Teaching and educating – a school’s task

Teaching and educating – a school’s task

by Dr Bernadette Fontana, special pedagogue and psychologist

In recent years, the task of teachers has been constantly redefined: they should withdraw from the learning process, be available to children only as coaches and learning guides, provide learning environments, complete observation sheets and prepare educational plans. In Curriculum 21, the role of the teacher is repeatedly described in a similar way. However, such a way of teaching is in contradiction to the findings of current research. The following article describes with the aid of examples from everyday school life, how important the connection between teaching and educating in everyday school life is.

I have been a teacher for many years now and I still believe that I have chosen the best possible job. What I like about it is the fact, that I can accompany young people on their way into life, namely in the most comprehensive sense. I cannot only show the children how to gain access to the world of knowledge, but I can also support and accompany them on the way to become a mature personality. So it is laid down in the “Volksschulgesetz” (law concerning primary and lower secondary education) of the Canton of Zurich:

“§2/4 Elementary school provides basic knowledge and skills; it leads to an understanding of how things are connected. It promotes the respect for one’s fellow human beings and the environment and aims at ensuring that children develop into independent and socially-integrated people. School strives to awaken and preserve the joy in learning and the pleasure in achieving. It particularly promotes the readiness to assume responsibility and to perform, the ability to judge and to critically evaluate and the capacity for dialogue. Teaching takes into account the individual talents and preferences of children and creates the basis for their lifelong learning.”

The best way to achieve this is to establish a close, complementary cooperation with parents and educators. This, too, is stated in the same paragraph of the elementary school law, and it is also one of the foundations of my work. In the second paragraph of § 2 we read:

“§ 2 […]
2 The elementary school complements the child’s upbringing within the family. School boards, teachers, parents and, if necessary, the relevant bodies of youth welfare services work together.”[…]

So that is our mandate, assigned to the teachers by the voters in a plebiscite. I now would like to leave these quite dryly sounding legal foundations and switch into the classroom in order to demonstrate how I put this mandate into everyday practice.
It is almost eight o’clock. My class is not an ordinary class. My students have failed in regular schools and need more intensive care. Therefore, the class is smaller. But just with such children, it becomes obvious what it takes so that the above-mentioned educational mission may succeed.

Guidance – crutch for troubled children’s psyches

There is Sandra. She is 11 years old and she quickly becomes excited and hectic. That was so in the regular school as well, as early as at the beginning of her school term. She could not concentrate, was chaotic and always immediately forgot everything. That is why she was examined already in the first class from the KJPD (Children and Young People’s Psychiatric Service), got the diagnosis ADHD and received drugs in order to improve her concentration. Sandra spent a few months in the day school of this service, then she came to us. She is able to think well and she well understands the subject matter. But she forgets and loses her things again and again and is not well organized. Therefore, it is clear that my task with Sandra cannot be to provide her with worksheets to be solved, so that she can organise her learning process. Here Sandra would lose herself. Instead she needs my structured guidance. This begins already in the morning when she comes into the classroom – usually in a stressed way. “Oh I left my pen at home!” “Homework?” “Oh, we had to do something? Well, I have got a little problem ...!” But when she has done her homework, she arrives beaming with delight and presents them to me. What can one deduce from this little sequence? Sandra is a girl, as there are many in our schools. The mother leaves her a lot of freedom, which Sandra makes use of, of course. That way she has already got in some difficulties, for example, by a risky way of using the mobile phone and the Internet. Sandra is accustomed to organise herself in one way or another, because at home too little guidance is provided to her. She now receives this missing support from me.
For me as a teacher, this means developing a committed relationship with Sandra and in supplementation to her home to guide her and show her how to assume responsibility in an age-appropriate way.
Sandra has now been with us for some time. She has become more relaxed and calmed down. She learned to arrive in time, to be ready at the beginning of the lesson and after the lesson to properly stow away her material. Before going home, she now mostly looks at the task panel, what is to be done, and goes through what she needs for that, packs it and brings it back again the next day – almost each time. Since Sandra is more capable of doing these things, she is much quieter, her nervousness occurs less frequently. Instead her warm, humorous and spontaneous nature is slowly appearing, which is valuable for her and for the class. For a long time already she has not needed any drugs.

Befriending with the requirements of life

Let us move on to Diego. He, too, is 11 years old. He comes from Latin America. Although he grew up here, his German is very poor, but so is his native language. However, he has a lovely smile. Therewith and with some show of hands he has tried and still tries to overcome his lack of language skills. Understandably, at the beginning of his schooltime he was not expected to achieve highly and he was assessed as little intelligent. When he came to us, lessons mainly focused on his learning to speak better German as quickly as possible. Lack of language skills is a hindrance not only in learning the subject matter. It often is a sign that the bridge to his fellow human beings is weak and not configured properly; for our language connects us to our fellow human beings. In Diego’s case it quickly became clear that he was very little aware that life also provides requirements and can be straining sometimes. If he had to learn new words, for example, he read them once, beamed and said: “Done!” When we were cleaning our schoolyard, he leaned on his broom after a short time, wiped his forehead and said: “Oh dear! What a hard work!” Diego had no idea, what was “normal”. If he had little homework, he usually did not do it and declared that he had been too tired. Or he solved the problem by making his brother do the computational tasks for him. If he succeeded immediately, because he had often practiced, he also commented: “That’s easy!” He did not realise that this ease resulted from practice. Diego has to help at home only very little and he spends a lot of time watching TV or playing games on the playstation, where the success will occur without much effort. One could also say that Diego is very spoiled. If he faces demands, he tries to avoid them or to pass them on to someone else. With him, my work as a teacher is somewhat different than with Sandra. Diego needs guidance in order to learn what a normal requirement for his age is. He can keep his lovely smile. But he should be able to experience the feeling that you are tired and proud after you have worked. Thus he will mature and be able to expand his horizons. Sometimes it happens that he suddenly comes up with intelligent ideas and slowly accomplishes tasks assigned to him with more tenacity. His knowledge of German, which he expands and also applies gradually, is a mirror of this. This way, Diego will gradually develop motivation, as it is described in the “Volksschulgesetz”. He, too, is an example of a child, as there are many in our schools. His example may show more clearly than others what it takes: guiding adults who set him standards, empathetically and age-appropriately, and reinforce his achievements by their feed-back.

From the compulsion to know to the ability to learn

My last example is about the development of judgment and critical competence as well as of the capacity for dialogue. Even that is listed in the “Volksschukgesetz”. Let us take Miranda. She is a quiet girl. Already in kindergarten she attracted attention, because she did not speak with anyone. At home, however, she talked loudly and was often involved in quarrels with her sister. That was when she came to us. She had a diagnosis, too; the girl’s behaviour, i.e. speaking only with certain people, is called “elective mutism”. In a class she does not attract attention. She rather is in danger of perishing. However, tests and written exercises show that she follows the lessons precisely and understands the learning material. Of course, I also tried to involve her in the classroom and called her, for example, when I guessed from her eyes that she knew the answer. At the beginning she did not respond. By contrast, she sometimes cried softly to herself. Often it was difficult to imagine what was going on inside her. Eventually it became clear that she was very ambitious. Presumably she therefore avoided mistakes, like the plague. But that explanation alone was not enough, many children (and adults) do not like mistakes. Miranda also wanted to show that she was able to do everything on her own; so by no means she granted the other the triumph that he caught her in a mistake or that she had to ask for his help. Therefore, her “speech actually was silver and silence was golden” as the saying is. So Miranda had to learn to confront herself with dialogue and also to develop a certain critical faculty. On this path she has already taken a big step. She is on her way of getting involved with her counterpart and to apply to the teachers and classmates. A learning process, in which the teacher as an educator must accompany her with humour and serenity.
I have described these children as examples for many others. The problems that they have, are perhaps a little more pronounced than those of children who have a normal school career. But in their case it just becomes obvious what it means to be a teacher, who sees himself as an educator. The idea is to guide the children carefully and to correct them when they miss a proper attitude towards learning or to initiate their social interaction. All the children in our classrooms have their own individual personality. This does not mean that every child has to find its own way for himself. Man is a social being, and has survived as a species because he has teamed up with and connected to others. So even the greatest achievements of mankind have become possible by cooperation and common action. In our elementary school we have a model for societal cohabitation. There children of all population groups meet, with different strengths and weaknesses, often with different cultural and religious backgrounds.

The pedagogical potential of whole class teaching

The task for us teachers is how to form a community of this colorful group of children. A wonderful opportunity is offered by working out the subject matter together in the context of asking-developing whole class teaching. However, this method puts the highest demands on the teacher, too. He must supervise a group process, understand the individual children in their personality and get them involved adequately in the shared learning process. Here is cheeky Michaela, who blurts out immediately in response to questions or is offended, if she is not called up. There is silent Demir, not taking any risks and prefering not to answer because he does not want to make any mistake. Then Ashwini and Helena are sitting together, two friends, who prefer to be busy by themselves in class instead of focusing on a specific topic together with the others. Massimo is day-dreaming, thinking of his computer game that he was given yesterday. Sandrine is worried, she has bad marks. Among them there are Sandra, Diego and Miranda. They all need a tailor-made support by their teacher in order to be successful. This does not mean that each of them needs his own programme, and be engaged with on his own. By working out the subject matter together each pupil comes into play. The high-achiever may be drawing cards for the others. But he also learns to show consideration and to engage as an assistant teacher at most. Of course, he receives additional demanding tasks when working quickly and well. But he remains part of the classroom community. Low-achieving children benefit from the stimulating learning environment. They gain insight into thoughts that they would not have had themselves. They have the opportunity to understand the learning process repeatedly and thereby keep up with the class. Of course, they get extra help by the teacher or other children, but they remain part of the classroom community. All children and adolescents can develop their intellectual abilities and their personalities best if they can connect in a constructive manner with their fellows, in this case, with their teachers and classmates. This reflects the nature of man. Therefore everybody profits from such an atmosphere in class that is aiming at cooperation, and thus the emotional basis is given if the teacher then instructs the students for partner or group work or if they are asked to tackle a new task independently. They can develop real teamwork and individual responsibility. Such teaching also matches recent scientific findings.

Reforms ignore findings about people’s learning

Not only the study by John Hattie, also many other scientific findings show today that the learning success is considerably more successful in a personally guided and structured classroom teaching than in a classroom in which the students have to organise themselves with a weekly schedule and the teacher sees himself as a learning escort or coach who provides learning environments. The former kind of teaching has a long tradition in Switzerland and has also led to our good results in international comparison. During the past twenty years unfortunately, our school has been overrun by many reforms, which proclaimed this teaching principle and the role of the teacher as an educator as obsolete. But this argumentation is without scientific foundation and negates the current scientific discourse. Also, Curriculum 21 is based on outmoded concepts and is already outdated before it is being introduced. With it the educational principle of self-discovering learning with teachers who provide learning environments as coaches and escorts is to be introduced widely and as a priority. This also applies to foreign language teaching at primary school level, which is still expanded, although many studies have shown for some time that this teaching does not have any relevant positive effects on the language skills of children. By contrast, they lack profound knowledge of German, which is required for any apprenticeship or secondary school. Students, learning a foreign language in the upper classes, are comparatively not worse because they learn the languages ​faster and in a more concise manner. So again a fatal erroneous development is underway. This is also true for the use of computers in the classroom. Again, a very comprehensive new study shows that the frequent use of computers in the classroom does not improve the achievements in the areas of reading, mathematics and science. Rather the opposite is the case. So you could save this money in order to enable teachers again to practice good teaching in the classroom (and then adding exercise options at the computer). This would build on the well-proven and would create a modern school system with teachers, who see themselves as educators and thus fulfill their profession prescribed by law.     •

For consolidation and further reading:Adler, Alfred.Kindererziehung. Frankfurt am Main, 1997. ISBN-13: 978-3596263110
Adler, Alfred. Individualpsychologie in der Schule: Vorlesungen für Lehrer und Erzieher, Frankfurt am Main. 1996. ISBN-13: 978-3596261994
Alsaker, Françoise D./Flammer, August. Entwicklungspsychologie in der Adoleszenz. Berne 2011. ISBN 3-456-83572-8
Burger, Alfred. Der Lehrer als Erzieher. Hans Zulliger und Oskar Spiel. Aktualität und Bedeutung ihrer Schulpraxis für die heutige Schulpraxis. Zurich 1992. ISBN 3-906989-17-8
Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London 2009
Kaiser, Annemarie. Das Gemeinschaftsgefühl – Entstehung und Bedeutung für die menschliche Entwicklung. Zurich, 1981. ISBN 3 85999 007-1
Kübler, M., Kammer, R., Schneckenburger, C. (2014). Fremdsprachenunterricht in der Volkschule. Ein Überblick über die Argumente und den Forschungsstand (Expertise). Published by “Lehrerinnen und Lehrern Schaffhausen” (LSH) May 2014. Schaffhausen
OECD (2015). Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection. PISA, OECD Publishing. dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239555-en
ISBN 978-92-64-23954-8 (print). ISBN 978-92-64-23955-5 (PDF)
Winterhoff, Michael. SOS Kinderseele. Munich 2013. ISBN 978-3-570-10172-8
(Translation Current Concerns)

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