Seriously

The 10-day class called Introduction to Poetry is finally over. Until I take another class, I can catch my breath. For me, although the course was fun, it was extremely time-consuming. Perhaps because of that, I realize now that I had stopped taking it seriously and just started slapping together assignments–although the flippant approach was equally time-consuming. That just added to the frustration of trying to write in an art form that is very difficult for me. Clearly, not everyone is a poet.

As I approached the second half of the course, I began to think about two things: my own sense of frustration, and frustrations that must be affecting students in k-12 classrooms. First, let me address this course. Then I will say a few words on general public education in the US. 

Two things kept me going through the ten days. The first is that it was only ten days–long enough to feel worthwhile, but short enough to persevere through the difficulty of the art form. In all, my purpose for taking the course was met–to learn more about poetry to help my overall writing–to a degree. That it became so time-consuming was a major distraction and contributed to my frustration. Even before taking the course, I knew how difficult it would be for me. Having elected to take the course anyway, I plowed through the lessons, becoming more and more distracted as the requirements and suggestions seemed to overcome my meager abilities. Part of my problem was that I didn’t feel that I had enough time to master any of the material well enough before being sent a new form and a prompt around which I could not wrap my mind. 

That got me thinking about learning in general and in k-12 classroom instruction. When I was teaching, I had the luxury of designing each student’s curriculum around his or her skills and talents. I taught special education and had relatively small classes compared to regular education. At the time I was teaching, class sizes of thirty or more students were close to the average, despite the research that indicated such large groups were not conducive to healthy learning environments. Anyway, my classes of learning disabled and emotionally challenged students generally fell around 15 students–about twice the recommended class size for special needs children at the time. It was a lot of work to tailor individualized curricula for so many students while making sure each had individualized attention and learning support. The students were worth the effort, despite the huge differences in ability and achievement levels represented in the classroom. 

Today’s educational systems no longer allow for this type of student support, and we continue to lose students in increasing numbers before we can graduate them. Growing dropout rates contributes not to a stronger and unified nation, but to one that is more fractured and weaker. 

It would be wonderful if I came up with a solution to the growing concerns circling public education. Alas, I have none. The issues are too diverse, localized, and factionalized. Perhaps that is why originally, education was left in the hands of the states. When education was all but nationalized under No Child Left Behind, it destroyed any state’s ability to do what was best for their own populations of students. And yet, state educational systems are much more in touch with the needs of their own populations than is the federal government. 

When I take a course through Bloggers U, I have some control, especially since everything is individual study now. I can address each assignment the day it arrives in my mailbox, or I can progress at my own speed by holding on to the emails until I am ready to respond to the next lesson. I can even do the assignments out of sequence, if I want. The point is, I may not have control over the materials, I have a lot of leeway within assignments and I have the freedom to do the assignments at my own pace. That is not an option in public education any more, even if the entity being addressed is a representative one–a given state’s department of education. It is as though we, as a nation, no longer take education seriously. 

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About DrEMiller

Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). Home: Sint Maarten. K-12 teacher for 13 years (Special Education for 10 years); Post-secondary educator since 2002; Education consulting since 1995. When teaching, held teaching certificates in K-12 special education, reading specialist; and secondary social studies. Doctorate: Educational Psychology Programmer/analyst for 10 years, including project management and training of corporate execs.
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10 Responses to Seriously

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful posting. I have just begun the class and immediately realized that it takes me 2-4 days to do justice to the material. Fortunately, there is no grade and no real deadline. I asked my writer friends who write daily about their process, so that all in all, I’ve learned a great deal in these first 3 days.

    As to education, I started teaching a Special Education class in 1967, earning my M.Ed. in 1969. The changes that have taken place over my lifetime first were exciting and eventually dashed our hopes that any real changes would take place. What exists now is often worse for special needs children than it was before we closed all the institutions.

    • DrEMiller says:

      Exactly. I headed into special Ed only a few years behind you. And it was an exciting time, even if we suddenly found ourselves trying to decode “IEP.”
      Sometimes I wonder what the education policy makers are thinking today. We came such a long way to provide a solid education to all, only to have all that was built up be allowed to crumble. Not sure that sentence makes sense, but there it sits. The problem is that most countries seem to be pulling money out of education. We are allowing a good portion of the world to sink into ignorance.

  2. Rajiv says:

    What is Bloggers U?

    You think that the educational system in the US sucks? I think that the same applies, possibly more, in India. There is a University, Ashoka University, which recently declared that school kids who got less than 100% marks in certain subjects of their board exams, would not be eligible for admission. This is madness.

    I interviewed a kid who, unfortunately for him, studied metallurgical engineering at my Alma Mater. He was a ‘gold medallist’. We did not have that in my time. Anyway, his marks were fantastic. When I queried him on cooling diagrams, he tottered nervously, and said he did not remember as he had studied that subject one year back. I had studied that subject 30 years back.

    The problem – in India, at least – is that in this rush for marks, students are pushed to memorize, and not to understand.

    We should, as Indians, learn from the old king who asked a teacher to teach his doltish kids. The instruction given by his king was that the sage should teach his kids how to think, and not what to think.

    The result of this instruction, it seems, found expression in one of the true Indian classics – the Pancatantra.

    • DrEMiller says:

      Great story. Memorization does have its drawbacks in terms of learning how to think. Unfortunately, with the pressure of teaching to the test, many American students are learning neither memorization skills nor thinking skills. Parents are showing their displeasure by taking their children out of public schools and enrolling them in private or charter schools, both practices contributing to fewer dollars available for public schools. Politicians, being the logical thinkers that they are, manage to miss this point, preferring to back the idea of “corporate education.” The biggest problem is that politicians do not read–or choose to ignore–solid research which shows that charter schools are not responsible for raising student average scores but rather have the opposite outcome. But why would a politician bother to read research?
      I sympathize with the educational problems in India. I live on an island with a huge Indian population and hear about the Indian education system a lot. Rote memorization simply does not work in the long run. Anything that is memorized and not regularly applied is quickly forgotten. While you learned to understand, the student with whom you spoke learned to memorize–probably at the expense of understanding what was memorized.

  3. Libby Sommer says:

    congratulations on completing the poetry course. you did well. and a thoughtful reflection on the teaching/learning process, especially for children with special needs. my debut novel, My Year With Sammy looks at some of the complexities of living with a child who is ‘different’, so i understand some of the teaching struggles when these children’s learning needs are not adequately accommodated due to class size.

    • DrEMiller says:

      The problem with dwindling special ed support–in the US, anyway–is that these kids are once again in regular classrooms with undertrained teachers. Once in a while, a teacher with special talents–ones that really cannot be “trained” into individuals–is available to truly help special needs children. The course requirement of one or two special education classes is not enough to educate most individuals who don’t specialize. With three grandchildren who have been diagnosed with special needs, I know what parents have to go through to get their offspring the services needed to support their exceptionalities. That got a bit convoluted; sorry. I continue to worry about the institution of public education, and special ed in particular. Thanks for your kind words. Your comments are much appreciated.

  4. poet31 says:

    A very interesting read, thank you. I am also a teacher and I know all to well the time constraints and pressures on both teachers and students. I think you have done so well with the course. 👍

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