I have been in an educational setting since 1970. I have heard that people from my generation are “old school.” There appear to be two meanings of “old school.” In slang, old school can refer to anything that is from an earlier era or anything that may be considered old-fashioned, outdated. The term is also used to suggest a high regard for something that has been shown to have lasting value or quality. I prefer to think when people say I am “old school” they are referring to the second definition. The other day when I observed a well-managed and highly engaging classroom, as I left the room the teacher said, “I hope the lesson was okay. I am an old school teacher.” Where upon I said, “I wish we had more teachers who are old school if this is what it looks like.”
Here are five old school ideas about teaching that I think have lasting value or quality.
- The best research suggests that teachers with a command of their subject, allied with high-quality instruction techniques such as effective questioning and assessment, are the most likely to impart the best learning to their pupils. Yes, a teacher must know their content and how to teach that content. True forty years ago and true today.
- Lesson planning is at the heart of being an effective teacher. It gives teachers the opportunity to think deliberately about their choice of lesson objectives, the types of activities that will meet these objectives, the sequence of those activities, the materials needed, how long each activity might take, and how students should be grouped. When I see a lesson that is not well planned, usually there are discipline issues or students leave not knowing what they were to learn. Planning is key. True forty years ago and true today.
- Developing positive relationships between teachers and students has a positive, significant, and long-lasting impact on the students’ lives, both academically and socially. A student works better in class if they feel that their teacher values and cares for them. Students feel valued if the teacher not only cares about their grades but also their well-being and social life. I was fortunate my first year teaching to work with Mr. John Hollis. Hollis motivated students to do their best because he built positive relationships with them. He has hundreds of former students who stay in contact with him forty years later who will testify about his impact on their lives. What a role model for me as a first year teacher! Relationships matter. True forty years ago and true today.
- Teacher expectations can and do affect student achievement and attitudes. Over forty years ago I studied the Pygmalion effect. Every study since which has tried to identify the critical components in effective schools included high expectations for student learning among the essential variables identified. The presence of high expectations is cited at or near the top of each study for effective schools. Despite the fact that I came from a very impoverished family and was raised by my grandparents who had third and fifth grade educations, my teachers expected me to achieve at top levels. When I complained to my algebra teacher that my grandparents couldn’t help, she said you are smart enough to figure it out. They had their education; now you get yours. I know you can understand this.” That side conversation was what I needed to believe in myself that I could do it. True forty years ago and true today.
5. Reading aloud at every grade level is valuable. Now this is not about popcorn reading or round robin reading. This is about the teacher making a story come alive. It is about giving the students a break from reading and infusing the written word with emotion that only an accomplished reader can convey. It is about developing listening skills. It is modeling how a fluent reader reads. I still remember reading Faithful Elephants to my seventh graders and looking up to see one of my toughest, least motivated students wiping away tears. He was so captured by the story; he did research on similar situations. While not the assignment we were doing, it engaged him and sparked his interest in reading which really my goal was. True forty years ago and true today.