My Teaching Philosophy

Teach Like A CavemanI should start by clarifying that I would not and could not on my best (or worst) day even begin to tell you or anyone else how to teach.

I'm a big fan of trusting teachers to know what's best for their students in their reality in their subject. We absolutely must stretch ourselves as professionals, and push past our so-called "comfort zones," yes. Always. But at the other end of that reasoning is a contrasting but equally important truth – follow your gut. Listen to the experts, trust those you trust, think with your brain, but when it's time – trust yourself.

Except for about four of you. Everything you’ve done up until now is wrong and backwards and you’re ruining the future. You need to stop that nonsense and start doing stuff the way I tell you.

The Learning Happens In The Struggle

I totally stole this from Ayn Grubb of Tulsa Public Schools, but she never reads my stuff so she'll never know. Besides, teachers justify pretty much everything in the name of "IT'S FOR THE CHILDREN."

The Learning Happens In The Struggle

"Point A" is where students are when they come to us - what they know, what they can do, etc. Lest this visual seem overly simplistic, keep in mind that all 168 of your little darlings start at a different "Point A," so already there's a challenge to this whole "teaching" thing.

"Point B" is where you'd ideally like to get them by the time they walk out of your class at the end of the year - what they really need to know, should be able to do, and their mindset about your subject and learning and all that stuff. All of 'Point B' is important, even though well-intentioned equally idealistic people are going to suggest in sneaky ways that it's not. The content matters - our lil' darlings won't all just personal-journey-of-discovery it on their own. The skills matter as well, no matter how special and precious and unique and misunderstood Mummy thinks her baby might be. ("He's a kinetic learner. He doesn’t learn well by reading or listening or writing or thinking or watching – he has to make it out of macaroni or he won’t get it. Can you rewrite your entire curriculum for all students to be more pasta-driven so my little Bobo’s needs are being met?”)

But here's the thing...

That middle part, what we often refer to euphemistically as "the journey"? Yeah, that part matters a whole lotta lot as well, and it's the part we tend to shortchange. 

My best students come to me never having broken an academic sweat in their lives. School has never been difficult for them, and while they often fail to see any real value or purpose in any of it, they play the game and their teachers just LOVE them and they all have 104% in every class. The flip side of this is that the first time they're confused by a concept or struggle with an expectation, they panic and can see only two alternatives: either their teacher is unreasonable and/or insane and they can never pass because they’re being taught by a madman, OR – far worse – what if… OMG NO – what if they’re stupid after all!?! 

Neither of these is normally the case. 

Demotivation ChallengesIt's OK that it's hard. It's OK that you're confused. It's even OK if you fail from time to time - an idea we seem to worship when it's time to buy motivational posters but loathe when it's even hinted at in real life.

The students I've failed most unforgivably aren't just those who get an 'F' in my class but those who pass through without ever being stretched or challenged or forced to outdo themselves a little. Struggling and failing and recovering and refiguring and adjusting and attempting and moving forward until you crash and burn again... that's called 'learning'.

If they don't learn to risk, succeed, fail, get confused, feel frustrated, have epiphanies, rewind, triumph, etc., with ME when it's relatively SAFE and I love them and desperately WANT THEM TO MAKE IT, one of two things will happen: (1) They'll learn these lessons in much more painful ways later in high school, college, marriages, careers, parenting, etc., when the stakes are much higher and there's no tutoring in the library at lunch, or (2) They won't learn them, and their life will suck.  

The learning happens in the struggle. If there's no struggle, there's very little real learning. 

For those of you who are deeply invested in the whole 'grit' argument, keep in mind that students whose entire worlds are all about chaos and struggle and despair require a slightly different sort of assistance. If the comfortable kids need to be made uncomfortable, it is equally true that sometimes the best thing you can do for a child of dysfunction is provide a little security and predictability in their daily experience. And maybe some protein.

I realize that was a painful amount of hope and inspiration for some of you, but that's what you get with me - pandas and rainbows. I believe that children are the future. Teach them well and let them - well, you get the idea.

A Message from Your Kids' Teachers

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