Wayne teaches at an inner city public high school. While he is really excited about his new job close to the inner city suburb where he lives and went to university, he’s finding that not all the students share his enthusiasm for learning. Wayne really enjoys the subject matter of his senior classes and spends a large proportion of his planning time ensuring he has the depth of content covered. However he is finding that his class is falling into two groups. In one a group a number of apparently highly motivated students are intellectually pushing him. Another group seems to consist of students who don’t really want be there. Both groups are causing Wayne concern as it appears that the ‘motivated’ group don’t engage at a deep level and instead want to know the ‘correct’ answers, while the ‘less motivated’ group are difficult for him to engage.
In finding himself in an inner-city school, Wayne is faced with a school population of changing demographics. Traditionally working class suburbs in the inner city are quickly becoming gentrified as white-collar, university educated workers move to the area to take advantage of short commutes and desirable heritage homes. Within Wayne’s school there are now students and families with differing histories and philosophies of education.
Historically, educating the working classes served two purposes: to create a literate and numerate workforce, and to instill values and habits useful to the governing majority, such as punctuality and obedience (Churchill, 2001, p. 37). However, society has changed greatly over recent years, with the focus no longer on manufacturing of material goods, but on ideas and communications (Megan Poore, 2011). The level of education required to get a ‘good’ job has increased and parent’s expectations of their children have increased. The ‘motivated’ group in the above scenario could be those students of working class parents, who view education as a vehicle to a job. They do not view education as an opportunity for personal growth or societal change, but instead want to know ‘the right answers’ to pass exams and standardised tests in order to reach university and then a job.
The second group of students could come from the recent residents of the area. More affluent and with a family history of participation in tertiary education, these students have developed a different philosophy of education. They may expect to have control over their education, and also demand the ability to choose materials and topics that are relevant to their lives. Confronted by a curriculum lacking in relevance and choice, these students may be disengaging from the learning process.
So where does this place Wayne? Wayne is passionate about his subject and has spent many hours planning lessons. However Wayne’s lessons reflect his depth of knowledge and his passion. Learning is chosen by the teacher and focussed on the subject , not the student, an essentialist philosophy of education (Kaplan & Owings, 2011, p. 169). This raises the provocations Will I be allowed to be the teacher I want to be? and Should we teach students or subjects?
In this scenario Wayne is teaching a subject, not his students. By more deeply reflecting on his teaching, he may discover that he has been engaged in ‘practice as usual’, or acting out of routine and taking for granted information about his students, such as the relevance of the curriculum to their lives (Churchill, 2011, p. 34). Wayne is presuming that the students are entering the classroom with the same values, philosophies and needs as he has. However as has been shown, the students in Wayne’s class come from different backgrounds and have different aims in their education. Wayne’s preference for teaching subject over student is failing to engage students, and so he is not able to be the kind of teacher he wants to be. Wayne could benefit from examining the educational philosophies and theories of progressivism, which places emphasis on making learning and teaching student-centric as well as relevant (Kaplan & Owings, 2011, p. 175). By involving students in inquiry based learning, students will engage in learning more deeply (Kaplan & Owings, 2011, p. 176).
Churchill, R. et al. (2011). Teaching: making a difference. Australia: John Wiley & Sons.
Kaplan, L.S. & Owings, W.A. (2011). American Education: building a common foundation. California, USA: Wadsworth Publishing
Poore, M. (2011) Unit 6705 ELPC G1 Lecture Module B: ICT in Teaching and Learning [Lecture Slides]. Retrieved from http://ucangraddip.wikispaces.com/ELPC+G1+Module+B