“Developing competent, caring and reflective teachers prepared for world service.”
This phrase is the mission statement for the Taylor University education department and describes the heart of what many educators aim to accomplish. These three traits (competency, compassion and reflection) are the backbone for educators who have active roles in the classroom through their ability to create rich relationships with students.
Through authentic relationships created in the classroom, teachers can meet the needs of the adolescents that walk into their lives each year.
In January, Indiana House Bill 1134 became an active participant in the education conversation. With its creation, it places those relationships in immediate danger.
House Bill 1134 proposed a shift in the classroom structure. This bill, if approved, would require teachers to place all content on a learning management system, provide lesson plans at the end of June, submit content that is subject to approval by a committee and limit the amount of social-emotional learning allowed in classes based on lack of parental approval.
The root of concern for this house bill lies in the notion of parents being informed. Parents deserve to know what happens in the classrooms, and this bill would require teachers to inform them.
Although this specific house bill was killed on March 3, it still calls into question the role parents have inside the classroom. While this bill would have required a form of communication with the parents and teachers to create a more active role, it would come at the expense of relationships.
This begs the question: Are these changes beneficial enough to the classroom to justify the loss of student-to-teacher relationships?
The Echo Editorial Board argues that house bills such as 1134 are dangerous to the overall classroom because they create a less responsive model and do not justify the loss of relationships that occur as a byproduct.
This comes from the main need for reflection. Teachers must be able to reflect in order to create an individual experience for each class.
While there is no surprise that students learn at different rates, bills such as 1134 do not take this into legitimate consideration. By requiring lesson plans to be submitted prior to the school year, teachers are not able to curate their teaching to fit each new group of students. Rather, they must make an informed guess on how their students will perform, and if the students are not performing at that level, they will fail as a byproduct.
Instead of helping to better inform parents on what will be taught, bills like 1134 show parents an ideal model of what the teacher hopes the students can learn within the school year. It also shows an untrue narrative that each group of students (in any given school year) will learn effectively despite each student’s different levels of knowledge and different types of learning.
This narrative has been disproven by adolescent psychology many times, but we are asking teachers to ignore that reality for the sake of clean lesson planning.
Julie Cline, an eighth grade English teacher from McCulloch Junior High,discusses why reflection is necessary for each classroom in a practical sense and for good methods of teaching.
“Past the initial ways that provide individualized learning while continuing their grade-level curriculum, lessons are adjusted for closings, delays, necessary extra time or review, etc.,” said Cline. “Your students show you when they (have) mastered a standard or need more time, and every teacher takes this information to adjust their plans accordingly. Otherwise, as aforementioned, it is an assembly line chugging toward flat-out failure.”
By interacting with students and seeing their strengths, reflection helps teachers create lessons that accommodate each diverse learner. It allows students to get what they need through changes made. Without adaptations, students can go a full school year struggling because these accommodations were not laid out in the initial lesson plans.
Carie King, associate professor of English and professor of the English Education Methods course, furthers this idea to touch on the need for flexibility as a hallmark of effective teaching.
“Creativity, flexibility, and the ability to capitalize on teachable moments have always been the hallmarks of successful teachers,” said King.
If students sit in a classroom for a full semester without any personalized teaching that fits their needs as students, they will feel less supported by the teacher, causing a strain in their student-to-teacher relationship.
This need to reflect also bleeds into the actual content of the classroom. 1134 suggested that parents should have the right to remove their children from conversations in the classroom on sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin. Instead of engaging the content, the teacher would be required to offer a different assignment as a substitution.
Excluding these conversations may help to create less tense discussions, but they do not honor the true diversity in each classroom. These topics are needed and must be based on the dynamics of the classroom (which are determined after interacting with the class) because adolescents must find their identity within this content in order to interact with it in a personal way.
Classrooms are made up of students that interact with these categories in different ways. Teachers must be able to reflect and honor those interactions through their content to make each class truly matter.
Knowing the impact of reflection in a successful education model leads to the question on how to inform the parent. One solution lies in this relationship between students and parents.
House Bill 1134 would have required teachers to place their content on learning management systems (such as Blackboard, Google Classroom, Canvas, etc.). The reality is that most districts already require this for teachers. With this in mind, it takes the parents going a step further to communicate with their students.
“Show up, ask your students (and) stop making excuses for not knowing,” said Cline. “Ask the teachers questions, request weekly check-ins, but first, check in with your student. Have them show you their online platform, watch recorded classes, reflect and then proceed as you see fit.”
Another solution lies in the role of people outside of the education sphere. While each individual might not have a student involved or might not be an educator, we owe teachers and students the opportunity to learn. In order to allow this to happen, we must inform ourselves on bills such as 1134.
While House Bill 1134 did not pass, there is still a potential for these ideas to be tacked on to future bills that will be proposed down the line. Knowing these risks, we need to look at what educators are saying about these bills, and we must consider the actual cost they have on learning.
If we see a danger, contacting local representatives is a way we can voice our concerns and have an active role in education.
Instead of creating House Bills such as 1134 that damage the relationship between students and teachers, we need to engage in conversations about what is going on, helping to deepen our relationship with the education system — the same relationship that teachers are hoping to evoke from their students through their ability to actively reflect.