When a friend of mine chose to homeschool her daughter, it greatly agitated her sister. This sibling didn’t raise the usual bugaboo about socialization. Rather, she was horrified at the idea that “just anyone” felt capable of teaching a little girl to read.
Her consternation made more sense when my friend shared that this sister was a reading specialist, who had invested years and money in training. No wonder my friend’s confidence in her own abilities, despite a glaring lack of credentials, upset her sister.
I am full of admiration for teachers who can take a group of children with disparate interests, maturation and skill levels and coax each one to do his or her best. I deeply respect the skills and dedication of those who teach children who, for one reason or another, don’t respond to regular methods of instruction. However, I don’t appreciate spreading an aura of complexity around areas in which most caring and intelligent parents and teachers are already perfectly capable.
For this reason, I raised a skeptical eye when I saw an announcement for teacher training in differentiated instruction. One way to make parents feel inadequate and to prop up the idea that children need trained teachers is by introducing new and esoteric language. How can one possibly teach one’s own when you don’t even know what educational terminology means ?
I looked around a little and discovered that differentiated instruction is a convoluted way of describing the way that any good parent or teacher has always taught. Recognizing that children may respond to different techniques, constantly assessing a student’s strength and weaknesses, guiding children to understand broad concepts and knowing to vary individual instruction with group instruction are some of the not-very-groundbreaking notions of differentiated instruction. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun. Only a highly educated specialist who left common sense and mentorship at the door and mindlessly swallowed the latest educational textbook theories would have ignored any of these ideas previously.
If your child is thriving in school and has an excellent teacher, I hope you express your appreciation. If your child is doing little more than logging hours in school, I encourage you not to be intimidated by fancy words. We can rephrase Confucius’ words about life to refer to much of today’s educational theory: “Education is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”