TEACHING TO THE BELL CURVE

Rogers' bell curve
Image via Wikipedia
Do we expect students to adapt to the way we teach or do we expect teachers adapt to the students we have? Those are two lines in the sand that have been drawn pretty deeply in the teaching profession.  One that says we are doing a complete disservice to our students by not meeting their learning needs and the other that says students need to learn how to learn using the style of the instructor, because they will always have someone different and should not be “mollycoddled” when they leave high school.  Then we have the “wild card” of what the school administration requires.
In my online communities I have a sneaking suspicion that 90% or more would go with the the teacher adapting to the students they have (to some point) and adapting their curriculum to meet the needs of the students.  I just as strongly believe that there are many teachers who do not participate in the online world (and maybe a few who do) would go in the opposite direction and fully expect their students to adapt to their teaching style and the curriculum.
There is no one real method of teaching in the United States, irregardless of the hype and publicity that the media, standards-based proponents, NCLB or other educational reformer would have the public believe OR want. Actual teaching in the classroom is done by individual teachers who have distinct personalities, strengths, weaknesses and abilities, no amount of legislation, hype or reform will change this.
Teachers are in the classroom and will teach how they feel most comfortable until they are replaced or leave.  We all may whine, complain and bitch a bit about how other teachers teach, but we do not have the ability to affect measurable change most of the time once those classroom doors shut.  That in my opinion is what bothers many people outside and inside education – the lack of control of what goes on in the classroom for good or ill.
The method that is probably the most prevalent method of teaching that I have seen, is teaching to the middle of the class.  Which does not do too much for those who need more challenges or those who need more help, but it does satisfy what the majority of the class needs.  It is the Bell Curve method of teaching and it is reality in more classrooms than some more progressive or conservative educators/administrators want or are willing to admit.
Most teachers have good intentions, but the overwhelming time constraints and workloads that most of us face, make it necessary that we make choices to do the most good in our classrooms and we make decision on how and what we actually teach that are not completely based on student’s needs, but based on the reality of the teacher’s abilities.  What is taught in the classroom is more often based on the needs, wants or ability of the classroom teacher and will be for the foreseeable future (whether it claims to be student-centered or not).
Educational reforms are all the news, but how many ever really make it to many classrooms and become incorporated in the curriculum?  Or do many teachers, simply just keep teaching based on their own individual methods and educational beliefs behind the closed doors of their classroom, pretty much ignoring the “reform du jour”, while sort of listening for the “next” reform, but keep teaching to the Bell-Curve of their student’s abilities?
Is this a valid view of our profession or am I way off base?
“Do the right thing for the right reason and make a difference.”
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I WAS OVER-AMBITIOUS

When I put together my Webpages and then created a blog for each class, my thoughts were to have each Block have their own from the start of school on.  However, as the school year has started with my Blocks, I have found that my students are not quite ready for this yet (or is it their teacher isn’t quite ready yet either).
Overall the students have been absolutely fantastic and their attitudes are great (they come to class willing to learn), I don’t want to overwhelm them, begin that slippery slope of frustration and have them shut-down on me and school.  Then we all have to work twice as hard to overcome that old strategy that many of them have learned and used so ineffectively (effectively for them) in the past at school – simply shutting down in school when it gets to hard for them.
They are all in the midst of a huge transition from Elementary School to Junior High School (6th to 7th) and with that transition comes a pretty big learning curve for students.  I see some of them becoming overwhelmed by the newness of the school, teachers, other students, the increased academic workloads in all their classes, after school activities, the level of independence they now have and even having a MLTI MacBook for the first time – are all factors that I have to acknowledge and account for in my classes with them.I also found maintaining the five websites and four blogs (plus my other personal blog) to be very time consuming and overwhelming for me with everything else that is on my plate right now.  Especially at the start of the year when we are attempting to get the routines, schedules and figure out where students actually are academically or behaviorally “in place”.  My caseload fluctuates between 15-20 new students (all incoming 7th graders), as students move in or out and processing new referrals for Special Education or 504 services.

I am finding that I have a pretty steep learning curve to get to know all of these new students, talk with their parents, figure out if they are in the correct classes, working with Guidance, determining if they are receiving the services in their IEPs, setting up PETs, talking with their teachers, in addition to my teaching duties/responsibilities and assisting with the Junior High Cross Country Team.

Based on what I saw last week from them and myself, I am going to simplify my expectations a bit, get the students into their routines, create an atmosphere where learning is fun or at least not the negative it may have been for many of them.  Then when the student’s background knowledge and our comfort levels have increased to a more stable level, begin looking at increasing the class expectations more.

I would rather have my expectations be a little high to start the year and then pull back than start too low, because I didn’t want to underestimate their abilities either.  Which sometimes I think does happen in Special Education, we sometimes have preconceived notions about what we are going to do and how our students are going to be, instead of doing what the students really need.
Being a Special Educator allows to me to teach at the student’s pace, not an artificial pacing guide, which in my eyes is win-win for the students.  Plus I will have these students for 2 years in our looping program, which will allow me to hit all of the requirements as the students learn and scaffold their knowledge.
This also means that Mr. Shaw’s Portal and Blog will take on different purposes than I originally planned, they will take over much of the original intent of the individual Block websites and blogs.  In reality it might be more effective to use both this way and much simpler for the students and myself.  Time will tell and the need to be flexible will be important this year, if how we have started is any indication.
Looking back I was over-ambitious in what I wanted to accomplish at the start of a school year and especially a big student transition year.  However, the good thing is that I did realize it early enough, that it did not affect my outlook towards school by trying to do way too much and not getting anything accomplished except becoming frustrated and brain dead.  I have to be more realistic with my time, better monitor what we are doing and keep my chin up because like every other teacher out there, I can not do everything.
The reality is that we all have to make decisions based on what we can do, which is not everything we would like to be able to do.  So it is time to be flexible and meet the needs of my students not an artificial bar or unattainable ideas that I thought up during the summer.Question are you attempting to do what you students and you can do or are you attempting to do too much?  If you are what can you do about it?

“Do the right thing for the right reason and make a difference.”