Wednesday, April 22, 2009


A few days back was the final exam for my last education course before student teaching. Though this post could easily degrade into a panicky diatribe about feeling unprepared, or rushed, etcetera, instead I would like to focus on one of the essay questions on the exam. The scenario posed essentially was that after teaching for several years, your school asks you to be part of a committee to review and reconstruct the guiding principles for your entire school, every department together. The question then is what two or three ideals or focuses do you advocate for?

The first principle was easy: critical thinking, something I have talked about here before. However the essay demanded at least one more. After some thought (we were given the questions ahead of the exam), I decided that a focus on local life would benefit students in all courses by making the content more assessable, applicable, and interesting.

Making local life a foundation of school could be done in several ways. First and foremost, through planned interactions with the community. This could include both field trips around town and also guest lectures from the area. This would instantly make content more interesting and meaningful by showing how it matters to students' hometown and also how it matters outside of academia. Focus could also be turned local in smaller ways such as framing questions and projects in a local perspective. Teaching grid coordinates? Use the mainstreets as your axis. Teaching about the New Deal? Find WPA projects that started around the area.

The biggest obstacle to locality is that it requires each teacher to be an informed and active member of the town. Despite the inherent appeal and logic that each and every teacher is a pillar of the community, this is often not the case. Though I'm not a teacher yet, I do know that as a student, getting outside of your bubble of peers can be quite difficult. Even after living in Goshen for three years I hardly know anything about the history of this town, and I a history major.

When thinking through this problem I believe that connections with the parents of your students would be the best way to encourage teacher awareness and attachment to their local communities. This would be effective and would simultaneously build rapport between the teacher and parents, and perhaps, the student.

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