“Student Centered Learning”

We hear the buzz word “student-centered learning” all over the place. I recently saw a speaker whose general thesis (I think) was that our roles, as teachers, are to merely be guides in student learning. So, instead of standing at the front of the room and divulging information to my students, I should create assignments that force them to research the information, I should let them teach the class, and I should remove myself from the learning.

This week, in my class, my students are presenting current event projects. The project includes the students picking a current event article, writing a one-page summary, using MLA format, and giving a presentation, with one carefully crafted discussion question. As my students present their information, I cannot help but think that this is a perfect form of “student-centered learning”. As the teacher, my role is to sit at the back of the classroom with my rubric, call students up to present, and provide written feed-back. Other than student names, I probably say about 20 words the entire class period. This may seem like an awesome day–to get paid to watch presentations–but actually, I get quite bored, my mind starts wandering, I pace the back of my classroom, and I start blurting out immature comments (I am as bad as my students, I know).

Reflecting on this activity and the current measures that are being instilled in educational policy, I started thinking about why I choose teaching and why I continue to teach. The truth of the matter is, kids need people like me in their lives. They need someone who is composed at all times, someone who understands the necessity in preparation and organization, someone who is confident and has public speaking skills. It is not so much about me, and what I want and what I like, but rather about the students; I have to be a teacher to educate and influence our future generations. Kids need people like me in their lives, who understand their backgrounds, who ask them to maximize their potentials, and who are unfailing, stable, and consistent, and who are a complete outsider to many of the issues they face.

Like most of my colleagues, the reasons I went into teaching include: (a) researching and putting together lesson plans, reading and interpreting literature, and grading and making comments on papers feeds my extreme nerdiness, (b) having the opportunity to NOT sit behind a computer screen all day, but rather move around, socialize, and interact with people, and (c) utilizing my most important and unique strengths, such as my ability to be a pistol of energy at any time of the day. From my experiences as a student, what I thought teaching was going to be would integrate all of these reasons together.

However, what I am learning (and perhaps this is just the extremists) is that the direction teaching is moving will fulfill none of these aptitudes. If I am sitting at the back of my classroom, letting my students guide all of their own learning, then how I am able to be this role model they so desperately need?

So, I want to warn pre-service teachers and youths thinking about going into teaching that, nationwide, this is the direction teaching is going. If we continue in this direction, it is not what you think it is. The creators of our evaluations expect us to be merely facilitators of learning–they encourage as little direct instruction as possible: have your students look up their own vocab words and create their own vocab sentences (never mind if they don’t know verb tenses); have your students teach the class about alternative energy (never mind if they forget to define what alternative energy is in the first place); have your students interview their families and make a family tree (never mind if they are never taught how to politely and effectively ask questions).

I think some of the misconceptions about what teaching used to be is unfair. If I would have known this was going to by my job description, I might have picked something different.

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