Meeting Everyone’s Needs in the Classroom

The readings for Theme 3 invite us to explore some tightly held beliefs and assumptions about teaching and learning, our role as teachers, and all that we aspire to be. Brookfield categorizes these assumptions and elaborates on the value of critically reflecting on assumptions we make, making a case for how our assumptions directly impact our important work.

Reflect on some of the assumptions you hold about being a teacher and/or on teaching and learning. Drawing from the readings for Theme 3, how do these align (or not) to what Brookfield and/or Noddings have to say? Is there one assumption, in particular, that you would like to deconstruct, critically reflect upon, to determine if this assumption still holds true for you? What are your thoughts on how this assumption was formed? Are there risks involved if you modify or let go of this assumption?

These are simply guidelines to nudge you into reflecting on something you have believed in for a long time, something you want to take out and reflect upon from different perspectives. How will you do this? What supports will you draw from to assist you in this reflective process? 

“Significant learning and critical thinking inevitably induce an ambivalent mix of feelings and emotions, in which anger and confusion are as prominent as pleasure and clarity.  The most hallowed rule of business – that the customer is always right – is often pedagogically wrong.  Equating good teaching with a widespread feeling among students that you have done what they wanted ignores the dynamics of teaching and prevents significant learning.” (Brookfield, 1995, p. 21)

When I read this passage, I immediately thought of the new Bachelor of Education program here at U of C, and all the turmoil and negative energy that has been percolating and brewing within our faculty since September. There have been many growing pains as the faculty works hard to set a new direction for our teacher education program.  As we are exposed to new ideas in teaching and learning, some of our existing assumptions and beliefs are being challenged and this can be uncomfortable.  In both EDUC 401 and EDUC 406 I have been frustrated and confused, when trying to make sense of the course information, and there have many times that I have thrown my hands in the air and screamed, “God I hate this stuff!”  Nonetheless, just because I am having trouble grappling with these new ideas, doesn’t mean that I should not be exposed to them.  As Brookfield (1995, p. 21) explains, “The trouble with the “meeting needs” rationale is not just that it sets up an unattainable standard, but that students sometimes take a dangerously narrow view of their needs.  Students who define their need as never straying beyond comfortable ways of thinking, acting, and learning are not always in the best position to judge what is in their own best interests.”

This assumption that teachers must meet everyone’s needs is one that we are going to have to confront and come to terms with as we move towards more personalization for students.  As schools work to create personal learning plans for each and every student, what will be the assumption amongst other stakeholders (parents, administrators, students) regarding the responsibility of the teacher to deliver a meaningful and engaging program? If a parent or student comes to us and says that their child learns best visually, does that mean that we should not expose that child to other forms of learning as well.  I realize that we should work to our strengths and interests; however, much of my own learning has occurred when I have been challenged to work outside my own comfort zone.  In my book club, for instance, I have been exposed to many authors who I would not have chosen to read if given the choice; however, it is from discussions of this literature, with people who share different views from my own, that I have learned the most about my own prejudices and assumptions.

I may not be able to meet everyone’s needs in a classroom; however, I am committed to creating a community of learning that honours everyone’s needs and a classroom atmosphere where students feel safe enough to challenge their own assumptions about what they needs as learners, so we can begin to explore new understandings together.

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About Barb English

I am a curious soul and lifelong learner who is currently employed as a teacher in a Special Education classroom with the Calgary Board of Education.
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