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“The ideal school will teach life skills”. How does the American educator see the way US schools ought to teach? (podcast)

Sandra Užule - Fons

Today we are joined by Agatha Panait, an educator from Chicago and we talk about the American education system. 

Agatha is a National Board Certified Teacher, has been teaching for the past 22 years. She is a mentor of the new teachers, she also serves as an assessor of teachers who is trying to be certified as National Board Certified Teachers, she does consulting for publishing and testing companies. She teaches language arts, combined with social studies – history and geography.

There’s a lot of talks these days about shifting the American schooling system. The multidisciplinary model of teaching has been pushed throughout the years. The newest component is social emotional learning. In terms of COVID-19 this has become the key component to be included throughout in all subjects. “We include curriculum called the “the calm classroom” from being relaxed and calm. Depending of each day there will be social emotional activities: students may be called to sit in a circle and we may do some breathing exercises when they talk about things that are going on in the world”. 

Agatha says that many things have to be adopted during virtual learning. “Personally I try to go back to the old school type of instruction, just because the children have been on the screen 24/7. We try to do old school with kids – novel reading. We are going to read a book that looks like a book and smells like a book.” However, Agatha underlines the differences between old school, when she went and school nowadays. “I do see there is not much rote memorisation, no individual studying, but it’s a lot of project learning and obviously cooperative activities”, she says. 

Agatha emphasizes that teaching children is a collective job that parents share with teachers. “The statement saying that teachers are in charge of teaching students to me does not make sense. Students are only with teachers for 6 to 7 hours each day, the rest of the learning takes place at home. I think constant cooperation and collaboration with parents is the best approach”. 

Moreover, children could be involved in the process of education too. The teacher says: ”As far as curriculum, there is a lot of room for students to contribute to how a curriculum is designed. If I see that students are interested in a particular aspect of the curriculum I make sure that I’ll include this part in my daily lessons”. 

Funding is one of the challenges that schools face today. “Unfortunately, there is a huge economic and racial division that still exists in Chicago. The quality of schools still depends on the neighborhood in which the schools are located and of course, it depends on the involvement of teachers, and involvement of parents and involvement of parents depends on their economic status”, she adds.  

“What is a school for me? It’s a community, a safe place, where children can learn, receive support and a place that children can enjoy. The ideal school will teach life skills”, Agatha concludes. 

Listen to our podcast:

Education systems around the world:
United States of America (episode 1)

About the author
Sandra Užule - Fons
Holds Ph.D. in history, journalist, documentary filmmaker. Researcher and author of scientific and other publications about the Baltic States and media. Her professional career started in Warsaw in Polish Public Radio working for more than 10 years as an editor in Polish Radio External Service. She cooperates with media outlets in the implementation of media projects in Central Europe and Post-soviet countries. Currently, she is working on an alternative school project.
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