Longtime Educator Says U.S. Education Guilty of Majoring in the Minors
A need to emphasize the basics of English while supporting emotional growth
Part One of a Two-Part Interview
Jim Britt’s teaching career has spanned several decades and, through it all, one constant has been teaching at a detention facility in Austin, Texas. Over the past 27 years, Jim has witnessed far too many kids suffering from underexposure to learning language concepts because of difficulties they face in life. In fact, he says many of them told him being in lockup was the first time they had read through an entire book. They represent intelligent people who have missed out on educational opportunities.
Jim is an experienced English language learner (ELL) trainer and realized the same techniques used to teach English to ELL students could be applied to native speakers who were struggling because of an underexposure to proper schooling. Some tools and techniques are fundamental to learning, and Jim thinks in the U.S., we are ignoring those fundamentals far too often.
He calls this problem “majoring in the minors,” where education is focusing on test scores and not teaching basics, like diagramming sentences. He also thinks we often ignore the social and emotional needs of our kids in school.
“The key is to focus on the individual learner,” he says. “That’s one of the things that I learned from the detention center. While students might have similar gaps in their learning, they all have the same kind of emotional gap that they’ve experienced. And if we can fill in the social and emotional piece as well as the learning piece, I think we’ll set them on a path that’s going to help them truly develop to their potential. If we just try to teach them the grammar piece without the social and emotional impact that comes with feeling like you belong somewhere, then, it’s just going to be really tough.”
About Jim Britt
Jim Britt graduated from the University of Texas at Austin earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in English Education. His first teaching job was with the New South Wales Department of Education working at a combined high school and middle school in Caringbah, a southern suburb of Sydney. Upon his return to the United States, he took a job with the Austin Independent School District as one of the original faculty at the District’s first alternative school, W.R. Robbins, where he taught English to both middle and high school students for a decade.
His final teaching position was also with Austin ISD serving as the Lead Teacher as well as teaching English and social studies at the Travis County Juvenile Detention Center for 27 years. He retired from there in February 2017. Jim is currently an academic advisor to Sentence Analytics.
He enjoys travel, opera, food and wine, and the company of his many good friends. And he is grateful for the time to read and reflect on educational practices and contribute to helping students of all ages become lifelong learners.
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It is acknowledged that Dr. Rod Berger serves as a strategic advisor to Sentence Analytics