sums up how I think about our teachers and the need for all stakeholders to be actively involved in shaping a better future. Deflecting blame for our failures only hurts the ones we love; accountability means taking ownership and that must include all of us.

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies — just to make a difference. Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making. President Obama

Teaching: My Point of View

RESPECT, APPROACHABILITY, AVAILABILITY, UNDERSTANDING, TRUST, SUPPORT formed the base upon which I worked from with my students.

Phobias and negative attitudes associated with mathematics on the part of most students formed the barrier that I often, as a mathematics teacher, expended the greatest energy trying to overcome.

Effective learning is an empowered partnership in which both student and teacher are accountable to each other through on-going dialogue; there should never be a power struggle between the two. I continuously used their feedback to tweak my course and encouraged the students to do likewise.

Students must be an integral part of their learning experience, not outside of it. The best way I knew how to do that was staying connected with them through constant dialogue and, most importantly, acting on it in a tangible way. They had to see that I listened to them. Once students believed that I did indeed ‘walk the talk,’ the classroom took on a whole new meaningful learning experience.

A simple gesture like standing at the entrance to a classroom and welcoming each student goes a long way toward changing attitudes toward learning in that classroom. Posting full solutions to tests and assignments and allowing time for students to check them and ask questions establishes a level of accountability for both teacher and student.

Students have a right to understand where and why they went wrong and how to correct it. Anything less, in my opinion, cheats the student.

I could never have imagined teaching the same course the same way year in and year out. If I had taught that way I know I would have gone flat and so would have the learning experience in my class. Each class taught me something different which was incorporated into the next class and so on. When I considered the variety of learners in each class, how would it be any other way? As a result, a variety of learning experiences were built in to each week’s set of lessons reflecting the new information I had learned the previous week.

Teaching can never been done in isolation. If a particular student had difficulties, I went to the different departments on the student’s timetable to speak to their teacher. Often, much was learned by doing that.

Finding My Way

My dad impacted me the most. His steadfast perseverance, intelligence, fair play, honesty, foresight, courage, sacrifice and unconditional love for his family set the standard by which I measure my life each day.

Each stage in my life—often, when I needed help the most—has had a mentor to guide me through it before s/he handed me off to the next. This is a blessing that visits so few of us and I will always be grateful for their wisdom, patience and understanding.

One mentor, if for no other reason than the longevity of his contribution, stands out: Dr. H. L. Ridge, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto. He was my mathematics instructor at the Faculty of Education, University of Toronto. He not only challenged me to think differently and apply my learning in a creative way but, he was the model of commitment and professional standard that I became as a teacher. Like him, I encouraged my students to do better and be better than they were because I understood the benefits of that attitude to not only myself as a teacher but for my students.

My greatest growth as a teacher occurred five years into my career when Dr. Ridge asked me to co-author the first mathematics textbook series in Canada for Prentice-Hall: “Mathscope.” That opportunity to work with him was nothing short of “awesome.” His patience as he taught and guided me through each stage propelled me to levels of expectation, achievement, knowledge and personal-growth that—to this day—fill my life.

When Dr. Ridge learned that I had written my first novel “Betrayal of Trust” he was the first to critically read it and to provide his encomium on the back cover. His life and mentorship have given me immeasurable gifts. Nothing would have counted without them.

Writing, Math and Gratitude: Insights from a First-time Author Part 2

writing, challenge, practice, adapt, change, publish, book, author, path, forest, hike

Challenge yourself to become better; the path won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.

As a writer, it is important to never get locked into a specific a style of writing. I hope that every book I write will challenge me to climb higher along the learning curve. For me, that will probably include taking risks (stepping outside my comfort zone). Recently, I read Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. It’s an excellent novel written in first person from the point of view of the protagonist. Telling a story in first person point of view is something that I would like to try. It won’t occur in my second book (or even the third) but I know at some future date it will happen. My aim at each stage is to always work toward being a better writer. How? It can only happen if I continually broaden my base and adapt to the world. It must always be a given that quality must not be compromised. That having been said, I would be naïve to think that everything I write will be liked. That’s life. But, I will do everything in my power to be viable as a writer.

My writing and research feed into each other. In other words, the research provides the writing with the ideas, sense of presence and creditability; while the writing breathes life into the research through the characters and situations. The two of them are constantly evolving in an ‘organic’ partnership to not only provide the initial ideas but others for me to ponder on. Sure, some of the research is garnered from the internet but the ‘real stuff’ comes from actually eating, sleeping, drinking, walking and just generally having both a presence and experience there. In other words, all I’m trying to say is to get out there and live it (just like Hemingway did).

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Writing is Hard Work – Stick with it

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember,
involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin.

writing, work, publishing, author, paper, pen, Moleskin, notebook, ideas, practice, bookAs an educator and now a writer, those words carry a lot of meaning for me, in the context of the interaction between teacher and student and the between writer and reader. Making the process work is not an easy process (and nothing worthwhile usually is) its rewards are lofty and worth seeking. Writing and teaching are life-long learning processes. Once you forget that, both your readers and students suffer because you as a writer (or teacher) begin to lose that “…emotional being—the effervescence, the sparkle,” as Patricia Cornwell describes it, so essential to keeping connected to both reader and student.

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