Thoughts on Critical Teaching

When I first heard the term “critical teaching,” I focused highly on the word critical.  I thought that the term referred to the need to be reflective on one’s teaching and the need to teach students to be critical of the world around them.  While this may play a part in critical teaching, it is so much more than that.  Michell (2006) encourages teachers to “look deeper and beyond” (p. 45).  Critical teaching requires teachers to nurture students so that they can make the world a peaceful, innovative, and socially just place to live. While teaching content is important, teaching students to read between the lines and be digestive mechanisms for information takes precedence due to the fact that many of the careers that our students will enter are in their infancy or have not even been imagined yet.

Critical teaching is important because of the cliché: children are our future.  Children are our future and the need to be taught how to investigate and engage with issues in society.  This need is more prevalent today than ever due to the quickening pace of the transfer of information and the general pace of life.  The role of critical teaching was primarily a parental role several centuries ago, but due to the conglomeration of family types and parental work schedules, Western society is relying more and more on teachers as parents and caregivers.  The skills that students once learned in the family setting are now being delegated to the school setting. Parents who spend less time with their families are also spending less time instilling values and using current events and life experiences as “teachable moments.” Teachers need to recreate experiences and expose students to current events from a variety of sources in order to draw upon them for such teachable moments.

Along the same lines, critical teaching has become more important today due to the shift towards electronic transfer of information.  Reading and communicating has moved from being linearly or hierarchically structured to something that is left in the hands of the person reading or communicating.  Rather than simply finding a book in a card catalog and gathering information from it, users may now search of the subject on the Internet and choose from a variety of sources. Once the reader has arrived at the source page, s/he has more control over the information that is read.  For example, if a reader is researching the functions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) s/he may choose to visit the organization’s home page ( On this page, there are many pages leading to divisions of NOAA and a multitude of links and resources.  The reader may choose to focus on one aspect of this page and miss out on other functions simply because the ability to quickly read and gather information is lost with so many links and categories.  On the other hand, the reader may choose to visit Wikipedia ( for a brief summary of NOAA. From this example, it is pretty apparent that the outcomes of the research on the topic may end up being starkly different. Students need to investigate a variety of sources from multiple perspectives in order to synthesize information and form their own ideas about a topic. The goal of critical teaching is to teach students how to be responsible consumers of information; choices affect outcomes and, in turn, may affect the lives of others.

The readings have left me questioning how this might be done in a classroom of younger students (10-14 years old).  It seems that my students are so quick to judge and subsequently verbalize an opinion.  Once they have an opinion about something, they almost need to be “convinced” to think otherwise.  This module has taught me that “show” is much better than “tell”, but I long for a classroom like the ones from our readings where this always comes naturally.  I’m starting to see pockets of this throughout my day, but I long for my classroom to be a place where critical teaching and learning is ever-present. In my opinion, I am in the perfect position to accomplish this and I need to take advantage of the situation. In order to do this, I have formed three goal areas for teaching this year.

First of all, I need to continue to nurture a close-knit, connected community in my classroom.  Already, my students have bonded like a family and are very comfortable with each other.  I need to now set some boundaries, as sometimes it seems that they are too comfortable and are forgetting that the goal is to learn and work together. On the positive side of this, we had a breakthrough week this week.  I was informed that one of my students had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome this summer.  He did not know that his mother told me about it, but happened to write about it during Writer’s Workshop the next day. He came up to me after I finished conferencing with a student and wanted to share his writing with me.  After sharing, we discussed his writing and the feelings he expressed about his new diagnosis.  He talked about how he longed to share it with his classmates.  After much discussion, and subsequent thought on my part, I spent my lunch hour planning an afternoon of sharing and some teaching about Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Scrapping my lesson plans was the best thing I have ever done and the students in my classroom are working harder to support and embrace this student than ever. Our group is showing that they are ready to take more steps in thinking outside of the box and it is my job to facilitate this endeavor.

Secondly, I need to stretch my students.  A majority of my students come from similar socio-economic backgrounds and only associate with similar peers.  In order to have my students begin to think outside of their comfort zone, I need to connect them with the community.  A way that I plan on doing this is to pique their interest by finding organizations that they can connect with and plan service learning projects. Service learning should go beyond simply “volunteering” for an organization and involve other aspects such as planning, interacting, and reflecting on experiences.  Students need to be shown that parties on the giving and receiving end of service benefit and learn from the experience.

Finally, I need to take my students beyond the classroom and local community and transform my teaching to include a view of the world, its people, and its cultures.  This would be a huge step for me, and I think that I need to transform my own thinking about this concept.  I feel that I do not pay attention to what is happening outside of the United States and how it affects our nation and/or immigrants from to our nation.  I need to be more mindful of a global perspective in my personal life in order for it to transfer it to my teaching.

The world is changing and teaching is changing.  Critical teaching is vital to the futures of our students.  Students must learn how to evaluate, investigate, integrate, and synthesize the information that inundates their lives every waking moment.  After students learn this, they are able to recognize what is just and are able to take a stand for what is right.  Our students will someday have students and it is up to teachers to continue the cycle of critical teaching and learning so our students will be empowered to choose right from wrong and have a positive impact on every life they touch.



Michell, M. J. (2006). Teaching for critical literacy: an ongoing necessity to look deeper and beyond. English Journal, 96(2). 41-46


One response to “Thoughts on Critical Teaching

  1. Suzanne Standerford

    Hi Kara,

    Well said! Your eagerness to change the world through your teaching is evident; your passion is contagious. That will invite your students to have the same passions. I especially agree that you must form the strong community within which all are valued, cared for, and celebrated for your ideas to work well. You are definitely on the right track. Some of your frustration is that you want it to happen very quickly. It will take time, but hang in there. You are making a difference.


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