When I started teaching Remedial English at my local community college, there was so much to do to prepare for the first day of class: writing a syllabus, finding out how the lab worked, logging on to the college’s email system and printing rosters, figuring out what textbook to use and how to take students through it, how to use classroom technology, and more. All that was just to step in front of the class. Foreshadowing that big moment was also a sense of awe and dread—would I be able to hold the students’ attention? Would I be the kind of teacher they hated? Would I be too strict, or too lenient? Would I shine, or flop? At that point, I was literally “one step ahead” of my protégés. Nevertheless, I made it through, and by the next lesson, I was a little farther ahead, and so on, until I became an experienced educator. Now, getting up in front of a class is multidimensional; I feel like a diamond with many facets to give –one for each of my students.
“Differentiated learning” means that different students learn best through particular modalities: visually, auditorily, or hands-on. In our professional development programs, we are taught to include a variety of activities into every lesson in order to reach as many learning styles as possible. The concept is simple and understandable. But, it is a one-way street. Teachers cannot be unique. Each must accomplish the same standard, formalized, prescribed regime, without differentiation. So, a teacher in the Midwest, who knows fly-fishing and could tell great tales about it, must march in lock-step with a teacher in Berkeley, who would have unique, stories to tell. In teaching, variety is not the spice of life, rather, it is a sin. What do students truly learn if teachers are robots? Looking back, we realize that every teacher we had was unique, just like our friends, family, and other people we encounter throughout our lives.
I suggest that education will improve when we embrace teachers as individuals. However, there is still one thing all teachers must do: pass a rigorous credentialing test. Mine consisted of over 100 detailed multiple-choice questions on topics from my college major, along with challenging essay questions to prove my erudition. This academic bar is what gives teachers the right to shine, whether they hail from the inner-city or the ivy league. Unlike automatons, qualified teachers should be able to give of themselves to their students. When they do, society will benefit by leaps and bounds.