Barry Schwartz has enlightened me to the side I have unknowingly been fighting on in the war on wisdom. I have had strict rules and procedures that usually allow my classes to run smoothly. I incentivize behaviors that get my kids thinking and talking about science with a great amount of rewards. These rules and procedures save me from thinking and exhausting even more my reserves for decision making throughout each day. Yet, each and every day, I find myself playing the same role that Schwartz says in his talk that the police, paramedics, doctors, social workers, and judges all played, the role of victim to rules with the all too often spoken script: “I hate to do it, but those are the rules.”
I hated to give a student a warning for just getting out of their seat to pick up a pencil for a friend. I’m was not doing myself any good, nor was I doing good for the student. Because in fact I am degrading their moral skill and reprimanding a good action from one person to another. I would not be doing myself any good either for several reasons: 1) it pains me to do it, therefore in trying to avoid thinking and decision making and brain function, I have in fact created more burden of thought by not following my heart and instinct to accept and reward moral right. 2) I would not be respecting myself or my values. 3) I would not be modeling and promoting behavior that I would want to see in my students, I would be in fact doing just the opposite!
The model of hard and fast rules, procedures, consequences, and extrinsic rewards is just as Schwartz describes it, that rules “may make things better in the short run, but create a downward spiral that leaves it worse in the long run.” Because, he goes on, “moral skill is chipped away by an overrelience on rules” that deprives us the opportunity to be flexible.
This sheds light on why the first year might be a terrible experience, yet manageable, for most teachers, and the second year is a much less terrible experience, and even sometimes enjoyable one, because in the second year we have had an opportunity to question and reformulate our ability to be flexible of our rules in our classrooms. We are no longer in a state of survival mode, unable to make the downhill spiral of death stop until June 1st. In the second year, we must realize, consciously or non that moral skill must be taught in our classrooms. I think when the second year teachers, say, “I’m going to be better this year.” or “I’m going to be more like myself this year.” what they are trying to say is that following the rules for the rules sake is not them and never was, but what they are, are flexible morally right teachers who want to inspire students to simply do the right thing. Maybe I am generalizing and attributing my feelings to others, but I would hope this is the thought process in some.
I resolve to embody moral right. I resolve to respect myself, others, and learning. I resolve to model this, myself, to my students, each day so that I am at least one figure in their lives that they can look up to as an exemplar of an ordinary moral hero.
Barry Schwartz - “Our Loss of Wisdom”:
Finally here. These last three weeks have been amazing at MTC summer school round 2. I remember why I’m here and why I want to be a teacher and educate. They have made me realize just how much I have grown AND that I haven’t stopped. The first years were an inspiration to the days of old-their bright eyes and insightful comments brought back to me that fresh take I had a year ago stepping foot onto Mississippi. The second years have been like family: supportive, fun, annoying at times, and full of love. The team teachers have shown me that even with the confidence and composure I may project in the halls and the classroom, I still lack those lightning fast reflexes and the god-like forethought to craft a perfect lesson.
As I lesson planned for new days, slightly similar topics this time around, I looked back at my first lessons and laughed at just how awful the students must have thought I was. I see so many similarities between myself and the first years in how I crafted my lessons and how I projected my teacher presence a year ago. They fall into the same traps the kids lure them into; they don’t plan thoroughly and overly; they have no idea of time management; they talk way too much; they don’t know how to talk with kids; they don’t know how to get 100% of the class on task; they don’t, they don’t, they don’t. They do, however, know how to ask for help (at this point), take feedback constructively, and try to implement advice in their subsequent lessons. They, as a whole, are excited and willing to be here, doing this. No matter the criticism, that to me means a lot.
This summer school has also inspired me to gather resources and plan hard for next year. Will there be no more midnight planning on a wednesdays this year? Perhaps. Will I have a pacing guide and several units flushed out and planned? YES! I’ve been deciding what kinds of things I like in my teaching and what things need the axe, as well as scouring for fresh ideas I’ve gotten from my colleagues this summer. It’s a wonderful feeling when you have (what are we down to now?)…23 like minded folks who have “been there, done that” in their first year, and are equally as excited to “try this new thing” for next year. If anything, I have a solid management plan for next year that brings a chance for students to redeem themselves within the day AND I have the confidence to implement brand new procedures that I believe in this second time around.
Here’s to next year family! We have never been better as we are right now.
The debate is great and all pointless at the same time. It evades the issues deep seeded, and unfortunately not in plain sight.
Alternative teacher programs do have their place in this countries current education affairs. Especially when data suggest that alternative licensure programs like TFA are delivering teachers that are equal to or greater in ability than a traditional route teacher. Until this nation starts to appreciate the teacher again, hold even higher standards for them and compensate above and beyond what they are worth this debate will keep going and will never matter truly.
Once this fundamental change happens in appreciating the teacher, a shift in the homes will happen, and thus the children and eventually the parents will be held to fit into the system of high expectations and high achievements that the teachers lay out for them. Because right now, under our current system, why the hell should a teacher first of all want to be a teacher if all they seem to get is flack from administration, the public, children, and parents for a job asserted in the public eye as “half-assed” And second, hold children to high expectations when again, they are attacked for being supportive and critical of student learning (i.e. PASS THOSE KIDS ON TO THE NEXT GRADE, OK?)?
This debate will keep on going infinitum until there is a conscious shift in how a teacher is viewed in the public eye. A teacher CARING can only go so far. We need the parents, public, policy makers, government, corporations, and administrators to care before we can even hope for the children to care and make our jobs worth a damn in this world.
I’ll end with a quote from the article that points to my issue with the debate, oh by the way, this article have the word “parent” in it once:
At the end of the day, students need pencils to learn, and the teacher should take on some of the burden for figuring out how to get those students to have pencils (whether it be a pencil renting system or calling parents), even if it is outside the teacher’s immediate locus of control. Once again, the point isn’t that socioeconomic factors are irrelevant, but that they shouldn’t be used as excuses and that they can be overcome. The model isn’t supposed to be used to blame teachers, it’s supposed to be used to help them help their students.
In response, I care about kids and having their supplies and being prepared for the day. I do so much as to never provide them with the necessary supplies that they need to be successful that day. Is it my job to provide them with supplies when they have in their pocket a nice new smart phone and brand new shoes on their feet? In this effed up model of how a teacher ought to conduct his or her room, yes, yes it is my job. If that is that case and continues to be the case, well, I’m sorry, but I quit.
If we are going to be real about this issue, we have to NOT EVEN THINK about what the teacher is or is not doing in the classroom.
So far I feel as though there is three factors to a teacher being successful that they can control:
Having a lesson ready/being prepared for the day…Even if that means staying up all night and make sure you have crossed all your t’s and dotted your i’s.
Confidence in giving consequences/handling classroom management…in other words known how and when to be strict and hopefully having enough sleep to know how to appropriately defuse a situation.
Having a willingness to constantly adapt and change for the sake of student success. This means being able to go back to a lesson or competency that they did not retain or understand and present it in a new way with the hope that they will better understand. Also this means to go with the flow of your crazy school and not get upset/overwhelmed by the adults and how you think they want to take the school down with them.
Things you can’t control, but wish you could because it would help make you a successful teacher:
Have involved, compassionate parents that support their child’s learning and you, the teacher.
Have helpful, competent and supportive administration that supports you, your decisions in the classroom, and appreciates you for the work you do.
Having uninterrupted classroom instruction, or at least a schedule in advance that your principal provides for you when he will be having that school wide assembly to yell at the kids, so that you can be prepared for a short lesson or a long one when you have to hold your classes.
Separate school from my time, Free time / ZONE OUT time AFTER lesson planning (shoot for 7:00).
Bedtime at 9:00
Reading before bed (15 minutes)
Exercise daily (tennis, frisbee, or at least a walk with best friend)
In my daily conversations, stop complaining about school so much, and look for opportunities that I can improve on for next year. Change the frame of reference.
Play more games.
Watch more movies.
Enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Cook more with spouse.
Have more heart-to-hearts.
Be Here Now.
Separate school from my time, i.e. No more lesson planning after 8:00!
Use planning period more effectively, don’t fall into zombie-status for 45 minutes.
Spend an hour after school lesson planning/getting ready for the next day.
Smile more, don’t let the kids get you upset…Just let things go.
Maintain student behavior log and lesson plan notes.
Start planning big goals/management changes for next year.
How is my experience so far? Every single day I’m becoming more and more exhausted and strung out. I am getting headaches more often and more intense. My management is usually perfect periods 1-4, then gets worse as the day progresses into chaos, which is a sucky way to end the day. I’m not exercising or eating right. I’m not biking or doing the things that I loved to do 7 months ago. I actually haven’t ridden my bike in 4 months. Going from biking every day, 95 degrees highs, below zero lows, rain, shine, sleet, or snow, to not biking at all is extremely saddening to me. I don’t use my hands nearly as much as I did before. I am getting a little faster with the lesson planning. I am much better at getting to know my students and talking with parents. I am increasingly frustrated with my administration and wish to Santa for my principal’s timely exit from my school. I want desperately for a break from all of this. For a big vacation that makes me forget this awful place, and remember why I am alive and love life again. I want to explore the outdoors and look under rocks for bugs. Really, “how is my experience so far?” it sucks overall, but it’s a nice way to grow up I suppose. ;)
If you are thinking of joining the Mississippi Teacher Corps, or any alternative route teaching program, please, consider the following:
Every day I wake up at 5:30, eat a little something, take a shower, and drive off to school. I am there before most teachers and the principal, getting things ready for the bright new day. Each morning during this time I have big dreams of how the lesson I spent 6 hours on the night before won’t be delivered to deaf ears, but will turn out amazing and the kids will learn and retain SO much in 50 minutes. It’s a peaceful beginning, that ends with unknown but typically frustrating pull-your-hair-out feelings of intense dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment.
Let’s stop before we go on. Now, before you discount this advice as ramblings, remember you and I are really the same. If you are considering joining such a program to become a teacher and you’re trying to read up on the pros and cons, remember I was exactly in your shoes not too long ago. Except, my vision was clouded in a such a way that I discounted any negative sounding advice about becoming a teacher (teacher burn-out, under-appreciation, non-stop crying, etc. etc.) and replaced it with all the ideas of the positive impact I would be making on my children and the community by becoming that rock and safe harbor. I would whip this school into shape and shame those teachers for allowing their school to sink to such a level that allows such a young, under-qualified, big dreamer such as myself to enter through those doors.
Okay, back to how I feel, or rather, back to how you will feel as I do now. Exhaustion. You’ll be exhausted everyday. Everyday. And not the feelings of exhaustion that you are familiar with currently. Really, remember that one time you pulled that all nighter in college and how tired and zombified you felt the next day? Remember how you were sleepy all day and then you got done with classes and crashed on your dorm bed at 2:30 and slept until 7:00 at night? Grabbed something to eat and were just brain-dead for the rest of your night? Well, take away the nap, because you’ll have to plan for the next day in that time, and get ready to allow your mind and body to experience exhaustion like it never has before.
Let’s regress back to that frustration you will feel each day. You will not just feel frustrated all the time because your students don’t understand the gibberish that comes out of your mouth, but you may vary well even feel real anger and sincerely want to hurt someone. You will slowly realize that your students and no one appreciates you for the the long hours you spend making that perfect lesson, because it turns out: 1) it’s not perfect, and 2) even if it was perfect, no one cares but you, so stop searching for appreciation at this point in your journey (yet know that it will come, and is coming, in ways you don’t yet fully realize—spoilers).
Alright, I hope by now, you have seen a glimmer of the depression you will undoubtedly feel—and no, you won’t be that 5% of teachers who are simply just born teachers, who don’t experience this, so stop holding out hope for that. And, stop. OK, let’s move on to some others things you might feel, or should be looking forward to feeling. Because if you don’t hold out hope for some happy thoughts, this job will consume you and you will quit before your time.
Everyday along with having a headache, getting frustrated, and being angry at my position in life, I smile, laugh, and love what I’m doing. I love spending six hours on a lesson the night before and getting the feeling of excitement that my little 6th graders will hopefully get just as excited as I am about Newton’s Laws of Motion, or any science topic that we’re learning about next. I absolutely love kids sneaking to my room in the morning saying, “Good morning Mr. H” to me in the morning, then running out of the room to their homeroom where they were supposed to be in the first place. I love the feeling of excitement that I get every time, it’s happening daily now, one of my children who I never expect to get the right answer answers a question dead on and I have them repeat it to the class, “SAY THAT AGAIN LOUD AND PROUD LAMARCUS!” “DID EVERYONE HEAR THAT?” “I SAID LOUD AND PROUD LAMARCUS!!” “YES, YES, PERFECT!!” I love that I can be a role-model and a confidant to my kids that I have earned trust from. I love those perfect management days I have when I’m on firing at the beginning of class dishing out the consequences, as the remainder of the period runs smooth like melted butter and the kids actually learn something. I love the anticipation of breaks, Fall break, Thanksgiving break, Winter break, Spring break. I get just as excited as the kids get at the anticipation of a snow day. I love that my room is my fortress that I’ve poured my life into and each student helps build it and break it down each day. I love that I try to make us family each period for 50 minutes every day, even though it never seems to work, I love that I can push my ideals onto these young minds just by the way I am naturally. We should all love one another and treat others with respect, be it the person sitting next to you, the bee that flies into the room, or the mouse that has found a home on the piles of writing assignments.
So, in short: should you join MTC? If you want to make meaningful difference in the lives of a couple kids who need someone like you most in their lives and want to learn how to be a good teacher, then yes. However, if your mission is to save some people from their situations, and be a superman, then no, please, no, you will not succeed at this.
Regardless your decision, if you do join you will fail miserably at what you set out to do. How you cope and grow from failing is what makes you a good teacher, a bad teacher, or just a quitter.
As a first year teacher, today I witnessed one of my most unruly and disrespectful students be struck with a paddle by my principal 15 times because of his mocking and disruptive behavior in my class today and for the bad behavior he racked up all last week. At first it was supposed to be *just* five, however, the student blocked the third paddle with his hands and the principal gave him an added 10 licks for defending his bottom. These remaining 12 licks were as hard as my principal could swing a board. My student cried out in pain and tears were jolted from his eyes each swing. I merely witnessed this punishment, rather than administering it, as I have told my principal I refuse to paddle students for misbehavior. Yet, even though I never touched and never will touch a paddle, I feel accomplice to the abuse of my student. I never wanted my child to be hit for his actions, yet he needed a serious time out (in school suspension) for his behavior as my multiple calls home, multiple hall conferences, and multiple alternative assignments were obvious not working. So even though I did not want it, it happened because my principal insists to raise the board. I struggle with this culture, with this school, and with the idea that you can beat behavior into a child. How do you deal with corporal punishment at your school?
In March of this year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, when speaking of teacher layoffs and increased class sizes nationwide, said that he would rather have his children in a classroom of 28 students with a fantastic teacher than 23 with a mediocre one. I am in neither of these categories: I am a terrible first year teacher teaching science to class sizes ranging from 24 to 33. I teach in a classroom so overcrowded I have had students sitting at the small table in the corner that holds the National Geographic magazines and others who have to sit in the desk reserved for observing parents and administrators. So far, my teaching experience at a critical needs junior high school in North Panola these first 14 weeks of school has shown me not only that Arne Duncan does not understand the current pressures or the needs of teachers and schools, but more importantly, that teaching science in a classroom such as my own is quite difficult for myself and unjust to the students that I serve.
North Panola Junior High School is the nucleus into which all students in the district are funneled from three other elementary schools. This is the first time the different territorial groups meet each other. As a student, the two greatest factors determining whether you will be friends with another sixth grader is: 1) if they have the same last name as you, and 2) if they reside in your town. If they are neither of these, they are instantly an outsider and not your friend. My children constantly want to fight one another, and they typically do not want to work cooperatively in groups because of these divides. My classroom, which just barely accommodates six rows of desks and has no communal table space, has already housed a fistful of fights. Even on a daily basis there is arguing and hateful name-calling between students. Out of the three grades in the school, sixth grade is the one in which the students have to make the biggest transitions. It is understandably the hardest grade to get used to, and the 2011 class has been no exception. This year has seen the largest amount of 11-year-olds to date, 144 and counting, and with this increase in numbers comes more behavioral, capacity, and logistical issues.
As science teachers, we strive for hands-on inquiry, critical thinking, exploration, observation, and serious analysis of the world around us. But how does one facilitate this dream effectively when there is no room and no opportunity for a student to leave their desk during a 50 minute science lesson? I want to be that fantastic science teacher that lights a student’s spark for the natural world and perhaps even motivates some of them into pursuing careers in science. Yet, each day when the mantra “I wish I had a bigger classroom” passes through my head, I fear I may be doing the opposite to inspire my students into science. My bell-to-bell instruction is confined to the board almost every day. My students take notes for part of the period, read a passage or two in their text books, and then work independently on practice problems and their night’s homework. My sixth grade students badly want lab experience; they feel compelled to get up out of their desk, they love touching and messing with props, and science becomes much more real to them when they are the ones making it happen. Currently, the experience that I am able to provide to them is a pathetic attempt but an attempt nonetheless, and I think the students know and appreciate it. When I do a demonstration in class or when we really do have “lab days at our desk,” those are my best days instructionally and my students’ best days behaviorally. Simply put: My students want to pour water into a beaker and measure its contents; they want to use a ruler to measure their pencils; they want to use pipettes and tweezers to investigate a penny or piece of candy.
Going off of this basic desire for participation, getting my students excited at the beginning of a lesson has turned out to be quite easy because they are ravenous for the science experience. Some of the best demonstrations in my classroom have involved very simple household objects and foods from the grocery aisles at Walmart. When explaining the phases of matter recently in class, my students became very excited with a handful of beans placed into a simple plastic bottle. The beans represented the particles of a substance, and the speed at which I was moving the bottle signified what state of matter the substance was in: solid, liquid, or gas. For the solid, I slowly vibrated the particles back and forth with as little movement as possible. The beans then slipped and slid around between one another a little faster, like a flowing liquid. Finally, gas particles chaotically shook and rattled inside the container to represent a gaseous substance, to the wide-eyed amazement of the students before me. They loved this phase the best, partly because of the noise the gas particles made, and partly because it was me, their teacher, making such a racket in the first place.
Even with the challenges that the lack of space presents in a science classroom, more and more I am realizing that it’s no excuse for not bringing any type of activity in for the students. When I can provide my students a glimpse of what they ought to be receiving as young science-minds, it encourages me to to keep trying to encapsulate entire labs in the confines of a desk space. And it also reminds me of why I became a science teacher. I love seeing children play, investigate, smile, and learn. I am encouraged for the rest of the year and for future years as I hone my abilities to engage my students any way I can and present to them the education they deserve.
Fifty one days of teacher training and I somehow have become a fully certified teacher. I’m 23 years old. I have a signed contract, my own classroom, $31,000 salary with benefits, and a whole lot of people counting on me. Like Ben Guest said, this is insane. Under any other circumstances, I should not be held to the same standard as a first year teacher with a traditional licensure. I am not qualified to teach 150 kids about science; I am not qualified to help guide and lead pubescent preteens into what will become the foundations of their lives—no matter what some bureaucrat might see on paper: I am no teacher. But that’s just it, this is a circumstance that we are all in. There is a broken system and desperation is the result of such pressures on the human condition. The school and the kids that I’m serving truly deserve 20+ year experience veteran teachers in every classroom. They certainly do not deserve a first year teacher with fifty one days of training and twenty six lessons under his belt. But at my school, unfortunately, I am their only option. I ought to be teaching at the prep academy in a rich suburb, not at the lowest preforming district in the state, if not the country.
Aside from the misfortune and the injustice of it all and besides having a nice piece of paper laying on my desk in front of me that says I am certified to teach in the state of Mississippi, I have, after an intense training, with me newly chiseled confidence in myself that can get me through anything. I have met an amazing group of people, each of which I can truly call my friends. I have gained knowledge beyond what anyone could teach me. And I have with me now, experience that will guide me into the next stage of this adventure.
Against my worst fears of public judgement and exhaustion, I have survived and thrived this summer. And the whole time, I’ve done this against my better judgement, against my jerk reaction. I’ve wanted to quit this whole thing twice now and cried myself to sleep numerous times, but I have persisted and become reenergized with purpose after each doubt.
This journey has been the most stressful first step into anything before that I have ever committed to. It’s not necessarily the summer training boot camp that was overly hard, but the prospect of what is to come is what is stressful: 150+ kids every day that are all looking up to me for guidance, knowledge and position in their lives. Lives which I will never fully appreciate, because this culture is so foreign to me. But I am trying with each conversation I have with my students and that gives me hope. I feel as though my eyes have been clouded my whole life, as though I’ve been sheltered inside some opaque bubble of what an “American” should be. I have lived as and am a stereotype; no matter how much I want to reject it. This is the first step in recovery, or growth, no? An acceptance of the problem? Or simply, what I grasp as a problem in my life. Yet, this is not a sad occurrence! This is invigorating! I cannot wait to form real relationships with my students, their parents, this community, and this state. I cannot wait to get to know what it is I do not know. I cannot wait to call the parent and tell them how great their son is doing. I cannot wait to light that spark of science and school for that girl who people assumed less of. I cannot wait for those lightbulb moments. I cannot wait to grow, actually, it is happening right now. Keep this perspective.
And how will I grow? That is, of course is being determined. However, I certainly need to grow my confidence and composure. I need to better learn how to command a classroom with my simple presence. I need to grow my compassion, discipline and tough love. I want my students to recognize me as an educator, their teacher, and a competent adult. I need to be quicker on my feet and more efficient at everything. I need to organize and prioritize beyond what I thought was possible. If I’m going to make it this first year, I must go beyond the ordinary that I’ve lived thus far. I must no longer be an object pushed by my environment around me, but rather I must be a force that pushes itself and does not rely on the external factors. I must, in other words, work on guiding myself into the unknown and trust my judgement. There will be no one there to experience this as intimately as me, therefore I must take the reigns and self determine.
These first fifty four days of Mississippi have been a precipitous leap—and if I’ve learned anything, it is that I have so much to learn about education, children, adults, society, the United States, food, community, power, struggles, injustice, race, religion, hope, compassion, justice, strength, love, and above all my self. I am so thankful and so energized. August the first: here I come.