The summer is coming to an end, with the kids heading back to school this week. It is at this time that I tend to ponder areas of improvement in the system.
I feel particularly fortunate. The pre-school that my kids go through allows you to spend most of the time in a lovely backyard atmosphere. One day when I was dropping Sam off, I distinctively remember smiling over the fact that I didn’t want to leave. Surely that is a good sign, and can be quite different than many of the grey boxes that we call schools. Fortunately there are a lot of interesting layouts that play to kids nature.
I wonder if we are missing the big picture, and suffer from a school system aimed at the industrial age of the past.
At the same time, when I come down to Earth, it seems like there are smaller changes that we can employ (and some schools and societies already do) right now.
Single Point of Failure
As an engineer, when you look at a classroom situation one of the most glaringly scary things is the single point of failure that is the teacher. This one decision will make a huge difference to an entire school year of your child’s life in elementary school.
The quality of the teacher is one thing, but in my few years with kids at school we have run into illness, pregnancy, and a teacher leaving half way through the school year.
Every classroom should have more than one teacher. This year, there is a chance that my kindergartner gets such as class, as one of the three rooms has two teachers who split their time.
Ben and Dion
It is the day before school kicks in, and I am picturing what that is like for a teacher. I am sure there is a lot going on in your mind. I have had the pleasure of working closely with my best mate for a decade now, and I know that it is a lot more comforting, and enjoyable to be chatting with him before we go on stage for a talk. You know that someone has your back. You have confidence. You know that if you make a mistake your buddy can pick up on it.
There are multiple ways to read the sharing of a classroom. If you think of it as having multiple teachers in the same class then the question of cost comes up quickly. Although I believe we should be funding the schools to a point where they could double down, it isn’t possible to just hire twice as many teachers right now, even if we can show that this cost is more than recouped by society over time.
What if you aren’t doubled up, but rather do a class swap? This is exactly what Emily did one year. She was in charge of the math and science aspects and another teacher took the social sciences. This was huge for the teachers, as they had to prepare and master half of the material. I also think it was better for the students as they got to experience different teachers and some of the classes had had a run through of the material. I know that for one of my presentations, the third time is often the best (rarely one of the first two!)
The other option doesn’t split on topic and involve a swap, but allows teachers to be part time. The students once again get the benefit from different teachers, styles and strengths, and the teachers get to work together. Being able to spend time discussing their plan of attack, what they are teaching, and how to best help particular students can only be a good thing.
Master and Apprentice
When you pair up teachers you also get a great way to bring up young energetic talent. A master teacher can bring their experience to the table, and I would love to see the impact this would have on teachers dropping out of the profession.
It’s time to take the lonely out of teaching. We talk about pair programming and discuss various side effects in engineering. I am not religious about pairing, and have seen it misused, but I do know that I very much want to talk through hard problems and various solutions with others. This would only become more important if it allowed me to focus on students more.
It is always interesting to join the streams. What else can we learn from the practice of engineering and science when it comes to setting up school systems that can scale and be resilient?
ps. I also wish that our kindergartener wouldn’t be coming home at 11:45am to start with, given that his pre-school had him staying a lot later.