Monday, December 31, 2007

Great Teachers

Walking through Barnes and Noble today, I came across Todd Whitaker's book What Great Teachers Do Differently. A title like that will always catch my eye. I am bent on becoming a great teacher, and yet, this year has been my least successful. Manhy of the strategies I have used in the past, with great effect, do not work. So, I thought, maybe I had been lucky the past four years.
Because I still practice the active reading skill of underling important ideas or ideas that I connect with, I will provide my first notes from the book (Chapters 1-4):

1. "Education is extremely complex, and so is classroom teaching."
--What bothers me most about education theory is that so much of it prattles on in simplistic terms. At Starbucks, there is little complexity. The cashier must politely take an order, write the appropriate terms on the cup, and handle money correctly. The barista needs to mix the coffee with the necessary ingredients and in a timely manner. Not much else is required.
In the classroom, the teacher must juggle 25 personalities at the same time while performing the administration's expectations, the district's expectations, the state's expecatations, and the federal government's expectations. In many places, we must do this with little funding, little internal motivation from the students, and little external motivation from the pay.

2. "Without great teachers, the school lacks the keystone of greatness."
--I could not agree more. I firmly believe that a successful school atmosphere is created by its teachers. But I cannot move away from the notion that for as important as great teachers are, the students must bring at least a modicum of desire to learn.

3. "It is never about programs; it is always about people....It is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school."
--Don't get me wrong, I don't think I am a great teacher; but I have had success in the past. One such example is when I taught READ 180 to low performing readers. Many disliked the canned program, but my little experience as a reading teacher caused me to fall in love with the program. I made it work and quickly became a "model" classroom. Other teachers using the same program were not having the success I was having. Why? A number of reason, but the one I believe is that I fit the program and the program fit me. That is why it worked in my classroom. I needed it and I believed it could work.

4. "Great teachers focus on expecations."
--My wife teaches fourth grade in the same low performing district that I teach in. She shared the following story:
I've been teaching the kids how to write a five paragraph essay. We've focused on writing one paragraph first, followed by a second that connects, and so on. My third graders [she taught at a private school outside of Seattle for six years] could learn this in a week, but these kids are struggling. When I asked the other fourth grade teacher if she knew of a good way to help these students, she said, "Oh, they can't do that."
We were both amazed at the idea that a colleague had such low expecations for her students. Now, don't get me wrong, there comes a time when we must be realistic. I have seniors in this district who cannot write a solid five paragraph essay. Sure, I believe they can learn how, the question is how do I convince them, after 12 years of low expectations, that it is important?

5. In describing great teachers..." They expect good behavior--and generally that's what they get."
--In the past, I would skip the word generally. When asked in my interview for my current school, how would I handle a behavior problem, I answered as honestly as I could; which was, I haven't really had to deal with many behavioral problems. My expecatations were clear from the start and I developed a healthy relationship with my students. The result, I had never referred a student to the office for anything other than major school infractions.
How could I have known that one of my students this year would call security on himself and then sprint out of the room. He had been disrupting the class, so I asked if maybe he would prefer to sit in I.S.S. today. He has asked me before to allow him to go to I.S.S. to work because he was having a bad day. And every time he did this, he actually did work. So, I thought it might be one of those days. But he freaked out, cussing me up and down and creating a scene. When I informed him that I wasn't going to play his game, and that I wasn't going to be his "out," he picked up my phone and called security. Out my door he went saying, "They can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man."


At 5:05 PM , Blogger Sheryl-lyn said...

I am a teacher who just found your blog by accident. While I chuckled at many of your comments, the truth in them is very telling and in general true about this very interesting and challenging time of educational "reform" which is a misnomer by itself, huh? Happy New Year!

At 5:01 PM , Anonymous Joe said...

I haven't read the book, so I have no idea how Mr. Whitaker decided on what makes a great teacher. To me, that is the interesting question. Is greatness measured by how much information kids remember? (What if the information is partial, slanted or just plain wrong?) Is it measured by how much the kids like said teacher? (What if he/she is liked because he/she is "easy," or "gives no work," or "is funny?") Is it measured in test results (don't get me started)? Is it measured in parent opinions, administrator opinions, colleague opinions, his/her opinion of him/herself? What about the opinions of the kids he/she has made mistakes with, hurt, failed (I don't mean failed academically, I mean professionally)?

I would have much preferred the author to have chosen a different adjective: "effective;" "beloved;" "respected" (that would be my choice); "popular"; "award-winning;" or "long-lasting."

In any case I like the quotes you chose and your comments on them. I look forward to your further thoughts on the book.

At 9:02 PM , Blogger Jen said...

Wanted to share this interesting definition of what makes teaching difficult, from a knitting blog called "Panopticon". I share it because it is more direct than most education theory, makes me laugh, and signifies the intersection of my two great passions: teaching and knitting. Here's the quote:
"the job seems to require the sort of skills one would need to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no brakes, down a rocky road through the Andes while simultaneously providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery." Franklin is speaking not as a teacher, but as a brother who got the chance to observe the high school class his sister teaches.

At 7:01 PM , Anonymous eoa said...

Great teachers have attributes basicall common to every great teacher -this, may inspire teachers:

At 7:56 PM , Anonymous vicodin 5 500 mg dosage said...

it make me remember my old teacher .. he is so generous :-)

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