On trends, buzzwords, and being appreciated.

Back in the mid 90’s I taught in a small university. I was a sessional lab instructor, which meant I had all the responsibility of the permanent instructors, but few of the benefits – like job security and a summer salary. Instability of that sort gives one a certain outsider perspective on the goings on, because one doesn’t really feel a sense of bonding with the institution, regardless of how fond I was of my colleagues.

During my time there, the school decided that it would benefit student achievement if they became more “student centered”. And so the commandment came down from on high – the instructions to the professors and instructors: “Be student centered”. I kid you not, that was it.

In principle, student-centered learning is a good thing. But the small-minded bureaucrats who ran the place really had no idea what it meant, and certainly made no efforts to provide any guidance as to what it meant. So, for the most part, people kept doing what they were doing, which was teaching their students to the best of their ability. But the students started to catch on the the “student centered” mantra, and seemed to grasp immediately that ambiguity can be an effective weapon. It was not long before disgruntled students, unhappy with a test score, or departmental policy, or just with a personal grudge began complaining to the deans that their profs “weren’t being student centered”. The result? No, not clarification of the term. The result was the profs getting hauled into the dean’s office and spoken to about not being student centered.

It really was a bizarre, ridiculous, almost Orwellian scenario. I have no idea how long it lasted, because I only stayed two years.

But I am starting to see this trend rear its ugly head once more. Spurious, nebulous complaints by students and parents about “learning styles”, “compassion”, and “accommodating individual needs” seem to be on the rise, and those complaints seem to be direct to principals, rather than to the teachers themselves – like complaining to a store manager because of dissatisfaction with a clerk. Many admins are adept at supporting the work of their teachers, but just as many are not, and again it is the front line educators, doing nothing but their best, who are getting it in the neck.

It is a damaging trend, and there is little we can do if we don’t have the benefit of support from above, apart from keep doing what we do best.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week, and we don’t always feel appreciated. So I just want to say thank you to all teachers out there, and keep up the great work!


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