The newer new thing to do/act/think about on your spare time

Hey John, Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to give your friend a writing prompt. Seriously, the first few days have been buzzing with excitement. I’m particularly impressed with my students’ ability to use the proofs we’ve developed for some laws of exponents and apply them to problems we haven’t yet discussed. […]

Hey John,

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to give your friend a writing prompt.

Seriously, the first few days have been buzzing with excitement. I’m particularly impressed with my students’ ability to use the proofs we’ve developed for some laws of exponents and apply them to problems we haven’t yet discussed.

But, along with a new school year comes new initiatives. Every teacher goes through this. Arthur Goldstein writes in Schoolbook:

“Thank you all for coming. It’s great to see you all energized and ready for another school year. Personally, I just can’t wait to get started,” the person will say.

“We have this Thing. You must do this Thing. This is the only Thing that works. We will observe you and pay very close attention to whether or not you do it, because you can’t possibly teach unless you do it every single day without exception. But don’t worry, because it’s the best. After we tell you about it, you’ll break into groups, try it, and report back to us.”

Experienced teachers often disappoint presenters by failing to get sufficiently excited. They ask disrespectful questions, like what happened to last year’s Thing? They are invariably told it’s out. It’s not the Thing anymore.”

It might be the best description of the first week of faculty meetings for schools nationwide. The Common Core State Standards (and multiple intelligences, the workshop model, and the host of other initiatives I’ve seen) have brought along their own set of pseudo-experts coming in to tell teachers what to teach, how to teach, and, inevitably why.

The last one is particularly insulting because I’d wager most educators know why they’re in their profession, but one of the first rallying speeches always alludes to a talking point used by another expert out there. “We have failed our kids …” and “We keep doing kids a disservice for as long as we have …” doesn’t inspire, much to the dismay of people from the outside. If anything, it discourages because it assumes that those of us who, under the guidance of the former supervisors did these things, didn’t have the best intention when we tried to teach.

That’s another reason why I keep advocating (as Center for Teaching Quality does) for teacher-based solutions.

What I mean is simple (but not easy): having teachers actually research and test out best practices for the classroom, continuously reflecting and retooling their methods, and teaching accordingly. One of the best math teachers I ever worked with always used to say that, no matter how great a year went, she would toss out all the lesson plans because, if she’s using the same ones, she can easily fall into the trap of not thinking about the lessons she’s teaching.

While I’m sure most of that was hyperbole, the message remains the same. Effective teachers think and rethink their days, sometimes right on the spot. We plan and adjust, move with the winds, bob and weave. But if the reforms are teacher-based, they often feel more like a natural process than another forced-upon task to complete. That’s why, for instance, I’ve given some props to my district’s professional development with some of its schools around pedagogy and task creation: the pieces don’t come from on high, but from teachers’ own prompts, vetted by students.

Good administrators secretly believe this. On any level.

The new thing for the year will constantly come in, no matter what that thing is, but now it’s time to solidify, strengthen, and lay permanent the idea of teacher expertise. We can do it. And keep it for years on end.

Related categories: