How would you rate the quality of your teachers in elementary school? Were their expectations for your achievement too low or too high?
Elementary school age is a pivotal period in which we develop an understanding of self and others (Santrock, 2019). We start being able evaluate ourselves and affine our large evaluations of ourselves, self-esteem, and our opinions of ourselves in relation to specific aspects of our lives (sports, friends, intelligence), self-concept (Santrock, 2019). Research reveals a correlational relationship between self-esteem and academic success in elementary aged children (Santrock, 2019, p. 306). It is therefore incredibly important to have teachers that can assist children in learning in environments that empower them.
There are many approaches to schooling in the world, and just as much conflict about which is the best way to educate children!
I had a varied elementary school experience. I started at a catholic school that demonstrated the direct instruction approach (Santrock, 2019). The rules were rigid, classes were divided and structured, and the teachers pushed us to excellence. There was little play, and all of the lessons that I remember had moral judgements of good and bad, or appropriate and inappropriate. Academically, I did very well, and I had many friends, but I have few actual memories from in the classroom, and my parents have told me that I stopped talking at home over the course of the academic year. I moved schools and ended up in a private Montessori school which used the constructivist approach (Santrock, 2019). The classes were free and fairly unstructured, and the classrooms were full of educational games that we got to play all day long. The teachers were great at cultivating a sense of curiosity and wonder. I do not remember any external pressure for excellence, but I remember the environment made me hungry to learn. I did "well" academically (even though there were no formal standards) and I had a lot of friends. I then moved to a quaint 'church of England' school in Wales. The rules were rigid again, and the academic level was much more advanced than the Montessori school. The classes were divided by academic level literally from left to right. The teachers were not shy about showing preferences, or about hitting the children if they needed in order to maintain order. I remember being a point of humor in the class. We would get invited to read in front of the class to test our reading level publicly, and the teacher loved making me read so that she could laugh at my accent with the class. Despite the different culture around appropriate schooling techniques, I flourished academically and had good friends. I was not very happy.
Of all of the schooling techniques, I loved the Montessori method and in general love the idea of the constructivist approach. Even if it did not get me to as high of an academic level, it taught me to feel my own curiosity and guided me to have agency in my own education. It was thrilling, and felt like deep lifelong lessons about how to engage in the world.
Santrock, J. W. (2019). Lifespan development (17th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.