Powerful Talk by @profteacher

So I want to a session led by @profteacher today at 4:30pm. I gave a big shoutout to him on July 11th. He’s a university professor who used his sabbatical year to teach high school math in a public (urban) high school. If you didn’t check it out then, check it out now.

This was one of those emotional talks for me to listen to. And I’m not an emotional person (unless Oprah is on). It was about being a first year teacher. The defeat and the joys and simple observations. I say “talk” but it actually became a rich and compelling conversation among, I don’t know, 30 or 40 dedicated teachers — all at different levels of teaching. It was raw and honest. It wasn’t defeatest or idealist. It was real.

There were two points that were made, that sound like sound bytes. And usually, I’d just brush them off as general platitudes or something. But I know and trust these people, and in this context, these points were deep and rich and I think I’ll probably treasure them.

1. “Teaching is the connsumate act of faith — faith in what you do.” One participant said this, an experienced teacher who talked about how the emotional part of teaching evolves, and after a number of years, she started really believing in this. She continued to say that you won’t be there when a kid gets a college acceptance. You just won’t know how and with whom you made an impact. (In fact, the student might not even be able to recognize it.) That’s where faith comes in. Faith that what we do matters.

2. The presenter said his one big take away from this first year: you need to have students know and feel that they can be successful. The lessons don’t have to be exciting — they can be routine and boring. “Factoring worksheets!” he said, “they will start tearing through them because they know they can be successful.” His discipline problems disappeared when he discovered this. How to do that? Developing lessons through careful crafting and scaffolding just enough — so that students are going through “productive frustration” — where the next step is just within reach. Again, just words. Words I would ignore, if the presenter hadn’t just developed and delivered a curriculum to me for 3 weeks which embodied everything he said. Scaffolded. Carefully crafted. And there was … everyday … engaged, productive frustration.

I’ll write more about that later. But I just needed to jot these two points down in the spare 10 minutes I had before dinner.

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5 comments

  1. So, Sam, did anyone say what happens when you lose that faith?

    People still tell me that they think I’m a good teacher, although I think it’s less and less true as time goes on. I no longer know why I do this job. I haven’t given up yet, as witnessed by the fact that I still have things like your blog in my feed reader.

    I’ve been at this career for 20+ years. On some level, I still think I’m probably better in my position than some random person who might be hired to take my place if I left — I have no doubt that I’m basically competent, and not everyone is — but that doesn’t make it much easier to keep going. Did anyone address how to get back to feeling like what you do matters when you’ve lost the faith?

    1. @D.I.G.-
      This actually didn’t come up. And as you can imagine, I am not nearly experienced enough to have anything useful to say about this. However, I have enlisted the help of the person who made the comment about faith, and she will try to write something which I will post here which will address this.

      @Everyone-
      If you know anyone in D.I.G.’s position, or have been in this position, and have some thoughts you’d like to share, please please throw them below. I suspect this is not uncommon.

  2. Some lessons, please on how to encourage students who, for 10 years prior to coming into your classroom, have been beat down and told they aren’t doing well. It is hard, hard work, I found in the 18 years I had sophomores who had never been in a classroom where the teacher expected excellence at all times.

    1. @D.I.G. – That’s a great question I have no idea how to answer with only 7 years of experience. This was a rough year for me, and there were three things that really helped me get re-invigorated this year. 1) I mentored a new teacher. 2) I shared my room with an amazing 2nd year science teacher – the combination of his enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and watching someone out of my content area (history) was great. 3) I went to a few conferences where I met lots of great teachers who gave me new ideas to use.

      @dkzody – No easy answer, but I found that students who have never experienced high expectations have also rarely experienced being told they can meet expectations. It’s really hard and takes a long time, but I’ve found that when students know you’re not going to give up on them and that you really believe they can do more, they raise their game.

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