Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, March 22, 2010

Teaching Students to Listen .... and THINK

In the past few years, I have had the opportunity to visit dozens of classrooms in several cities, including those in urban charter schools and many with new teachers.  Several of the schools follow an approach similar to the one outlined in The New York Times article I have mentioned previously: what I would term a focus on "the art of classroom management."  

The "star" teachers often have that distinctive style advocated by Doug Lemov: a quick pace, a set of extremely obedient students, and in the best cases, a sense of respect for one another and even excitement about being in school. There is, in these classrooms, little time wasted on transitions and well-developed routines help maximize the time spent on what is assumed to be student learning (that is, "the material"). Sometimes it is fun to be there: the kids have the routines down, the teacher really loves the kids, and it all just flows naturally.

I do not underestimate the importance of this, believe me. All the great theories of learning in the world are useless if the kids are throwing spitballs (or burning pieces of paper in the back of the room, as used to happen in my building).

The problem that I have observed is that in many of these schools, great classroom management is mistaken for great teaching, when in fact, it is simply a prerequisite.  There are so many classrooms where the teacher has everything under control, and the kids are focused, but they are just working on worksheet after worksheet, or repeating phrases that the teacher is telling them ("Evaporation is the process by which a liquid becomes a vapor"), with the naive belief that this actually means something to the students.  Maybe they even play a game of bingo to remember that phrase, but no one seems to realize that the children do not know what it really means. There is often no opportunity for the students to wrestle with ideas, solve problems, or even just think about the material in a meaningful way. Isn't this what the heart of teaching and learning is supposed to be??

So while I heartily applaud the efforts of Lemov and others to develop a common language around the art of classroom management (just as I think Teach for America is right in helping new teachers go into the classroom better prepared to create orderly and respectful environments for learning), I am more than ready for the next, more difficult step: creating classrooms in which students are expected to THINK.

Don't get me wrong -- it is being done, and I have had the opportunity to see handfuls of classrooms where this kind of genuine, difficult learning is happening. It is not an either/or thing, but it does require a serious focus on three focal points: respect for the importance of classroom management, an understanding of what learning actually looks like, and what evidence we need to examine to see whether children are actually learning (Hint: it's not a Scantron or standardized test, either).

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