A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, February 18, 2013

Where is Superman?

Thanks to dad for sending me the following link: Winning Words After School Program.
It's worth taking another look at Mortimer Adler's The Paideia Proposal, since Adler's educational philosophy is behind the teaching described in the article above. This proposal remains on my reading list, but I have had difficulty finding the motivation to focus on it, because I have more immediate concerns closer to home.

A facility with the mechanics of classroom management, as opposed to a propensity to teach habits of mind in the tradition of Cardinal Newman, i.e., the classical tradition, is the primary lens by which new teachers seem to be evaluated in my experience. Therefore, teachers who are thinkers, in my view, are undervalued, unappreciated, and many are probably driven out of education before they can secure a toehold and gain the practical experience needed to become master classroom managers. Students may not immediately respond to a teacher who is a thinker, who might teach "over the heads" of his or her students, especially an inexperienced teacher, overwhelmed by too many meetings, too much observation pressure, and too many problem behaviors. For late bloomers like myself, it has taken years of failure and reflection to learn what does not work with students and upgrade my classroom management practices.

Last night, I stayed up past midnight watching Waiting for Superman, in which one leader of the charter school movement described how lousy he was as a teacher for the first two years. I can relate. Lately, everywhere I go, other teachers have been noticing my expertise in classroom management, a set of skills that I have been trying to master for 10 years. While I lack the patience to implement Chris Biffle's Whole Brain Teaching Methods, when I prompt students to tug on their ears, or rub their belly, or pat on their knees if they want to respond, there is method in my madness -- I am copying elements of Whole Brain Teaching that are easy for me to implement. In calling for an unusually high number of student responses, I am able to grab and hold student attention long enough to utilize my talent for humorous lesson delivery. After 10 years in education, I have become a master at linking to prior knowledge, writing, explaining, and reinforcing the instructional focus in kid friendly language, pacing activities for maximum learner engagement and differentiation, providing wait time so that students have time to process, and pausing periodically at key moments of a lesson to stimulate reflection and lesson closure. And I'm nearly "broke."

The generally accepted view is that a teacher makes all the difference, and to a large degree, I totally embrace that responsibility. Recently, I subbed for a 4th grade class and came away totally convinced that Chris's class would easily have been a total disaster under the guidance of a less masterful teacher. Chris's class had the best eye contact and firm and friendly handshake at the door I have ever encountered. Chris even took the time to leave his meeting to explain to his class the need for empathy when students "purchased" student created books with their "Dillon Dollars," prompted students to reflect on how they would feel if nobody "purchased their book." He left as little as possible to chance. That is purposive teaching! I wonder how long it will be before Chris burns himself out ...

Despite being, perhaps, the most effective teacher I have ever observed, Chris's 4th grade students did not immediately know the meaning of "agriculture," which was problematic, as this highly diverse population of students was being asked to reflect on the western and southern migration of Virginians after the American Revolution, which had been fueled, to a large degree, by a desperate need for lands, caused by adverse effects of tobacco farming on the soil. Young students, who often fear how others will perceive them if others know they do not know an answer, often neglect the deep questioning process described in the article my dad sent me. Given excellent teaching materials, such as an interactive notebook that is probably used county wide, given my teaching experience, I was able to teach in a highly effective, highly engaging manner, and prompt for deep questioning, so I have a high degree of confidence that what I taught will stick. Given lousy teaching materials, given my inexperience, and given a similarly difficult population when I taught a 4th grade class inn my last full time teaching position, I wasn't nearly as effective or engaging, although I did have a few 600 scores on the Social Studies SOL, so I must have done something right.

The next few months represents my final push for a teaching position, as I suspect that Principals have classified me as one of the "lemons" to be avoided, as described in Waiting for Superman in the section entitled, "the dance of the lemons." Shortly, I will resubmit my application to various jurisdictions after rewriting key elements to address the matter of my teaching experience, and the lemon perception head on. The two principals who sponsored my Cohort stressed the importance of "being real" when I interview. Being real is something I have struggled with over the past 10 years; I have always started by explaining how difficult it has been, because that is being real, but I have had difficulty getting past the negative state such thoughts tend to engender.

I'm late to the gym, and late to my errands at Kohl's, where I need new tennis shoes, and Walmart, where I need to purchase fishing gear, consistent with an effort to bond with Joe later this Spring, and placate my wife Karen. I spent the first part of my morning arguing with Joe about the need to show up to his baseball tryouts dressed professionally, as Coach Chuck Hoyle, Joe's hitting coach had instructed him to do. Joe didn't refused to wear his baseball pats, he refused to wear his baseball hat, all because he feared how others would perceive him if he was the only one wearing pants and a baseball hat, but I was able to persuade him to bring his pants and hat, just in case. When we arrived at the field, the first thing I noticed was that everyone was wearing baseball hats and baseball pants, so I pulled away and demanded that Joe put on his baseball pants. Although he changed his pants, he adamantly refused to wear his hat. When I picked him up, Joe acknowledged that only one "donk" had shown up without baseball pants and a hat; he even reflected that it would have helped to have worn his cleats, and acknowledged, "I get the point."

Similarly, in the classroom, students typically do not know and do not know they do do not know, so conflict between the adults in the room and students is inevitable. During my last full-time position as a 4th grade teacher, my AP, Julie, suggested that I yell at my students if they continued to act up, so I told her I would try that approach, "Couldn't hurt!". Later, after somebody complained that I had raised my voice when addressing my students, she pulled me into her office. As she was dressing me down, Julie sighed and exclaimed, "I knew you were going to bring that up ..." From that point forward, I determined to never again stray from my core principles.