Saturday, September 17, 2011

To Begin With

Volume One/ Post three

The year at CCS is off to a great start, and with two very busy weeks behind us, I hope to begin my weekly installments of my "To Begin With" blog. As parents and students begin the rigors and routine of another school year, I thought it might be good to think about the nature of education. At its heart, it is all about becoming, hence the title of this post.


At its day-to-day level, education is a service enterprise—not a production industry. When those involved forget this, they begin to see students as products and the K-12 years as an assembly line: Mix, heat, mold, extrude, pass on down the line. Pause at quality control; check the specs, separate irregularities, send the others down the line. The last month of 12th grade adds a coat of paint, some packaging, and voilĂ ! The product turns its tassel on cue and steps into the world.

But no. Educators are not foremen on an assembly line; they are service providers. As such, the teacher-student relationship is more accurately depicted in a Venn overlap than a line graph. "Life prep" education must intersect with students beyond books and lectures. The Venn crossing points bring texture to subject matter and add context to the character, knowledge, and judgment modeled by educators in and beyond the classroom.

Teachers enter a classroom with "positional authority," which comes with the title, but they must earn "relational influence," which comes with time. These are not mutually exclusive terms.Though the latter is perhaps more endearing, the former should never be abandoned. Exemplary teachers know how to maintain their professional role while fostering appropriate, professional relationships with students. The greater the Venn overlap, the easier it is to maximize each student’s learning style and personal gifts. Such teachers soon elevate process over product, the means over the end , their outpouring into lives over the immediate student outcomes.

While it is true that teachers are influencers and role models for students, if those students are considered merely products, and if the process is only data-driven, and if evaluation therefore focuses only on that which can be objectively measured, then in time, students mistakenly believe that a person’s worth is measured by numbers on a transcript. When, in fact, by the time graduates enter their careers, their potential employers look beyond transcripts in search of employees with integrity, values, good judgment, a teachable spirit, personal responsibility, team approach, strong work ethic, and the ability to do one’s best for a greater good beyond one’s self. Such students will always be in demand because such citizens are the strength of communities and the American work force.

In the 80's educators called it O.B.E.--outcomes-based-education. The intention was not bad, but the scope of outcomes often overlooked the most important aspects of personal development. The student is not a collection of papers, not a string of letters in a grade-book-—he is the person behind the eyes at each desk. The papers and worksheets and letter-grades are means to an end—and not the end itself. Grades merely reflect the more measurable elements of the process. While it is true that measurements help us evaluate that process, those measurements should never be considered the “product” or most important outcome of education.

Tests and measurements are merely an attempt to motivate effort; reward achievement; identify personal strengths and weaknesses, and assess improvement. For college-bound high school students, grades, rank, and GPA provide helpful though imperfect points of reference for colleges, etc., but such data should never be seen as the outcome of education. Perhaps the most important evaluation in a school is regular assessment of the services rendered, the character and virtues modeled, and the exemplary relationships formed.

Grades and GPAs tell only a portion of each student's preparation for life. The truest outcomes of education reveal themselves over time.

Ideally, parents and teachers understand that they, too, are not “finished products.” They are people in an endless formative process. They have “become” teachers and parents, but they are not done “becoming.” They are life-long learners who have not arrived but are further along in the journey, and therefore, better equipped to help students become what they will someday be more clearly becoming. Becoming...becoming. At our best, we are all still “becoming” our best. And it is very becoming of educators when they realize that they and their students are still works in progress.

Or as I once wrote to a very memorable English class back in 1986:

I owe you
not in dollars and cents
(though, in a way, that’s true).
I owe you
I owe you in the sense that
every day every dayevery day
we meet,
and I say, “Listen…”
and at the various levels which you do,
I owe you
for it’s a costly thing
to be paid ATTENTION
a single time more than I’ve earned it.
Open eyes and ears keep book—
and surely after all this time
I owe you
Not just in dollars and in sense,
but in reflections
..........reflections...of Him who created
time and space and you and me
and mixedtheminto… NOW…
which we occupy together.
He holds the true account,
and His grace provides the balance
I owe you….
© Copyright 1986, TK,
Tom Kapanka
CCS Administrator

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