Education has changed significantly over the years | Columnists

Education has changed significantly over the years

By Marsha Lee

Contributing writer

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn” was a statement made by John Cotton Dana over a century ago, but today his words seem as appropriate as they were in 1912.

The explosion of technology in just the past two or three decades has not left the education sector behind. With no other viable options, our education system has undergone many changes, and its teachers have… adjusted.

I asked several retired teachers to reflect on some of these changes. Former GHS teacher Jan Wynn said, “Technology utilized in keeping up with grades, lesson planning and research is one positive aspect because it is especially helpful for parents keeping up with their children’s grades and also eases up record-keeping for teachers.”

Chantelle Elder from Texas State University said that “technology helped the university move all its records, budgeting, enrollment, course content, etc. online, which made our jobs infinitely more effective, academically and financially, and freed up professors to spend more time on research and with students as needed.”

Jan Wynn added that “more documentation is required, especially in the areas of special education. This helps support teachers’ actions and responses to behavior and learning in case of parental questions or lawsuits, but it takes time away from teaching and is stressful for teachers.”

On the other hand, much progress has been made in identifying students with learning disabilities at an earlier age.

Retired math teacher Barbara Hull said, “I can only remember having one child in my classes when I was teaching who was diagnosed as autistic, but I know many others have been diagnosed since then.”

The same can be said for dyslexia, which began to draw attention in the 1970s. These LDs affect children in different ways and in varying degrees, but with early diagnosis and help from appropriate teachers, their education can be modified so these students can learn, succeed and cope with their LDs rather than being labeled “slow learners/achievers” and being allowed to “slip between the cracks” academically.

Our former 2019 Miss Texas Alayah Benavides was dyslexic.

“She was told in school that she had dyslexia and it was a disability, and experts told her to take remedial classes and accept subpar academic performance,” as reported in the April 29, 2019 edition of the San Antonio Express-News. She chose a different path, majoring in English and supporting reading programmes. Tyler McNamer was autistic, but wrote a book about autism titled Population One. Then we have Gatesville’s own Ed the Toonist, Duncan Clay, who has authored several books.

Former GJHS and GHS principal Roland Lambert used to say that “the library should be the center of the school.”

Today, it seems that libraries are fading out a bit. Libraries have embraced all sorts of technology—cataloging books, posting library collections online, and even checking out e-books. Students no longer need to select books from the shelves…but how do they have any idea what new books are being written without a chance to peruse a library collection where they can pick up the books and look at them?

As reference and research centres, libraries are taking a backseat to the internet, which has clearly replaced traditional reference books and reference collections. If students can get access to an online library, they can study from anywhere, so libraries are losing some of their status as quiet study places. I don’t see libraries disappearing right now, but there is no question that technology is replacing many library functions.

Other changes? There are more extracurricular activities available for students now. Schools have taken a direct role in providing meals to students. Free and reduced-price lunches have been here for a while, but now schools provide meals (breakfast and lunch, or a combo) for all students under age 18 in the summers.

There has been a large increase in non-English speaking children coming into our education system, and language barriers are a big challenge to ESL teachers. Here, the predominant secondary language is usually Spanish, but occasionally other nationalities are involved.

The rise in number of charter schools and homeschooling are two additional changes. Charter schools are public schools that operate more freely than the traditional public schools. They set their own curriculum, hire their own teachers and receive private funding, although there has been much controversy over allowing free vouchers to charter schools, which would take some government funding away from regular public schools.

Homeschooling involves parents taking on the task of teaching their children rather than sending them to a school. Homeschooling is not for all students, but it is not bad if parents can manage the curriculum. Often, however, these students miss out on learning social skills, such as how to work with others.

Standardized testing arrived on the scene several years ago, and it has been a source of controversy both among teachers and parents. It has been questioned whether or not the same test can be valid for students in all 50 states, as curriculum and content may vary.

An effort to draw up a core curriculum for all education levels appeared, but not without difficulties. It has also been argued that the vocabulary used in test questions may have different meanings to students in different parts of the country or among the growing number of non-English speaking immigrants and various ethnic groups.

Jan Wynn mentioned that “teachers have had less control over lesson content and creativity in the classroom, as these are more dictated and controlled by state testing of content. This is positive in that students are getting the required basic education, but negative in that teachers have less say over what they feel is important for students to learn and to make learning fun in creative ways.”

When standardized testing in core subjects (grammar, composition, math, social studies, and science) began to require students to pass all these tests before they could graduate from high school, there was a major dilemma, and teachers had to find a way to help their students pass.

I can well remember being at a teachers’ conference and hearing the key speaker (a member of the Texas Board of Education) make the comment, “Forget the enrichment; teach the test!” I thought, “How sad it has come to this!” But that is basically what teachers of core subjects had to do.

Students were stressed out trying to pass, and teachers felt the pressure if students in their core classes did not pass the test (TAAS at that time). Students today are still required to pass five STAAR test assessments—Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology, and US History—to earn a high school diploma from a Texas public or charter school.

Regarding course content and changes, Chantelle Elder made this observation: “One huge negative is refusing to teach certain parts of American history because it does not ‘gee haw’ with a certain political climate. Not teaching all faces of our history is a huge disservice to the previous generations of Americans who lived it. How can future generations learn from America’s previous successes and failures if they don’t know about all of them? All levels of academia should be above such nonsense and not turn our education system into a political theater.”

Yet this is what is being done in some textbooks and school curriculum.

Methods of teaching have changed as a result of our understanding of different learning styles. Years ago, teachers taught by their syllabus, quite often by using the lecture method, and expected all their students to learn.

Now we realize that students have different learning styles, and students with LDs need extra attention. New strategies had to be developed to address the needs of all students. Lecture still is important, but class discussion has become a major alternative learning tool. It is less formal and feels more natural to discuss as a group than for one person to lecture.

Students today have changed, too: they are less reserved about speaking out and are not as shy about expressing their opinions and challenging what others, even the teacher, says. This is not all bad, but teachers must work as facilitators and guide the discussion so students do not become rude or disrespectful.

Course offerings have changed and expanded greatly. Would a student today know what to do with a manual typewriter? Would they even have an idea what a short hand was? Some courses have just become obsolete or have been replaced by technology.

In the early 1970s, GHS added a new Vocational Building with classes like Ag, CVAE, VOE, DE, general construction, and general mechanics. Educators began to realize that their job was not to prepare all students for college because not all students would go on to college and many simply did not want to do so. However, vocational courses would help them learn things in subjects that would be of interest and which might help them find a job after high school.

Even vocational offerings have literally exploded into more specific courses. For example, “Ag” is no longer just agriculture, but its offerings branch off into horticulture, equine science, small animal science, advanced animal science, greenhouse production, floral design, etc.

Just look online at the GISD website and look through the subject offerings. I can assure you that you will be amazing. Students can even work through prerequisites and end up in a practicalum where they can have supervised practical applications in areas like pharmacology, law, public safety, corrections, education, or nurse training, to name only a few.

There are also courses offered for dual-credit (high school and college) and opportunities to get (college) credit-by-exam. This helps students get a jump-start on their college courses.

According to a 2017 study by Blackboard and Project Tomorrow, a majority of principals and technology leaders said that “the greatest challenge they had in implementing digital learning or expanding technology is motivating teachers today to change their instructional practices.”

Teaching tools are very different. The old blackboards and chalk still remain in some classrooms, but they’ve been replaced with electronic devices (handheld tablets with bluetooth, lasers, and smart boards) that allow the teacher to move around while teaching so she can help students as she sees they are struggling. She is no longer stuck in front of the class.

Our teachers have adjusted and seem to enjoy the new technology as they get used to it. Teachers who once turned over handwritten ledgers and gradebooks from a death grip a few years ago now embrace the miracle of not having average grades by hand.

There has been more teacher burnout in recent years, due to a number of reasons, which include stress over excess paperwork, stress over trying to learn and deal with new technology, low salaries, endless hours of work after the eight-hour workday, and frustration over returning to school after a year of virtual teaching and virtual learning due to COVID-19. Many teachers seem to feel that a year of education has been lost.

Some places experienced a mass exodus of qualified, experienced teachers as well as substitute teachers. At the September Retired Teachers meeting, GISD Superintendent Barrett Pollard assured us that “all teachers are in place, enrollment is up, substitutes are available, and GISD seems ready to start a good year.”

The last few decades have shown many changes in education. Our schools have changed dramatically, and these changes have affected administrators, teachers, and students. The one thing that has not changed is our commitment to the students. This is reflected well in the mission statement on the Gatesville High School website: “Every student who walks the halls of Gatesville High School to graduate prepared to succeed in life after high school.”

Marsha Lee 19/10/2022 1944 words

(254) 865-2030 or (254) 216-1677

Marsha_lee48@yahoo.com

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