Volume:9, Issue: 2

Sep. 30, 2017

Challenges for Modern Teachers in the Classroom
Hartley, Nicole D. [about]

KEYWORDS: challenges for teachers, standardized testing, differentiation, Montessori, Rousseau, Sukhomlinsky, teacher-student relationships

ABSTRACT: Modern teachers face multiple challenges, some of which are discussed in this paper. While really outstanding teachers build meaningful relationships with their students, the pressure on them has been heightened due to standardized testing and the necessity to differentiate teaching. In hope to find meaningful solutions, the author looks back to some key characteristics in educational development. Theories and practice originated from Montessori and Rousseau require teachers to engage students in taking responsibility for their own learning. This can ultimately help to refocus the instruction process and motivate students to grow in their learning. Another famous educator, Vasily Sukhomlinsky, oriented teachers towards better interactions with their students and as a result, creating a moral atmosphere in the classroom.


Modern educators have many obstacles to work through with students in their classrooms. The biggest challenge for teachers today is the amount of conflicting views on what is most important for students in the classroom. There is pressure to connect with each student individually, differentiate for all needs, and prepare students for standardized testing while battling students’ reliance on social media and disinterest in the subject being presented. It seems impossible to reach all of these needs in the classroom. Bringing diversity into the classroom provides a greater opportunity for students to grow in their learning, but also brings challenges for teachers to reach all of those students.

This is important for the educational community to be aware of these challenges. The combination of these stresses could lead to teacher burnout, especially a young teacher such as myself. I want to be aware of challenges that I will be presented with so I can find ways to adapt my strategies to be more effective. The following sections will highlight the main challenges I see for modern educators in the classroom.

High Expectations of Teachers

Ideally, students should be “able to develop the skills necessary to take what they have learned and apply this knowledge in a novel situation” (Volante, 2004, p. 1). Students should be able to showcase their learning by their abilities to apply this knowledge, rather than focusing on rote memorization skills. Standardized tests should be used as a tool to help teachers identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, rather than to measure the effectiveness of instruction and student knowledge (Volante, 2004).

In reality, rookie and veteran teachers will both be evaluated by their students’ successes. Standardized testing has become one part of that. When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, it, “institutionalized standardized testing as the vehicle by which public schools would be measured” (Wagoner & Urban, 2014, p. 351). This added weight to administration in school districts to achieve highly within these tests in order to receive federal funding, which ultimately has fallen on the shoulders of our teachers. Through Race to the Top, federal funding was used as incentive for schools to strive for higher achievement (Wagoner & Urban, 2014). More pressure was added for schools to reach high academic standards and to assess the students’ abilities to reach those standards. Although built with good intentions, these initiatives add more and more stress on the classroom teachers. This stress has been seen played out through multiple cheating scandals which involve standardized testing. Teachers have been caught altering student tests in order to improve student scores (Wagoner & Urban, 2014). If the pressure for student achievement results in teachers willingly cheating for their kids, competition has become hurtful.

With standardized testing, teachers feel motivated to “teach to the test.” These test preparation practices are not beneficial for students and often include drilling, eliminating important content, and long practice sessions (Volante, 2004). Teaching to the test can hurt students, even if test scores seem to improve. By overemphasizing memorization and basic skills, high-order thinking skills are devalued (Volante, 2004). Curriculum also becomes more narrow and instruction becomes much more shallow.

To help our students succeed in the future, full curriculum needs to be presented. Teaching to the test and emphasizing success in scores hurts students’ perception of their development in school. The ideas behind creating standardized tests were good, but now have lost sight of the main issue. Using progressivism as an educational theory for assessment puts emphasis on group process and cooperative learning (Webb & Metha, 2017). This approach utilizes formative assessment, which can be used as a method of instruction. Progressivist educators want students to use and transfer their knowledge to real-life situations, which is dramatically different than standardized testing. Using progressivist ideas to enhance standardized testing could enrich the outcome of these tests. This could decrease the burden put on teachers from test scores, and emphasize student learning in the classroom.

Differentiation for All!

Even if students were separated in school based on race, gender, socioeconomic class, or ability level, there would still be a lot of diversity in the classroom. People think differently than one another. For one student who excels in analytical settings, creativity may prove to be more challenging and they would need more support in this type of classroom. The pressure that this brings to teachers stems from wanting to be able to reach all of the students in their classroom. This may be a good desire, but it still brings more stress.

James Coleman was a researcher in the 1960s who looked at academic achievements in students. He found that their achievements were correlated to the educational backgrounds and goals of student peer groups (Wagoner & Urban, 2014). This meant that poor students benefitted from being mixed into classes with high-achieving students from advantaged backgrounds. Although Coleman’s research followed the Civil Rights movement, the need for diverse populations in the classroom today is still highly relevant. All children should have access to high quality development in their education.

Since the classroom is filled with a variety of students with specific needs, teachers need more time to plan. Teachers can become more effective when they have structured time to develop curriculum, design lesson plans, and assess student work. This might mean getting less instructional time with the students so teachers have the ability to make quality lessons (Walker, 2016). By having more time to consider ways to reach students who need extra support, teachers can actually implement these supports in the classroom effectively. Differentiation, therefore becomes more individualized for certain students.

Maria Montessori also had critical ideas for how students’ abilities should be supported in the classroom. She believed that students would learn best with hands-on experiences and when they are engaged in a task they find interesting (Gutek, 1995). This idea puts responsibility on the students to navigate their own learning. Students are able to learn at their own pace, regardless of their specific needs. Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that a child’s mind could develop on its own (Bertram, 2017). In alignment with Montessori, Rousseau desired for children to investigate their own learning through personal interests.

If we take Rousseau and Montessori’s ideas at a basic level, teachers could develop curriculum and activities for students to engage in which highlights their interests and motivates them to engage in their learning at a deeper level. Montessori schools allow students to choose which standards they want to engage, while the teacher acts as a guide through critical curriculum and standards. By integrating these ideologies in the classroom, students differentiate their learning for their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Bringing Work Home

As a new teacher, the area in which I feel most worried about becoming burnt out from is bringing work home with me. I am aware that I will occasionally need to bring papers home to grade, but what’s more than that is carrying home the hard issues I hear about and see in students’ lives every day. This becomes a burden when the weight of these issues is brought into our personal lives. Students who enter my classroom bring various backgrounds, and some of those are destructive and painful.

I want to be a remarkable teacher, one who connects with students on a personal level. It can be difficult to do this, but it is one of my goals as a leader in my school. In order to maintain my abilities as an educator and a support for my students, I would need to establish boundaries. One reason why I think this issue would cause teacher burnout is that the teachers feel as though they need to fix every situation. From personal experience, I know that sometimes all students need is for another human being to listen to them.

Sukhomlinksy had visions of, “a moral society, in which humaneness would be the dominant characteristic, and cooperation, rather than competition, would be the dominant mode of interaction” (Cockerill, 2011, p. 203). Being a teacher who cares and listens to student issues gives an example to students of someone who is willing to cooperate and be humane. Students must be able to show kindness towards others, and they will learn best how to do this through my example. Moral education develops students’ abilities to recognize their talents in a manner that will benefit other people (Cockerill, 2011).

Wirzba (2016) claims that true love can best be expressed through actions, rather than words. In order to teach this to students, I must lead by example in my position as an educator. I do not feel as though my responsibility as a math teacher is to teach my students morals, but I do feel that I can create a classroom environment in which I show respect and love for those around me. By the way I choose to respond to situations and respect all students and ideas, a positive, collaborating culture can be created. Webb & Metha (2017) explain that, “through both the formal and the informal hidden curriculum [students] learn the behaviors that are supported and valued by the society” (p. 193). My actions in the classroom are the “informal hidden curriculum” described by Webb & Metha (2017).

Conclusion

Educators face special challenges due to their unique positions in student lives. To overcome these challenges, teachers often need to do what is best for the student. In terms of standardized testing, teachers need to educate their students based on longevity, rather than only for the upcoming test session. As students progress through their education, they will find more value in developing their knowledge at a deeper level, than being able to take a test. To benefit students in their future education, teachers need to take the emphasis off test scores and evaluating their growth.

Montessori, Rousseau, and Sukhomlinsky provide beneficial insight to managing the wide range of students and needs in the classroom. Rather than constantly giving a student the support they need, it can be beneficial for them to personally figure out what they need in order to be successful. Differentiation is extremely important in the classroom, but teachers and students can work together to find what works best for the student. Students should be supported in engaging real-world situations and developing their ability to interact with one another in a collaborative environment.


References

  • Bertram, C. (2017). Jean Jacques Rousseau. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Zalta, E. N., (Ed.). Retreived from: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/rousseau/
  • Cockerill, A. (2011). Values education in the Soviet State: The lasting contribution of V.A. Sukhomlinksy. International Journal of Educational Research, 50, 198-204. doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2011.07.005.
  • Gutek, G. L. (1995). Froebel and Montessori: Early Childhood Education. A History of the Western Educational Experience (p. 269-278). (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.
  • Volante, L. (2004). Teaching to the Test: What Every Educator and Policy-maker Should Know. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 35.
  • Wagoner, J. L. & Urban, W. J. (2014). American Education: A History (p. ##-##). (5th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Walker, T. D. (Sept. 29, 2016). The Ticking Clock of Teacher Burnout. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/09/the-ticking-clock-of-us-teacher-burnout/502253/
  • Webb, L. D. & Metha, A. (2017). Foundations of American Education. (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • Wirzba, N. (2016). Way of Love: Reclaiming the Heart of Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

1 Nicole D. Hartley, Mathematics teacher, Battle Ground High School, Battle Ground, WA.

 





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