Can we agree to end the teacher wars? I am a huge proponent of using social media as an educator who has been inspired by so many around the world. However, Twitter only gives us so many characters and this can lead to overstatements, misunderstandings, and even sadness. Feel free to disagree with me – but this has been on my mind a lot lately. I see many posts stating an absolutist stance on a topic – one that can unintentionally make others feel angry, disillusioned, frustrated, or ready to throw in the towel.
Worksheets = bad, boring, uninspired
Lecture = bad, boring
Technology = perfection – has to be infused in EVERY lesson
No teacher desk = only way to set up a classroom
Paperless classroom – ONLY way to go – don’t you love the environment? Paper is so 2008.
Project Based Learning, guide on the side/not the sage on the stage = only way to teach because it is authentic and is a complete representation of the current world and workplace.
Students need to want to come to your class every day or you aren’t interesting/engaging/fun enough
Students must never use the textbook = evil! (Instead, they should only read comics and graphic novels – lol!)
Homework = waste of time, stress on students.
Etc, etc, etc.
I think everything has its place – I am not against any of the above practices/ideas, but feel that we need a varied approach.
So much can be done with a “worksheet” – empowering questions, deep thinking, and analysis are but a few. Same can be said for the dreaded guided reading packet – yikes! It all comes down to this – what are you putting into those worksheets and packets? Are they engaging and encourage deeper level thinking? Do they give students pause and a chance to reflect with specific textual evidence? Can they form opinions based on evidence? However, we also need some lower level questions as well – there is a place for them in our teaching as we learn. I have had some amazing experiences in my classroom that came from “just” a worksheet.
Lecture I LOVE listening to engaging lectures – isn’t that why Ted Talks are all the rage? I loved it when history professors would just go off on a topic and tell the most amazing and personal stories of historical actors. Funny thing is – my students love my lectures as well – perhaps it is just the name. Lecture. Perhaps we should call it presentation, or personally guided engaging chat. However – lecturing all day every day is certainly not in the best interest of anyone. We also need to turn the mic over to students as well – let them lecture.
Technology – I am lucky enough to work in a one to one laptop district, let me put this up front. If you don’t have access to tech – it is not your fault, you are not doing any damage to your students, and they will be able to find gainful employment in the 21st century world. Even with all of the access to tech, there are days when I will not allow students to bring out a device – there are many instances when the students tell me how much they need a break from all the screen time. That they want to talk with their table partners, not interact via an online discussion. However – technology also allows us to interact with classrooms around the world, to virtually visit museums, discuss with authors, share our learning with the world, etc. Again – everything has its place. I will say this – I sent a survey out to dozens of universities and asked History Professors to share their experiences with students and their preparation for higher education. Just about all responded that their students do not have a dearth of technological skills – but that they are weakest in writing a cohesive and analytical argument. The second most mentioned need was a basic background knowledge so that they can readily interact and contribute in class discussions. This is the core of learning and will remain so, not matter the century.
No teacher desk. This wouldn’t work for me – need a place to grade my 120 research papers, essays, etc throughout the year. But it is not a wall between my students and I – nor should it be. Whenever I chat with my students, I am never behind my desk, but in the classroom. I do not lecture from my desk. I have a wireless doohickey that allows me to present PowerPoints or other smartboard material as I walk around the room – never standing just in front. Just because there is a desk in my room, does not mean that I sit there all day. That being said – I have tables in my room, reading chairs and a reading nook, a small rug to lounge on, etc – I like having the flexibility and warmth in my room – it is a home. I am there every day – I also want to feel at home. I do not like walking into rooms with bare cinderblock walls – so depressing. I have up posters, comics, student work, etc – and I change these throughout the year.
Paperless classroom – I personally do not see the value in getting rid of everything on paper. In addition to being a social studies teacher, I am also a reading specialist who believes that we are all teachers of reading. There are so many studies that tell us – pen to paper makes connections. Students must interact with the text and, yes, this can be done on the computer. However, in my experience, most students enjoy the tactile feel of paper and even the ease of flipping through the pages. My students annotate (or close read – whatever jargon we are calling it today) when they read. They make connections. They draw. It is much easier to do this on paper – they tell me this to be true. We are also currently reading two different comics to learn about the civil rights movements. One is online (the Montgomery Story) and the other is a paper format – March. The students are already reflecting that they like the ability to read the paper text better – they have sticky notes and will often show the book to others in the class as they are reading, to point out different panels and discuss. This is obviously much harder to do while reading on a laptop or other device. That being said – I would not have even been able to offer the Montgomery Story unless it was free and online. We were also able to find versions of it in Spanish, Arabic, and Farsi – none of this is available without the technology.
Project Based Learning – again – it is a great tool to use – but not all the time. There are appropriate times when you do need to be the sage on the stage – it is why you are in the classroom. You have experience. You have years of reading and learning. There are times when the students need to do what they need to do – not everything in life is a choice. There are books that they need to read. There are periods of history they need to learn specific things about. However, there are awesome and engaging projects that we can do and through which I learn a lot! For instance – I am teaching World History for the first time this year – I am more used to Euro. I had a legitimate question – what was the role of non-Western peoples in WWI? I presented this question to my students and turned them loose – no rubric, no minimum number of slides, etc. As they researched, so did I. We all presented and we all learned. I am never afraid to tell students when I don’t know – I am not that sort of sage on the stage. I also allow my students to choose their research topics for their papers – yes, there are guidelines, a rubric, etc – but they choose the topic which I then need to approve. This eliminates the 100 papers on the beginning of WWII and allow me to learn along with the students.
Comic Books – I do not teach with comic books every day and in every lesson. As much as I love them – they are but one tool in my arsenal. There are some students who will NEVER enjoy reading a comic and will never understand my love for them. But there are others who can be reached in powerful and engaging ways. I hated reading Anna Karenina in high school, but I read it and I, begrudgingly, learned a thing or two from the experience. My point is this – I am guilty of sharing out on social media my successes – but not my failures. But believe me, I fall on my face. A lot. But I give myself the permission to fail (as long as I am not being observed – lol). Some days, I have an amazing lesson and I delivered it in the most amazing way – but the kids were off. Or they were not into the topic as much as I – and that’s ok. We learn, improve, and move on. If you don’t see the value in using comics as a way to create analytical readers and writers, that’s ok. I will disagree with you. But I will not judge you.
Homework – I am going to weigh in here as a parent to three children. I love that they bring schoolwork home and we can sit and review the day with them. It is an important window into their worlds and allows me to also give them my own personal insight. We do need to pay attention to what and how much we assign, true. I also volunteer after school in a grass roots program that we began to help our underprivileged students. They come from situations at home that may not be conducive to completing homework – for many reasons. So I also understand that part of the argument as well – that, for some, homework simply will not get done. On this topic, I cannot come down definitively on either side. However, I will not judge a fellow educator as unkind or uncaring because he or she assigns homework. Nor will I think that teacher is too easy or non-rigorous because he/she does not assign homework.
When we see social media giants tweeting out about these great ideas – that’s awesome. I have learned so much by so many wonderful educators from around the world. But there is only a limited amount of characters in a tweet. Nothing can be absolute in education. Take it easy on yourself. Breathe. Do you. Be you. Find success and share it with all of us. Just be open-minded. I hope, that should we have an actual face to face dialogue, that we will share our imperfections and that we really do use many tools. Just because someone has 50,000 followers doesn’t make them any better or worse than you or I. If you only have one Twitter follower, but have managed to inspire him/her – be happy. Your job here is done.
I remember, following the birth of my first child, all of the advice that was given to us – some helpful, most not. My daughter had some issues that made her inconsolable and a truly challenging child. So many told us that we just to do to ______________ or __________ and everything would be fine. Many judged us as parents – and not in a kind way. No one knew what we were going through. Much of this continues to this day – as does a lot of these types of issues for parents. Be kind. Do what works for you, your students, and your children.
(I hope I have not left a bad taste in anyone’s mouth after reading this – my intention was to show how we all learn from one another. There is so much more to say – but, even in a blog post, only limited time and space to do so. Feel free to comment below.)