Tuesday
Oct232012

Contemplating Teacher Challenges: Learning how to learn new problem solving skills

To say that being a public school teacher in America today is one of the hardest jobs would be an understatement. There is this increasing expectation to produce miracles of making children college and job-ready when, at the same time, the tax payers who fund these schools simply don’t have the money to pay for these miracles. At the same time, many parents are stressed and expect teachers to make their children successful without disciplining them.

It is also the done thing for media pundits and academics to say that high skill levels will be expected and required to maintain a middle-class society in America. What these skills are is left amorphous because the marketplace is changing so fast. What is considered a high skill today is out of fashion in a few years: Java programming? That is passé, Cobol is for the dinosaurs. In 2012, robotics has become the buzz word.

In this fast-changing marketplace, what skills should we want to impart to our children when they are in elementary, middle and high schools? Are technical skills sufficient or should they also learn new ways of solving problems? To learn new ways of solving problems, we have to train children to become problem solvers.  Today, it’s not the abacus or the calculator or the spread sheet but a set of apps on a smart phone that brings together partially solved problems. If you want to solve the problem of organizing travel for a group on a budget, you don’t need to get discrete pieces of the information and set up a spread sheet to do the analysis. You have to know which apps give you the best available analytics of information on ground and air travel, lodging and boarding, health, visa and security issues. Such problem-solving does not require the job of a travel agent with a network connection into a few airlines anymore.

So how do we bring hands-on problem solving skills into the class room? How do we make children adept in changing circumstances which need the use of different problem solving tools? When the problems themselves change, getting a sense of the problem itself is more than half the job.  And, what if that is indeed the requirement to be resilient and effective in America of the twenty first century?

Are teachers comfortable as problem solvers themselves? Do they know how to learn new tools of problem solving and, therefore, know how to teach those valuable skills to the students? And how do we go about funding salaries for these accomplished teachers? How do we get parents to be less stressed and more focused on supporting their children through their learning years?

While the society at large will grapple with these questions over time, each teacher has to work in the system today, with all the pressures and expectations that come their way. Advaita Life Coaching conducts ongoing weekly group sessions which can help teachers to observe and balance their inner selves with the demands in their schools, to become more capable, resilient and therefore more effective at continually adapting to changing demands made upon them

Jayant Kalawar is the author of The Advaita Life Practice, available at Amazon.

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