Monday, February 7, 2005

What’s Good for the Goose, The Teacher Does The Homework Assignment

Almost a Hundred—This is #99. If any of you have any favorites, please let me know, and I'll try to add some excerpts with the hundredth.

Musing #99
February 6, 2005
The 27th of Shvat

What’s Good for the Goose
The Teacher Does The Homework Assignment

I’m a high school English teacher, and just last week I gave a composition assignment to my Tenth Grade students. They had to write a short composition and a list of ten rules (using the modals they had just learned). One of the topic choices was: “My Ideal School.” It was taken from their textbook, Full Volume, UPP, and considering the Dovrat Commission’s recommendations in the headlines I couldn’t resist doing this homework assignment along with my students.

My Ideal School

By Batya Medad

It’s very possible that somewhere a school like my ideal one exists. That’s because it wouldn’t be complicated to establish and run. It could be large or small; size is irrelevant. My ideal school is for all ages; it’s really an educational system, a curriculum.

Ten Rules for My Ideal School
1- Teachers may work part time.
2- Students can get credit for out-of-school learning.
3- Students should complete the core curriculum before graduation.
4- Parents must be in contact with the staff and be kept informed of their child’s progress or difficulties.
5- Students mustn’t be absent from lessons without valid reasons, and if they are absent, they are responsible for making up the work missed.
6- Students may want to continue studying in the school an extra year, and that will be permitted.
7- Transfer students would be required to learn whatever they missed, even if it means studying with younger students.
8- All students must master foundation skills of reading, writing, including composition, basic arithmetic, Israeli geography, ancient and modern history and Jewish studies before high school.
9- Students requiring alternative testing will be able to be tested according to their needs.
10- Professionals, who aren’t certified teachers, may teach special courses related to their fields.

School is supposed to prepare a child for life, and therefore, besides the conventional academics, it must teach work ethics, how to function within the rules and requirements of a formal framework, social relationships and responsibility. A school should give each student sufficient vocational skills, even if it’s to earn tuition needed for higher education. The goal of education is to prepare the students to be loyal and contributing citizens of Israel.

Courses should be combined and integrated. First because that way the students will learn to see a larger picture of the world and they must be encouraged to see the connections between the various subjects. For instance History, Geography and Citizenship should be taught as one subject; when I was a student in New York, we called it “Social Studies.” Another example would be Hebrew; Grammar, Literature, Composition and handwriting until at least the age of ten are all one subject. This way the students have to adjust to fewer teachers; there will be fewer tests, and less time wasted. Most important is that the students will see the relevance of what they’re being taught in class.

The minimal amount of weekly hours allocated for foreign languages, including English, should be four, preferably five or six. And the studies should start no earlier than the Fifth Grade, after serious language skills in Hebrew (or Arabic) are mastered, and that includes spelling, basic grammar and composition. I highly suggest that we utilize teaching methods from the countries that succeed in teaching foreign languages, like Holland, rather than the American methods, which are never successful; that’s why they’re always coming up with new ones.

Money can be saved by using “blackboards” and training children to copy from the board, which will also increase their learning. Classrooms must also be arranged so that the students can easily see the teacher an “erasable board.” No more sitting in “groups” which only cause attention/concentration problems.

Classes should be divided by the level of the students, so that the weaker ones will be in smaller groups and get the remedial work they need to succeed, and the students who learn most quickly should be able to get work on a higher level to stimulate and encourage them to utilize their potential. And the “average” students shouldn’t be distracted by their bored friends. One group is bored, because they can’t keep up, and the other is bored, because the work is too easy. Just like we all need different shape shoes, our children need different teaching methods and paces.

The required school day should be a maximum six hours in elementary school and eight hours in high school; fewer hours are fine if the curriculum fits. Schools should have resource centers open after hours for students to do homework, get extra help and enrichment. In order to stay alert so many hours, it must be possible to eat a nutritious lunch, and they should have breakfast before school starts, even if it’s a sandwich eaten on the way to school. Proper eating habits will facilitate better learning. But that’s a topic for another musing.

I could easily write more details and ideas on how to improve Israeli education and probably will in the future. For the sake of our children, grandchildren and country, I honestly hope that the Israeli Ministry of Education will consider my ideas instead of Dovrat.

Batya Medad, Shiloh
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