"How do they teach?" is a question that you need to ask as you evaluate schools on your shortlist. This question has been on your mind ever since you began considering sending your child to private school. While it certainly is relevant at almost any stage of the school selection process, it becomes critically important now that you are circling around those final few schools on your list. Be sure to have the question answered. You can do this by asking the admissions staff how the teaching is done at their school. They are accustomed to answering the question and will provide a detailed explanation for you. Furthermore, I do recommend that you ask the identical question at each school you visit. Then you will be able to compare apples to apples, having asked the same question at each school.
Whether you are looking at your options for preschool, primary school, middle school or high school, how the teachers teach is just as important as what they teach. As you review each school's curriculum, familiarize yourself with how that curriculum is taught. Make sure that everything matches your requirements and expectations.
Laying the Groundwork for an Education
Let's look at three areas of concern that we as parents have faced outside the classroom as we raised our children. From infancy, we have had control of what we are taught. We have shaped our child's thinking up to the point where she went off to preschool and kindergarten. In school, everything changes once she is being taught by somebody else and interacting with other children.
The following three areas are interdependent, complementary, and overlapping. They form the backdrop for effective classroom teaching from the earliest grades right through high school and even beyond.
1. Developing critical thinking.
Writing teaches a child to document events, feelings, ideas and facts. Organizing materials and marshaling facts help a child make sense of huge amounts of information. Writing teaches a child how to express herself. Since writing is such an important skill, closely examine how the school teaches writing. Personally, I am old-fashioned enough to insist that my children know how to use pen and paper for their writing. I am also technologically savvy and well aware that 21st-century children need to know how to write on a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. Find out how each school handles the writing. Writing across the curriculum is a huge plus.
This video illustrates how critical thinking is taught.
Reading is the other skill that needs to be taught early and effectively. Having your child taught reading by a skilled reading teacher is something you want to make sure is part of the preschool and primary grades experience. Remember: she needs to learn how to decode the letters and words, but more importantly, she needs to develop a love of reading. A skilled reading teacher will help make that possible with your assistance and cooperation. That means you must turn off the TV, and avoid video games, MP3 players, cellphones, and the like. Unfortunately, those devices tend to encourage passivity, not critical thinking.
Again I personally am old-fashioned. I want my children to learn how to read from paper books. I want them to learn to appreciate all the components of a paper book. My children and I grew up in the days when going to the library was a weekly event. Sometimes we went every day. I remember walking home from junior high and stopping to do research at the Westmount Public Library before heading home. That's what we did back then.
On the other hand I think that being able to keep your library on a Kindle or iPad makes great sense. All of your child's favorite books will be safely stored on the dust-free shelves of some cloud service somewhere. No matter where she is, as long as she has her tablet with her, she can read her latest book or enjoy an old favorite.
2. Developing problem-solving skills
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is critically important as part of your child's educational formation. Math and science are all about solving problems. With the right guidance from her teachers, she will develop those problem-solving skills which are so highly prized in adult life. Whether you are observing primary grades, middle school or high school, find out how math and science are taught.
Critical thinking and problem-solving are skills that thrive in a classroom where the teacher guides the learning process. Rote learning is not effective in my opinion. Observe a class or two. Is the teaching interactive?
3. Developing self-confidence.
As a child explores the world around her and tries to make sense of what she is learning, she needs teachers who will gently guide and shape that process. An overly-critical teacher who belittles her students' contributions to the work at hand will damage self-confidence. A positive approach is what is needed. Is the teaching style the kind which will develop your child's self-confidence?
The following video clip from City of the Lakes Waldorf School, Minneapolis is an excellent example of how a skilled teacher inspires and makes learning fun.
As she learns how to read and write, she develops her critical thinking faculties. She may well come up with some ideas and approaches which are outside the box. This is why her teacher must be able to boost her ego when it needs boosting and gently guide her when she really gets off the rails.
How a teacher teaches is just as important as what she teaches. That's why it is so important for you to observe classes when you visit schools on your shortlist.
Most private schools will arrange for you to observe a class if you visit while classes are in session. You will not be permitted to stay for more than a few minutes, and, of course, you must be seen and not heard. If scheduling does not permit you to observe a class, don't fuss. Assuming that you have received the answers which you were looking for about the school's philosophy of teaching, you should be OK. On the other hand, if your request to observe a class is dismissed in an arbitrary manner, I would be inclined to find another school for my child. It's your call but it pays to know why the school's management acted in an arbitrary manner.
Choosing a private school gives you as much control as you want and need. You are the customer. If you don't like what you see and hear, you can move on to the other schools on your list. If a school does not meet your requirements and expectations, cross it off your list and look at the remaining schools on your list. As I have said many times, the best school for your child is the school where she will be the happiest. Excellent teaching will be a large part of that happiness quotient.
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