Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Teachers Learn Some Bad Ideas in Teacher School

      As an educator, I have learned a great deal from many sources.  Indeed, it has been a lifelong journey in on the job training, courses, studying, sharing, collaborating and more.   
First and foremost, I have learned so much from my students.  In my 23 years, I have been emotionally, spiritually and intellectually inspired, challenged and motivated by the lessons that my students provided.  Whether it was from that first Journalism or English 10 class in 1990 or from the iPad-slinging freshman from the class of 2017, I learn from students everyday.

I have also learned from colleagues continuously.  Educators are a tremendous resource as long as they share with one another, collaborate with one another and keep an open mind.  They are the people who test potentially life-changing ideas everyday with students.  Thankfully, my first principal taught me how to say “yes” instead of “no.”  And I appreciate that my high school English teacher and mentor insured me that I would never find something better in life than working with students or educators.
         Finally, my first grade teacher was right.  If I keep reading, I keep learning.  It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s hard to replace reading.  And you know, this includes all reading.  That’s right.  Personally, I don’t care if one reads fiction, non-fiction, journals, news, academic publications, social media and/or other.  To me, we all know that reading is the ultimate personal journey of ourselves interacting with the thoughts, ideas and world views of others.  Regardless of the source or written vision, it’s all good for us.  It stretches us and keeps our brain fresh.  Learning is always available if we take advantage of all the voices out their sharing.  To me, the Internet has only expanded both the writing and reading opportunities for us all.
         Now, where did learning miss the boat for me or many others as we entered the world of teaching and education?  Well, some of it was teacher classes or teacher education.  Now, I actually had a pretty good experience because my teacher education was a lab approach where we were actually teaching and learning from one another’s mistakes, successes and tribulations.
       But most teachers are taught some very misguided standard and mainstream teacher mantras or guidelines.  And whether it’s from their teacher ed. programs or from those teachers that anoint themselves the experts, these standards mantras are all wrong and very damaging. 
        Here are the myths, the truths according to me and all the associated glory:

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 1

* Don’t be too nice in the beginning with your classes…they won’t respect you.  You need to be mean, really hard and can only back off once you have them fearing you. 
This is ridiculous.  We actually have told teachers over and over to be mean to their students.  We somehow convinced them and others that this would make them an effective teacher.  Instead of focusing on relationship building, engagement or other, we had them start off by scaring and disconnecting with students.  I can’t imagine how much damage this has done.  I bet there are many students who never realized their educational potential because this is how each school year started for them.

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 2

* Don’t smile until Thanksgiving or even Xmas.
      This is actually a continuation of the first one.  Essentially, it was about not being nice, or weak in one’s eyes, and being mean, or strong, in one’s eyes.  Again, doesn’t this just seem ridiculous?  Wow….there might not be anything more personal, emotional or sensitive than a student-teacher relationship.  So, instead of getting new teachers to grow and foster that, we taught them to discourage or even destroy that from day one.  

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 3

* Don’t be friends with your students.  They are not your friends.  They are your students.
      Again, this is an extension of the first two and operates under the myth that students will only respect you if you keep a distance.  I think good teachers struggled with this always.  Indeed, the opposite is true.  Not only should we be friends with our students, we should embrace them as family.  Teaching is about creating a supportive and encouraging environment.  We need to lower that affective filter.  This is done by reaching out to students and letting them know you care about them and will do anything in your power to help them succeed.  All good or great teachers I’ve ever met refer to students as “their children” or “their kids.”  They mean this.  They realized from minute one that they had to care about them as their own in order to maximize their learning.

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 4

* Let the textbook be your guide…
      Whether this was intended to be literal or not, many veterans operated this way and many beginning teachers followed suit.  Actually, I think most good, or great teachers, knew from day one that there was always something more than the basic or standard curriculum.  They inherently knew that the world always had so much to offer their students and that their role as a teacher was to bring all of the great and varied resources of the world to their students.  There are many ways to slice this.  But in the end, it comes down to teachers who were there for the minimum vs. those who knew it was something more. 

       My blogs are eternally dedicated to starting or continuing a conversation.  So, with that in mind, I am aware that there are many more bad beginning teacher myths or other standard educational traditions that are flawed.  Feel free to always add to the fray.

1 comment:

  1. I have always thought the 'Don't smile/don't be friendly 'til Christmas' advice was ridiculous. In addition to the important academic work we do in schools, the interpersonal skills we teach--and model--are vital for students to develop as they are standing on the precipice of the world of college or work. Who on earth would advise a new employee to be stand-offish and unapproachable for the first three months of employment? Why on earth would we want to model that behavior for our students? Yes, I know that these two scenarios illustrate opposite sides of the 'power hierarchy' (teacher/student, employee/employer), but nonetheless, regardless of which side of the hierarchy one falls on, learning--and teaching--responsive, respectful, engaging, and approachable interpersonal skills is AT LEAST as important as the academics we seek to share with our students.