Don’t get stuck in the middle

When did it become okay to teach to the middle? At what point did some brilliant educator decide that if one teaches to the “average” kids in class, that the more gifted kids would enjoy already knowing the content, and the more challenged kids would just get as much from the lesson as they could. When?

I spoke with a trusted colleague recently about this troublesome idea. There is a misperception that some of our Lutheran classrooms take a “teach-to-the-middle” approach. The very notion makes me bristle. It’s certainly not how I was taught to teach at Concordia College–River Forest. (Yes, all you younger folks, it’s now Concordia University–Chicago, and it’s a great place!) Back in the day, Dr. Krenzke showed us how to form student groups for reading instruction. He demonstrated a three-tiered plan of background information, directed and silent reading, and application—a plan that allowed the teacher to work with more than one group in the classroom.

For the record, I graduated from the hallowed halls of Concordia in 1984. Yep...1984. Grouped instruction for reading and math were being taught way back then. (And yes, we had electricity and indoor plumbing, too.) The Concordia campuses have a long history of teaching excellence. Today, Concordia University-Chicago has a reading-instruction program that’s ranked among the nation’s top two percent (a statistic just quoted at a recent Board of Regents meeting).

So again I ask, when did it become acceptable to teach to the middle?

The answer is, it’s not!

Recently I responded to a student-teacher’s reflection that teaching is very tiring. For sure! The fatigue comes from hours of meeting the needs of 24 kids in each classroom...students who are all different, from different homes, from different backgrounds, with different skills and abilities.

Thinking is hard work. Teaching is very hard work. Taking the easy way is rarely the best way...and this certainly is the case when it comes to teaching. Teaching to the middle just doesn’t work.

To all of our teachers who are using learning centers, individualized reading contracts, lab experiences and other methods of reaching students where they are—THANKS! Keep up the good work. Let’s all do our best to make use of the great teaching resources we have. Let’s continue to share good ideas with our colleagues. And above all, let’s continue using our teaching ability and God-given wisdom to provide the very best for our students.

Thanks to our board members, administrators and parents for supporting our teachers, and for encouraging best practices in our schools.