Rant – stop saying that!

 

Well it is rant time:

This may well be my swan song; after this, no one may want to read my blog again (assuming anyone reads this one). I didn’t want to do it; I like being part of discussions online. I didn’t want to write this; but some of you other teachers are making me (might have been better as a number of posts but I need to get this all out now…might go back and develop these points later).

A lot of teachers (and experts) are tweeting to the effect of the following statements:

  1. Schools kill creativity
  2. Teachers shouldn’t provide content to their students because: A—only experts know enough and B—teachers lecture too much and are boring
  3. The curriculum isn’t relevant in student’s lives
  4. Kids know more about tech (are natives) and teachers will never catch up (immigrants -.might need a post of its own….racist?)
  5. Unless tech is used, you’re robbing your students of an education
  6. Kids don’t want to listen to teachers, they want to only find out by themselves
  7. Facts aren’t that important
  8. transmissive lessons don’t work

Taken as a whole, these kind of thoughts serve to undermine teachers and schools, but are they necessarily true?  Are teachers no longer relevent?  Are schools not longer useful?  I need to answer a resounding, “no.”  Teachers still make a difference and none of the above statemends are necessarily true…

It is true that each statement has at least some measure of truth; I know that they have been presented by me as a row of little straw men, but my point is this– if you believe these things are generally true of yourself or your teaching, maybe teaching isn’t for you – you might find another career more rewarding.

 If any of the above list is true of you, then change it! If you don’t think it is true of you or your class, then why do you presume that it is true of others or that in justifies a general statement of indictment?

  1. Does your class kill creativity? Then fix it! Embed opportunities for creativity in your class. It is easy! Teachers have been doing it for ever.
  2. If you don’t know enough to be a good source or are boring to listen to – fix it! Learn you subject matter…be an expert. I sometimes go in with notes; I research into the night; I get back to them if I need to. If you are boring to listen to, then take a public speaking course. People (even students) love to listen to interesting people who know what they are talking about. Go to Ted.com and prove it on yourself. You can be like that too.
  3. Make the curriculum relevant; teachers have always done that…you can too. Hamlet is about a procrastinating teenager having trouble with his step-father and girl-friend….how hard is that to draw a connection to?
  4. If kids know more about tech then you, then learn it! You were likely an adult when the Internet went public. You had all your faculties (give or take) and skills as it grew…you were there from the beginning. If you missed it, its not because you emigrated. Learn! My kids have only had 12-13 years with the Internet and for 3 of those years, they were wetting their beds. I have had access to the internet for almost 20 non-bed-wetting years. In truth, 2 of my current students can make my head hurt with their abilities; but with the rest, I help them…digital native doesn’t describe a generation and it could easily describe you too (Digital natives might have to be a subject of its own post…they grew up in a language rich environment too – do we still know more that they need to learn?  –this term seems to label teachers as inadequate…remember labelling theory?)
  5. Electronic technology is only one that you need to use with your students. You’re robbing your kids of an education if you don’t teach them the other technologies in their lives. Language, numbers, relationships, civics, law, etc. There is enough for good teachers to focus on for a couple of years and still be valuable…even if they only partially embed electronic technologies – lets not conclude that the only experiences we can create of value are digital ones.
  6. If your kids don’t want to listen to you, then fix your relationship with them. They listen to their friends face-to-face, parents (depending on their age), celebrity icons (even when they meet them face-to-face). If your relationship is broken and students don’t want to listen to you, then fix it or don’t be a teacher any more.
  7. Facts are important and route learning has a very important place in learning. Go learn a new language or some science and prove it to yourself. That is what your kids are doing. All ideas, opinions, arguments and such are reactions to facts. They can’t really have one of value without first knowing (not being able to find) a fact or group of facts. Without facts, anyone can convince them of anything. All that they will be left with is looking for internal inconsistencies. It is hard to know what is wrong, if you don’t know what is correct.
  8. Again, if you can transmit information to kids in a way that they like, engaged in, and learn by, then maybe teaching isn’t for you? Luckily it is easy to fix. Go watch any speaker or lecturer…figure out why they are interesting and then practice their techniques. Not too many kids want to waste time. How long and how much work will it take for them to discover the bell curve? Won’t they be mad it they know you knew it all along? It took the greatest artists in Europe a 100 years to perfect perspective in their work. Transmissive lessons are useful and essential.  If you can’t do them, then maybe you lack the skills to be a good teacher – if so, fix it!

I know that I went off point at times, so let me summarize. Teachers need to stop devaluing themselves and get their pride back – good teachers can be valued for their knowledge and ability to transmit / explain that content. Teachers have value. Schools are an essential institution. Route learning, transmissive instruction, and facts are all essential to your students. You can be a content provider, not just a coach to your students.

I know that people are going to jump all over this (or ignore it)…but really just ask yourself first….do schools and teachers have any value? Do you? Do other teachers? If you answer no to these questions, then why are you a teacher?

Now..hopefully, someone will “take me to school over this” and transmit their opinion for me to learn…

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  1. #1 by Stephen Hurley on May 9, 2011 - 9:42 pm

    Ok, Mr. Tucker (I’m sorry, I couldn’t find a reference to your first name), I’ll bite. In no way do I plan on “taking you to school” on your points or your position on them. There may be others who wish to do that, but I would prefer to work together to ensure that neither of our voices gets trounced on!

    I agree that we need to stop devaluing ourselves as teachers; there are plenty of other people waiting in the wings to do that on our behalf. At the same time, I think that it is a little simplistic to place the entire responsibility for the “problems” that you identified on the shoulders of individual teachers.

    You admit some truth in each of the statements you cited and, you’re right, they are framed in a way that makes them a little too easy to knock down. We can’t ignore the fact that the structures and infrastructures of school continue to have a great effect on the type of work that is possible.

    Take the creativity issue as an example. I wouldn’t state unequivocally that schools kill creativity. If that were totally true, our society would have no more artists, musicians, innovative thinking, etc. For me the question is, and it is best stated as a question, “Do schools actively support and nurture creativity?”

    I work in a school district that, in 1990, dismantled its entire elementary arts programming. Band programs were removed, visual arts programs undermined, industrial arts rooms closed. Now, some 20 years later, we’re struggling to get this spirit back into our schools. Not only have we lost the vast majority of our arts specialists to other districts, or to the secondary panel, but the arts are no longer valued from a systems perspective in the same way as they once were.

    That’s not to say that individual teachers are not doing the best to nurture an artistic sense in their students. Some are…some don’t know where to begin!

    The point is that we have lost the systemic support for the arts that we once had. I think that, in the process, we have lost a great deal of the support for creative, imaginative work.

    I’m not going to tackle each of your points here, but I may respond more fully on my own blogspace. I did want to say, however, that while I agree with the idea of personal responsibility, there are systemic things about school-based education that are in need of attention.

    I’ll stop now and look forward to participating in further discussion on these points.

    Stephen

    • #2 by Patrick Tucker on May 9, 2011 - 9:57 pm

      Thanks for your gentle response. I agree integrating the arts is difficult, but while having specialists is nice, it hardly seems any more insurmountable then approaching language or math or any other subject. Creativity needs imbedding in all subjects, and not just through the arts…

      Thanks for pointing out that there was no reference to my first name on the blog…I much prefer Patrick…and have edited my profile.

  2. #3 by Stephen Hurley on May 10, 2011 - 4:59 am

    Hi Patrick,

    With regard to creativity. While I agree that teachers can “be creative” in what they do: in the approaches they use, in the way that they assess students, in the types of work in which they have students engage, there is something unique about the arts. I believe that the arts are a set of languages that allow us to access, make sense of, and express our ideas about the world in ways that other curriculum areas cannot. It really isn’t about embedding creativity; it’s about nurturing creative approaches. I think that you can leverage the natural artistic sense that we all have to a degree, but in order to fully engage the creative sense in a person, a deeper knowledge of these languages is essential.

    For the past 15 years, I have noticed an erosion of the arts in our schools to the point where, in a typical schedule in our district, elementary students receive 80 minutes of explicit arts instruction per week: 20 minutes for music, 20 for visual arts, 20 for dance, and 20 for drama. Sure, integration is possible (and expected), but without appropriate background in these areas, this is difficult.

    But really, I was just using the arts as a way into your argument. It wasn’t your only point.

    My main point was that there are things about the way that schools are constructed, constituted and administered that prevent us from fully nurturing, engaging and challenging today’s students. It’s not a case of individual teachers “fixing” problems for which they have no real control.

    When Ken Robinson asks the question, “Do schools kill creativity?” he’s not suggesting that individual teachers kill creativity. In fact, I suspect that he would admit that, without the efforts of individual teachers, creativity would have been dead a long time ago!

    Another interesting point to which you refer is the use of technology. I would agree with you that it is possible for teachers not born in the digital age to learn what they need in order to effectively use technology in their own classrooms. I would also admit that teachers that have grown up alongside technology may use it effectively, but are not necessarily making use of it in their programs.

    Many schools in our district are still working under a computer lab model so that technology is a place to go on a Thursday morning. If you were to ask teachers that I know how technology is used by their students when they are in school, the response would likely be: web-surfing and word processing.

    There are some wonderful technology applications and possibilities out there but, again, I believe that the infrastructure in many districts doesn’t support innovation: cell phones and other personal devices are banned. Our teachers aren’t even allowed to bring in their own computers for use on the network (I get that, to a certain extent!) and web-based communication between students and teachers is met with cautionary warnings.

    Finally, for now, I think that your point #8 is interesting. It’s the one on one’s ability to transmit information. You state that if you’re unable to transmit information in an interesting and engaging way then, perhaps, a new career would be in order. Your advice to go watch people that do it well is valid. I’ve often “deconstructed” presentations that I’ve attended, asking myself questions about techniques used, etc.

    But education is not just about transmission. If it were, then I would suggest that we close all of our schools and give students unlimited access to the media resources that will always be able to do a much better job of this.

    Nope, I’m not going to buy that one. Sure, I think that we, ourselves need to be engaging and interesting, but that isn’t the core of good teaching, is it? Holding my students’ attention on me is not my goal. Holding my students’ attention on the world is. And this requires a whole new way of looking at, students, teachers, content and what happens in this place known as school!

    Again, I will stop and let others jump in with alternative perspectives, or better ways of exploring your points!

    stephen

    • #4 by Patrick Tucker on May 10, 2011 - 7:29 am

      Thanks for your terrific response. I thought that you raised a lot of great points and it was really good reading. I agree with many of your points, but I still am not sold on your overall conclusion. While I think the characteristics you present about your district are problems and are fairly wide spread, I don’t think that they are necessary elements of the school structure but rather problems within the structure that need to be addressed. While we are all strong advocates of learning and public education, I am a dedicated (if not strong) supporter of our school system as is – obviously allowing for evolution and change, but not overhaul.

    • #5 by Pro-logs on May 12, 2011 - 6:20 pm

      Hi Stephen,
      I agree with you that holding my student’s attention on the world is a valid, and appropriate response to our role as educators, I do not necessarily believe that our school systems provide us that opportunity, and I am not sure that it is simply because they do not provide technology as a constant within the structure of the daily classroom. Technology provides us opportunities to explore places and ideas that are unlike our own, but it is still an educator’s responsibility to make sense of the questions that come as a result of that exploration. Perhaps there should be parameters and cautionary limits to technology for classrooms simply because there is so much information out there that needs to be sifted through. It is our responsibility as educator’s to make sense of the world WITH our students, but sometimes being over-run with the “must-dos” of curriuculm lessens the importance of things like empathy, social justice, and empowerment which are often thrown into a program as “filler”. The question then does not become why is it that school systems are not on board with technology? but instead becomes, how ,. within the parameters I have to teach in, do I help my students understand that they are part of a global community?

  3. #6 by Stephen Hurley on May 10, 2011 - 8:53 am

    Fair enough. I think that this is an important conversation, and I hope that more gets added to it. It’s easy to gather with like-minded people and talk about things that you all agree with.

    But I appreciate the challenge to think more clearly about the fundamental questions raised by your post, and I look forward to other comments. I will wait to add anything more…

  4. #7 by Pro-logs on May 12, 2011 - 10:50 am

    perhaps one of the biggest problems with creativity in our schools is that we are so bombarded with the idea that we need to be creative all the time, it leaves little room for the actual creative arts. We are constantly asked to differentiate our teaching, to utilize new and interesting technologies, to critically question and analyze things, and to try to be everything to everyone in our classroom. Teachers these days are so bogged down with trying to make the simple tasks “creative”, that we completely missed it when we lost funding for the arts!
    I am a strong believer in the arts! Art, music, drama are important…no, essential aspects of our curriculum that, I fear, have been thrown to the wayside. It IS essential that we expose our students to them.
    Creative forms exsist in our classrooms, the use of technology, different assessment tools and assignments, media literacy. However, the simple art of creating pieces of music, performing in role and creating pieces of art tend to be throw away activities. How do we once again put the value in these essential forms of creativity?

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