It starts with ONE.

In the education world, we often hear buzz words like common core, standardized testing, textbooks, worksheets, and PowerPoints.  What do all of these things have in common?  Well, in my opinion, it’s boredom.  As a teacher, I went in to education to make a difference.  I want to teach students to think critically, to become globally engaged citizen leaders, and to recognize the important relevance that history has in our world. I did not go into education to teach to a test, to lecture all day, or to give my students a bullet pointed list of things to know for a test.  Unfortunately, when I graduated college and started my teaching career, I felt trapped in the latter approach.  I often asked, how can I fix this?  How can WE as educators fix this?  Well, the answers are not easy, and it won’t be solved in one day.  I am confident, however, that with more schools like Mount Vernon Presbyterian School emerging around the United States, we are making positive ground in making our nation’s educational system one of the best in the world.

So, where am I going with this?  Well, a student comment on Friday got me thinking about this.  A student came up to me toward the end of enrichment and said “Mrs. Bragg, I LOVE your class.”  I was obviously excited, and it prompted to me to respond with “I am SO glad!  Tell me why, so I can make sure I keep doing it!”  He proceeded to tell me that social studies had always been his most feared subject, and his most boring subject.  He went on to describe what I hear often about social studies in the classroom: it’s boring, we memorize dates and military leaders, we memorize places on a map, and we have to learn about too many things over the span of many dates/regions.   I have committed myself from day one to try and change this. I want my students to realize the power of history, and see social studies class as exciting, challenging, and relevant. When I asked him what was different about my class, and what he liked so much, I heard common themes and ideas in his answers that all relate back to student autonomy, student led research and inquiry, establishing historical relevancy through current events, and solution seeking.  Students like to ask questions, and they like to problem solve.  We shouldn’t enable them by giving them the answers and solutions, we should allow them to form their own questions, inquire through their own research, and collaborate with each other and internal/external experts to create innovative solutions.  THIS is what I went into education for, and why I am beyond blessed to be able to do this each and everyday at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.

I have thought about my student’s comment all weekend.  While I was excited to hear him say how much he loved my class, it was sad to me at the same time.  It’s sad to think that many students all over this nation feel the way he did about his previous social studies classes.  In reality though, many feel this way about all of their classes and subjects.  What if all teachers took a step back and truly acted as learning facilitators rather than teachers?  Wouldn’t this change the course of the boring social studies class forever?  What if all schools embraced teacher time, and allowed their teachers to have flexibility in the classroom to not feel pinned to the constraints of time? What if our nation embraced a teaching model like many other countries already have in which teachers actually spend less time in the classroom and more time collaborating with their colleagues to ensure the most effective teaching strategies are being utilized?  I know I’m preaching to the choir here, and I know it can be much more complicated than this, but  I truly believe it can all start with one teacher.  That’s all it takes.  One teacher to step back, let their students experience learning through self discovery.  One teacher to let the students struggle in their quest for answers.  One teacher to encourages students to find the relevancy with a curriculum as it applies to the modern world we live in.  It just takes one to make the difference, and ignite the movement in their school or education community.  In doing this, maybe we truly can begin to redesign education at the national level.  It starts with ONE.  Come on teachers, all aboard! Our students deserve it!

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