My Four Word Education Plan!

Banksy
Image by Walt Jabsco via Flickr

I was feeling very burnt out today.

The reasons why have been accumulating since I hurt my knee in the first week of school and was out for a month.

Then this morning my lesson on the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire failed and I found out that a boy who choked a classmate then used a marker to pretend to masturbate would not even get a one-day suspension.

I just love it how we teach our students that their actions have no consequences then wonder why they don’t learn to behave better.

When my last class ended I just sat down to gather the energy to go home.

That’s when two of my 6th grade students came in to get some more information prior to a class debate between advocates for the Athenian and Spartan lifestyles.

One of the girls is a bubbly, athletic and enthusiastic ball of energy, the other was S, who I have written about before.

After a half-hour the first girl left.

S and I continued to talk.

We talked about ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and also about modern family life. We chatted about predictions that the world wound end in 2012 and agreed that there probably would be a 2013 and more.

I taught her about the butterfly effect and the random but thoroughly interconnected series of events that we are all part of and affected by.

We discussed global warming, the Ice Age, the water cycle and the first law of thermodynamics (though that’s not what I called it).

Just when I needed it most, I remembered the joy I get from teaching.

In our third hour of chatting I told her about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I helped her understand how to find the area of an isosceles trapezoid.

To outside eyes each of us was taking a huge risk.

I was breaking the most basic rule of being a male teacher; sitting in a classroom alone with a just-turned 12-year-old girl. And she was sitting with me.

We could do this because we trust each other. We feel safe with each other.

The distillation of my philosophy came to me as I was telling S how I realized she was different from almost every student I’ve taught.

Whenever I ask a question requiring a higher-order thinking skill and the rest of her class stares at me as if I were speaking Klingon, she will raise her hand slowly and say, “I’m not sure, but…”

That’s it!

Philosophy & Poetry
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

That is my education philosophy distilled to its most essential point.

“I’m not sure, but…”

I want all my students – all students – to feel safe enough, secure enough, challenged enough and supported enough to take the risk that S takes.

No, I don’t mean spending almost three hours alone with a teacher.

I want them all to be able to say…

“I’m not sure, but…”

If we can get our students to that point I guarantee they will learn.

So how do we get them there?

I’m not sure.

But…

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7 Responses to My Four Word Education Plan!

  1. Jason Bedell says:

    I love it. It seems like one of the hardest parts of our jobs is getting the students to a point where they feel safe enough to be comfortable making mistakes as well as realizing that they need to make mistakes so they can learn something. It’s outstanding that you have that trust and rapport with S. I am usually able to get that with a small percent of my students. I need personally to figure out how to do that with a much higher percent of my students as well as help them to develop that with each other. Many will never venture an “I don’t know, but…” if they feel like they will be thought less of by their peers.

  2. Jo Hawke says:

    I like it!

    My take on your four words: The “I’m not sure” part enables learning because if you’re sure about it, there’s no true edification to be had, and the “but…” part is the leap, the part that says, “I’m not NOT afraid, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of participating in this process.”

    Glad you’re feeling revitalized. :)

  3. Linda704 says:

    I think your four words are true for teachers, too. We need to feel safe in taking risks–but all of this emphasis on testing is making it harder and harder.

  4. Deven,

    I think you got to the problem with “then used a marker to pretend to masturbate would not even get a one-day suspension.”

    I think it’s well nigh impossible to develop trust given that reality.

    The issue is not punishing that kid, it’s the clear message to everyone else that the rules will not protect them cuase they are not enforced. Imagine running a bar where someone gets drunk starts a fight and nothing happens. Doesn’t get kicked out. No bouncer.

    In a very short time, the only folks at the bar would be drunks who like to watch or participate in fights. In school the kids have to come. Even with that the absentee rates are huge. And for the ones that do show up the safest thing to do is to tune out. Not because they’re dumb or even disengaged. It’s cause they are scared of what might happen.

    If there are no proximate, clear and immediate costs for acting like a jerk, most teenagers are going to sometimes act like jerks.

    • Deven Black says:

      Having run a bar for almost 20 years I know that your analogy is dead on. Even so, there is a huge difference between the customer who gets drunk and causes a problem once and the customer who is a persistent drunk and problem creator.

      All teenagers — all people — will act like jerks from time to time, and most of us pick-up the social clues that we are doing so at least part of the time. That is not the case with the boy of whom I wrote. Unfortunately, what tends to happen in schools is that we somehow discipline the student who occasionally misbehaves and not the one who is a persistent problem.

      I am not a big fan of punishing people and would much prefer to reward students who behave at or better than standard, but whether we’re looking at good behavior or bad, it is important to teach students that actions have consequences. Most schools neither reward nor punish, insuring that no child gets left behind when it comes to understanding the action/consequence relationship.

  5. for your first story I have no words. It’s the main reason why my school will no longer be around next year the way it is.

    On your second note, that sense of fearlessness is inspiring.

    And, as Linda mentioned, we need to remember that fearlessness as adults. Sometimes we don’t know the answer until we start talking and it comes out of us.

    S is very lucky to have someone who engages her in conversation the way you do. I wonder how many other adults in her life do.

  6. Thanks for taking the time to share this with the world. Life is a roller coaster ride-ups and downs, and often they come out of nowhere. But it’s good to have the bravery of those four words, and keep soldiering on. (Forgive the mixed allusions.)

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