Top Ten List for Teachers of HS Students Preparing for College or University (Not a Ranking) — A List for Their Students, Too!
Or, The Ten Commandments for Academically Successful HS Classes
Or, Ten-Point Guideline Toward Improving the Problems of Public and Private High Schools
(While both Students and Teachers need to be cognizant of all ten for the ideal classroom student/teacher classroom relationship, the first four listed are directly addressed to teachers and administrators, while the last six are directly addressed to students.)
1. There is No Science of Education
If we understood education like we do scientific and mathematical theory, education would be achieving success everywhere. If there was a science of education, all schools would be using the same model based upon that science. As it is, wrong models are being applied in schools as if there was evidence they worked, such as the business model and the coaching model (See Education Reform — Wrong Models! [May, 2013]). Sometimes, a technocratic model is also tried, as if expensive technology in the classroom will somehow salvage education. The preferred model, while not yet a science of education, is a step in the right direction: the professional/collegian model (See Education Reform — The Right Model [May, 2013] & Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need [May, 2013]).
In other words, a school is not a business, administrators are not bosses, teachers are not workers, and students are not products. Nor is a school a sports team, administrators are not coaches, teachers are not team captains, and students are not team members. A school is not a communications center linked to cyberspace, administrators are not arcade designers, teachers are not links making students “users,” and students are not life-long video game players and internet surfers.
A school is an institution, administrators are faculty facilitators, teachers are professional colleagues, and students are individual, young, developing minds. Too little in my almost 40-year teaching career have I seen this “correct” model practiced in public and private schools; I know this is “correct” because I’ve seen the amazing success of this institutional/collegian model in short bursts of time during which there were enlightened principals and superintendents, or while in graduate school working as a research assistant or teaching assistant in a scientific research institute.
2. Remember What It Was Like To Be a Student, and Teach From The Two C’s
Two absolutely necessary adjectives for teachers are a) competent and b) caring (The two C’s); they also are almost absolutely sufficient. Imagine, if a teacher knows what he/she is talking about and is skillful in conveying it in many different ways, and if that same teacher cares passionately about not only what they teach but also about students actively assimilating what is taught inside their brains, then success as a teacher is almost assured. This assumes that professional success is solely a function of what happens in students’ brains. During almost forty years of teaching upper-level high school students, I have seen many teachers turn out to be very poor ones; in each unfortunate case, the teacher lacked one or both of the two C’s.
Do unto your students what was done unto you (when you were a student) by your teachers who possessed the two C’s. NEVER forget what it was like to be a student.
3. Teach Yourself Out of a Job — (Teacher Independence)
Somewhere in one’s advanced education, it occurs to a certain number of students that they do not need a teacher to learn the material. There is no reason why this cannot happen to high school students. The “savvy” high school teacher needs to teach toward this revelation for his/her students, even though it at first sounds like he/she is deliberately making his/her job obsolete. As tough as it may be to actually do it, have students leave the classroom as teacher-independent as they possibly can be; they don’t need the teacher. But, the teacher needs to remember, there is probably a fresh group coming into the classroom next school year who have little or no experience as independent learners, so there is a “need for you” every school year. Develop pride in being needed only at the beginning of the year and not needed at the end. A true teacher weans students from dependent classroom minions to stand-alone scholars who ask their own questions.
4. Education is “Multi-Way” Communication
Astonishingly, all the wrong education models that are in use (see 1. above) assume that education is one-way — the teacher sending to the students. They don’t realize (I think because education is too burdened by the philosophy of behaviorism.) that it is at least two-way: teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher. That means that for a single teacher with a single student there are two ways of communication, a “double-headed” arrow, if you please. For a teacher with n students, then, there are at least n “double-headed arrows,” or ways of communication. It is more involved and communicative than that. Say the teacher has 2 students, then there is another double-headed arrow between the two students as well as the double-headed ones between the teacher and the student duo, for a total of 3 ways of communication. The student-student ways are as important as the ways involving the teacher; student-student ways can be just as instructive as those involving the teacher. One approach to a true theory of classroom education is to hypothesize that one must maximize at any moment in the classroom the ways of on-task communication, so that what is output from one end of a source of ways is input at at least one end of those ways. In other words, when the teacher communicates, at least one student is assimilating, preferably all of them. When one student is speaking to the material, at least one student (hopefully all the students) and the teacher are assimilating. Frivolous or disrupting speaking is not considered communication germane to the material being taught.
This “multi-way” theory of education has lots of potential; it can be mathematically defined. For a teacher where the number of students, n, is 2, as has been said, the number of ways of on-task/subject communication, f(2), is 3, or f(2) = 3, using function notation instead of sequence notation. The relation between one teacher and n students with the number of ways of communication is a sequence relating n with f(n) given by the recurrence relation f(1) = 1, f(n) = n + f(n – 1), or f(n + 1) = (n + 1) + f(n), and n greater than or equal to 1. Consequently, for only four students in a classroom there are ten possible ways of on-task/subject communication, for 6 there are 21! Imagine how many there are in a “normal” classroom of 15 – 30! No wonder education models are much too simplistic.
5. Grades “Take Care of Themselves”
Because high school graduates are seen by the wrong educational models as future consumers and because it is impossible to have a grading system in schools that truly measures academic performance (so complicated is educating a young mind), grades are pervasively seen as measures of the student rather than as the imperfect reflections of biased judgements and evaluations they actually are. Consequently, students are taught to evaluate and judge themselves by their grades. Students K through 12 need to be reminded every day they are far, far more than their grades and their teacher evaluations. Students’ self-confidence does not have to be a function of a set of grades on a transcript, though having pride in one’s transcript is surely not a bad thing; the point is, grades are not the “only” thing.
Until we have a better system to evaluate what happens in students’ brains than the traditional grading system, we should have teachers with the two C’s (2. above) emphasize students being motivated not by making good grades, but by being motivated toward making all material of the curriculum “mental possessions in the students’ brains.” In other words, concentrate on your work, students, and don’t worry about what your grades are going to be; if you focus on academically performing, grades will “take care of themselves.” Like most teachers, I suppose, in almost 40 years I saw only a handful of students in my classroom who never worried about grades, they were so busy being excited about learning the material. Getting students excited in this way is easier said than done, to say the least, as it depends upon a teacher realization at one end of the on-task/subject way of communication (4. above) and a similar, closely concurrent student realization at the other.
6. Self-Motivation in the Classroom
A student seen by school, administration, and faculty as a developing mind not having to worry about grades (5. above) is a student free to become truly self-motivated by the curriculum. The student is free to enter that enlightened state of “learning for its own sake,” of realizing gained knowledge and skills are beyond price and beyond numbers on a transcript. A self-motivated student naturally evolves into teacher independence (3. above) and begins to utilize schools, administrators, and teachers as aides and stepping-stones toward their life-long span of education, of accumulating for as long as they live knowledge and skills.
In other words, students can self-motivate themselves into becoming life-long scholars (See 10. below). They will not become scholars for someone else; they can only do it for themselves.
7. Accurate Self-Concept of Personal Beliefs and Academic Skills
Students taking their first steps toward becoming a self-motivated scholar (6. above) need to develop as they go an accurate, honest self-evaluation of not only what they believe, but why they have their particular beliefs; similarly, students need to accurately know how their academic knowledge and skills stack up to those of their classroom peers. Nothing is sadder to a “two C” teacher (2. above) than to see a student graduate high school with a distorted view of their comparative knowledge and skills and/or having no other justification of their belief system than mimicking and/or rejecting the system of their home.
Why is an honest self-concept of beliefs and academics important? Because if not in high school, then after HS graduation, each student’s beliefs will be challenged in either college, university, vocational school, or the work place; the chances of success after graduation is directly proportional to the amount of knowledge and skills accumulated in high school underwritten by self-knowledge and self-confidence. A knowledgable, self-confident person is not afraid they are different from the adults that raised them — an outcome highly probable, as we are all genetic hybrids of our two parents and unique compared to each and every one of our peers. Moreover, the knowledgable, self-confident person knows why he/she is different from the adults that raised him/her.
8. Take Advantage of School Curricula
Every high school student should take as many courses as they possibly can, even if it means taking more courses than minimally required for graduation. Accelerated, gifted, AP, honors, IB, etc. courses in areas of personal preference should be maximized where possible. By all means, TAKE A FULL LOAD OF COURSES EACH AND EVERY YEAR IN HS, ESPECIALLY THE SENIOR YEAR! Graduates who “minimally” graduate walk off the stage with diploma in-hand having “sold themselves short,” and they have no one to blame but themselves and/or those who advised them to set minimal academic graduation goals and have an “easy” school year or so academically.
9. Counseling via “Gut Checks”
Whether or not students have taken so-called “aptitude” tests, students by the time they graduate HS, need to have a detailed idea of their likes and dislikes, academically speaking. Counseling by classroom teachers and office counselors should be suggestive, not imperative. Students should be counseled by questions directing them to introspection; “have you thought about……?”, “how do you feel about…..?” should be used, not “You should…..!” Students should be encouraged to have a self-evaluation at the end of each school year concerning not only their personal progress (How much more do I know now than at the beginning of the school year?), but the status of what they like or dislike “deep down in their gut,” in their inner self to which only they have access. It is a procedure that will serve them well throughout their education beyond high school.
It is not necessary in the student’s “gut” to be stuck with an academic major or direction they sometimes have to write on the higher education institution admission form; the student’s likes at the time are a good guide. But likes and dislikes evolve over time on that campus, in that vocational school, or in that work place; changing one’s “major” or academic “direction” is commonplace. Having settled on a major or direction is probably wise after two years in post-high school academia.
10. Becoming a Scholar — “Own What You Learn”
To be a true scholar, as was mentioned in 6. above, each student must develop a relationship with the academic material of each subject, which is easy to do in courses the student likes, and not-so-easy to do in courses the student does not like. Regardless of the course, a well-developed set of likes and dislikes will enable the student to find SOMETHING even in his/her most detestable courses that will be intellectually stimulating and consequently make success even in these courses highly probable.
A scholar, regardless of likes and dislikes, develops a personal relationship with the curriculum of each course taken; or, the scholar deliberately reaches out and “owns” the material taught in each and every course. Not only will the scholar be able to “regurgitate” the material back on tests and final exams, the scholar will assimilate the material of each course with the material of past courses, folding in the elements of the various curricula into a coherent blend inside his/her mind or brain. A scholar not only knows stuff, he/she intellectually “owns” all that stuff.
And he/she who owns lots of stuff in their head, has proportionally to the amount of stuff thus owned, more control of all aspects of his/her life.
Hi Doc! Nice article. This got me wondering about how Canterbury is doing now. Have you shared these points with any faculty there? How are things going?
A busy summer has prevented me from responding to your kind words about my post. Sorry for the delayed response.
One of the things I’ve appreciated since joining the faculty at Canterbury is my discovery that many on the faculty, especially Ms. Hoffmann, share many of these views. As I approach retirement, I hope to use this “Top Ten List” as a vehicle for a new approach to education reform. What the “news” is: a de-emphasis of the education approach to “making” teachers and a focusing upon the organic processes that are the heart of learning in the minds of both students and teachers. Teachers are not “made,” they are self-developed; they are personally called, not trained. Called not so much in a religious way, but compelled to “spread the knowledge” to young minds, compelled to aid as many who want to become scholars. I cite the good professors who do a great job of teaching on your campus as the evidence that teaching is like learning how to repair automobile transmissions — you do it because you love it.
Learning is so far too complicated to be understood scientifically, rendering education theory as too primitive, magical, and superstitious. Good teachers become so vocationally, by doing it — on-the-job training, if you please. One does not need to know the theory and history of automobiles to repair transmissions; in fact, such information could be obstructive to developing real skills with greasy hands.
Moreover, classrooms need to be guided by the attentive young minds in them, not by faculty and staff administration. Schools exist of the students and for the students. I can speak more to this point, but I’ve said enough for this reply.
You are among the first of my former students to know that this coming year will be my last at Canterbury, as I look forward to full retirement and full freedom to pursue others loves outside the classroom, like seeing how many “out there” like my education reform ideas.
Ok, Doc. Enjoy your final year at Canterbury, and thanks for introducing me to physics! Good luck with your future endeavors too. Hopefully more people will come to adopt your views on education reform.