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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

Our Schooling Has Conditioned Our Teaching!

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process–it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

(Sir Ken Robinsion)

We don't realize it but our time as students has influenced how we perceive education and schooling. Parents expectations are related to the experiences they had. Teachers self evaluation suffers the same fate. Our schooling has conditioned our teaching.

If you walk into a teacher training, on boarding program or PD (Professional Development) you will find wonderful educators discussing the need for personalized learning approaches, developing meaningful relationships, the importance of social and emotional development, a belief in treating children with respect and many more important things. When the training is over, when we step in our classroom we have that voice in the back of the head, the voice that calls to us from our experiences at school to tell us how things should be.

This how a "real" teacher sets up the classroom.

"It's not what I planned during the summer holiday. I wanted a space that gave children choice, a voice and flexible seating. In the end when I got in my room I felt it was best to set it up so all children could see the board and me" (Teacher)

This is how a "real" teacher teaches!

"I dreamt about being the teacher where all children were all engaged in different things, we came together every now and then, I supported different sized groups at different times and everyone said how much they loved my class. But now its easier to plan one class, one activity and get all kids on the same page." (Teacher)

Our conditioning has taught us to teach a certain way and it's not easy to shake. Even teachers who do want to change are affected by the conditioning of the administration that tell them the schedule has to be a certain way, the length of each class and the textbook to use. It stops us from experimenting, from trying something different and seeing what other possibilities could be out there.

It doesn't help that marketing also reinforces these beliefs. Many websites, advertising videos and articles show us that the classroom should be set up a certain way, teaching should happen a certain way and learning works best as a whole group activity.

They show us a classroom of students focused on a whole group task with the teacher quietly walking the room checking in on each student.

They show us happy children listening attentively, smiling and raising hands to answer every question the teacher has.

They show the smiling teaching happily grading the students homework and test papers.

But teachers know this isn't real life, what really happens day to day. We revert to rewards and punishments to get children to do what we need them to. Stars, points and clothes pegs going up and down the behavior chart to keep children aware of each others success and failures each day. If you don't want to participate you lose a point, you move down the chart, you get compared to the "good" student. Soon your own ideas, your own inner voice is replaced with another that says "if I do this will the teacher reward me?"

"To induce students to learn, we present stickers, stars, certificates, awards, trophies, membership in elite societies, and above all, grades. If the grades are good enough, some parents then hand out bicycles or cars or cash, thereby offering what are, in effect, rewards for rewards... there is comfort in sticking to what we have power over, and the use of punishments and rewards is nothing if not an exercise of power. All told, this may be the single most powerful reason to explain the popularity of pop behaviorism: it is seductively simple to apply."

( Alfie Kohn, Punished By Rewards)

We all remember school and for most us school was not a fun place. Many of those who enjoyed school did so because of their friends not so much the school part. The truth is, at least in my opinion, if we want to improve education for the better we need to actively work against the conditions, the voice in our head, that tells us to stick to these whole group, rows of desk ways. When children go to school and their curiosities are engaged, they wake up excited and tell mum and dad to hurry so they can get their early, and when they become teachers or have children so they their expectations of great schooling is different than today's we will see real change.


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Tim Allen
Tim Allen
Oct 24, 2022

I've said this often...we teach the way we were taught. We have to consciously remind ourselves daily to 'do it differently' and bring innovation into our classrooms and schools. It's time for schools (as well as teachers and administrators) to change.

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