Out of the mouths of babes some wise words on education

June 07, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

Kids are the consumers in the classroom. If we surveyed them about education the way we survey grown-ups about cars and soap powders, our schools might be a better product.

But we don't. Daily we ask them, "How was school?" But we are satisfied with their monosyllabic answers or we tune out their complaints.

Do we really want to know what they think of their school, their teachers? Do we really want to know what they learned at school today?

Dianne Rogers did. The reading resource teacher at Germantown Elementary School in Annapolis surveyed a group of fourth-graders for their advice to teachers. The answers she received were profound in their simplicity.

"Teach in a language that kids can understand," the children wrote after discussing this among themselves.

"Keep control of our class and don't let the kids do everything they want."

"Be nice, but not soft."

"Be considerate. Don't yell. Talk privately to someone -- not publicly -- to avoid embarrassment."

"Let children give their opinions. And give them good advice."

"Have fun while you teach us."

Mrs. Rogers solicited this advice from the children after reading with them "Advice to a Teacher," by educator Fannie Jackson Coppin.

Ms. Coppin's five simple rules begin with, "Never let the word 'dumb' be used in your class." And her rules end with, "To get the benefit of education, the students must educate themselves. The teacher can only direct that effort."

Nobody ever asks children for their advice. So Mrs. Rogers' request -- that they give advice to teachers -- was a lesson in itself. For both sides of the podium, I think.

"They were ready, willing and able to say what they thought," says Mrs. Rogers. "They don't get to do this often, but they will tell you the deepest part of what they believe. They have no hesitation."

Mrs. Rogers also asked the class to list its advice to fellow students, and those responses were just as telling. It is clear they know how to behave in the classroom. They've just been ignoring our requests that they do so.

"Don't have pencil fights in school," warned Andreas Pelekanos. "Don't go to the bathroom unless it is an emergency."

"Read when you have nothing else to do," said Ryan Wooldridge.

"Pay attention and don't fool around during lessons," the children wrote.

"Have a clear head and stay cool," advised Keenan Leader.

"Do your homework so you can practice and learn because it might be on the test," offered Dan Jarashow.

And some of their advice revealed a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the classroom -- and of the human heart -- than we might have given 10-year-olds credit for.

"If there is a problem, don't let it bug you," said Adrienne Carter. "Just tell someone and it won't bother you and you can keep on learning."

"If someone says you are dumb, ignore them because they are dumb for saying that," said Joe Mihoces.

"Set a goal for your life," the children wrote. "And never let people stand in your way of learning."

Teach our children to read, to multiply and the big dates in American history. Once, that was all we asked of teachers.

Teach them how to drive, we demand now. And about AIDS. Teach them to cherish the environment and to balance a checkbook. Teach them how to catch a ball with a lacrosse stick and how to get along with other races. Teach them manners. And that the troubles in their home life are not their fault.

We reinvent the wheel of education every couple of years and ask teachers to do what they do a new way. Open classrooms. Whole language. Critical thinking. Cooperative learning. If we stick with one theory longer than a report-card period, teachers might actually get some teaching done.

We ask teachers to compete with TV, Super Nintendo and computer graphics. And to mend the damage of neighborhood violence, of broken homes. And we are quite ready to blame the teachers when it all falls apart.

What advice, what words of encouragement did Mrs. Rogers get from her fourth-graders?

"Being a good teacher takes time," they wrote. "Don't give up."

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