Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Need for Some Ethics On My Part....

I have been writing this blog about teachers and teaching for about a year now. Some years ago I was a music teacher in a district just east of Seattle. I was a good elementary music teacher--we had bands in all my schools and I did classroom music, mostly singing of folk tunes, early American songs and an occasional show tune for variety. After schools were let out for the day I would give private music lessons to those kids who wanted more instruction. And I charged ten dollars for about forty-five minutes of instructions. At the time I was making a teacher's salary about seven thousand a year--not much but in that economy and with both of us working, we were getting by. But the twenty or so dollars a week from private lessons helped a lot.

At some point I was conversing with the other elementary music teacher and he mentioned that he was giving private lessons as well but that he didn't charge any money for those lessons. His thoughts were that the district was paying him to teach music and that he shouldn't charge anything extra to those who might have some talent. I thought long and hard about this and decided he was correct--I quit charging but soon after I quit teaching music as well and went back to the elementary classroom. But it was that time when I began to think about the ethical questions that teachers have to make from time to time. I have since taken a number of philosophy classes that dealt with ethics and questions facing public schools and its teachers. It is still one of my most absorbing questions in the thinking about teaching.

I started this blog because I wanted to write about teachers and their teaching. As I stated very early in my writing and occasionally throughout these blogs that I think teachers at all grade levels are the backbone of this nation and indeed other nations as well. Of all the professions it is teachers who give back the most to society. I also think that teaching is one of the most difficult tasks facing us. We really know very little about how kids learn, what motivates them, how to make children productive adults in our society. Ask any adult what they remember about schooling and you will receive some of the most interesting stories--rarely about class instruction. But many will say they remember their fourth grade teacher or their high school drama teacher and they say that with great fondness.

My philosophy starts with the basic question: Are we a social animal or are we individuals? It is a simple question but the answers are complex. I forgot the philosopher who stated, "Live in the questions and not the answers." I choose to believe we are a social living being-that we need each other. Therefore we have schools to educate our young so they may join us as adults in society. And then again I watch on PBS the wonderful show of "Living Alone in the Wilderness." And I wonder are we truly a social animal or are we individuals acting alone. 'Tis a puzzlement. I am beginning to come to the conclusion that one's selection of an answer to this question may well be dictated by one's genes.

So I believe in schools and education and learning. I think that education is the answer to most of society's problems. But at times education produces problems. It seems that teaching our young about texting one another results in sexting, that of sending explicit material over the web and hence we need more education. Problems mandate education which begets more problems which mandates more education...... and so it goes.

I taught K-12 classes; well, naturally. Music teachers have to teach at all levels. But I found the elementary classroom more challenging and spent ten years as a fifth, then fourth grade teacher. I like to think I did an adequate job but over the years watching master teachers do their job I now wish I had done better. I've also taught at the community college level (a class in nursing and a number in early technology for instructors) as well as all levels at the college arena.

I remember teaching a course called the Pre-Autumn Quarter in which I was suppose to take possibly marginal entering freshmen and explain how a university works, where help might be obtained and what was going to be expected of them to continue with their studies at the university. I thought the concept quite good and was pleased that the university was taking this course of action to insure success. You know my mantra: Success breeds success. So I was taken a little bit by surprise when I entered my first autumn class to find it mostly African-Americans and some foreign students. And in the back row sat four or five Black Student Union representatives. They weren't taking the class but were there "to make sure their bothers and sisters were given the right information." I have long puzzled over what might constitute "wrong information" and why would I want to present such knowledge. I will admit it was stressful. The class and I got through the month long classes with the union guys watching me the whole time. At the end of the class nothing was ever said. I still wonder about that episode.

I also worked early on with television in the classroom. Once I recorded a colleague's classroom at the university level with the purpose of taping a person who was making a serious disruption during class. That tape was instrumental in that student being asked to leave the university. Strangely enough, a number of years later that same female student came to my university and asked me in the hall where the Special Education Department was. I told her and then she asked, "Don't I know you--haven't I seen you before?" At first I didn't remember her. Later that day, she was caught robbing a connivence store with a gun. I suspect she really was asking for help but I always wondered what might have happened had she really recognized me from the other university.

The use of technology in teaching has been a passion for me. From still cameras to tape reorders to television to main frame computer to microcomputers and now.....telephones with cameras and camcorders as an integral part can all play a part in the education of our young children. I see teachers who are not using technology and wonder why not.

There are some other passions that I embrace in teaching. I do not believe that either politics or religion should play a part in the classroom. I think that the teacher ought not to allow his or her politics or religion to be made known to the students. This is an ethical position that I hold dearly and I hope over the years I've not allowed my thoughts and actions to influence my students. We need to teach thinking not ideology.

I also believe every child has a right to an education. But that position stems from my earlier one that we are a social animal. But it bothers me when some schools are not as equal as others.

These blogs are written mostly for me to clarify my thinking and memories. If anything stimulates you to think as I do or better yet, to think in a different manner then I am glad. Certainly the process of education is one that is highly complicated with many variables to consider. There are many who are far more knowledgeable then me however, my thoughts on teachers and teaching remain the same--good teachers are amazing.

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