The Difficulties of English Education

Meghan LouiseBy Meghan Haupers

As a senior English Education major at Western Illinois University I have developed a unique perspective on the English language and language in general. My English courses range from practice of grammar to expressive creative writing. Despite the variety one thing has remained consistent within each class: the importance of language. Each professor has something different to offer and a different idea of what English means to them. Some swear by traditional grammar rules. Others place more value on free writing in journals or blogs. Whatever their perspective, they all share a passion for the English language. My education courses help me to understand these multiple perspectives.

Educational studies cover a great deal about human psychology and social development. The role that teachers, parents, peers, and environment play in a student’s life is emphasized in this department and for good reason. Studying education has taught me that to become a successful teacher it’s important to understand your students. One common focus my professors all highlight is student-centered education. This is the idea of incorporating educational mindsets or instructional methods that recognize individual differences in learners. This places the teacher as a facilitator of learning for individuals rather than for the class as a whole. Each student’s interests, abilities, and learning styles are taken into consideration when constructing the adaptable curriculum.

Common Core complicates the goal for adaptable curriculum. Standardized tests pressure students to work quickly and at high risk. This is a difficult task for many students. Students are still growing and developing throughout high school. Adolescents, especially in today’s society, are biologically programmed to have shorter attention spans, but are tested on their ability to focus. These tests are built on one person’s idea of what is the standard, emphasized as the key to future success, and graded in a numerical system that doesn’t account for the ups and downs of the individual.

According to a standardized test many otherwise intelligent students appear incompetent because they couldn’t complete the task in time, couldn’t focus, or couldn’t properly process their stress. However, the tests don’t determine a student’s intelligence, but rather a students ability to manage stress and work under pressure. It is also important to remember that there are multiple kinds of intelligence and everyone is ‘smart’ in some way.

As teachers, we want students to think critically, analyze, understand, and respect a variety of viewpoints. However, because of the standardized test system we’ve created many of those minds disengage. Students are graded on a system that devalues them as a person and only sees them as a number. Much potential can be wasted when students are graded according to a standard system and it’s sad. The goal should be to minimize wasted potential and allow students the best education we can offer.

It wasn’t until I attended college that I truly realized the bias in the education system and what its impact was on my life. It seemed like in order to gain a degree the main component was if I could afford it. It was like every way I turned there was another fee. This stress made it difficult for me to perform well in school. This same factor stressing me out is the reason that standardized tests are so unfair. There exists a direct link between poverty and educational success. The same link exists between poverty and the English language. This is why dialect speaking communities communicate differently than their middle class peers.

Not only do students have to be able to afford classes, but also books, and any requirements associated with the degree. This creates within students like myself a great deal of stress. It seems I’ve spent all my money on loans to gain a degree so that I can pay them off. I became quite angry when I realized this and decided that if I am going to be in debt, I may as well make it worth it.

My professional development class got me thinking about what matters to me if money wasn’t a factor. Previous books I’ve read in the English department came to mind such as, A People’s History of the American Empire, Melal, Plum Plum Pickers, In the Time of Butterflies, and Dream Jungle. Each of these texts show me a perspective of my own culture that I have never seen before. They made me realize my privilege. Another text that opened my mind is Dialects in Schools and Communities. It discusses the role language plays in a classroom and how different communities communicate differently and why. It’s no surprise that again, money is the common denominator that links students’ speech and academic performance level to their success.

I began to create a list of the things that matter to me; it consisted of Education, literature, and language. For this reason, I’ve decided to study languages with the hope that it will further expand my perspective. With a degree in Education and ability to speak multiple languages I can do my best to relate to a variety of students. I decided to push student teaching off just one more semester and travel while studying Spanish.

English taught me how we used language to construct the grading system that my education courses discuss. My literature courses taught me how to address issues that accompany adolescents in the classroom. My creative writing courses taught me how to read from other people’s perspectives and write from my own. The language courses I take in the future will help me to understand an alternate perspective and better relate the English language to students.

There is an undeniable unity in language and it decides what common sense is to those who speak it. I believe language is the pen and education is the ink in which we can write a society into life. As a teacher my goal is to contribute to the education of as many students as possible. I hope to use my linguistic abilities to assist like-minded educators in the construction of a more peaceful and tolerant society so that students who come from low-income families can have a stress-free education and so that students who are privileged can understand their privilege and that it comes with responsibility.