Letting Go of Teaching

The best thing I ever did for my teaching was to stop teaching.

Before I get into that, here’s a quick to-do list for next year.

  1. Organize better for self-directed learning. I shifted my work with students into a more democratic, self-directed space midway through the year in an attempt to improve our relationships, to meet students’ learning needs, and to let students’ natural curiosity and creativity take over our time together. However, I wasn’t prepared to capture as much of the work as I should have. I’ll play around with a bunch of models and combinations this summer and be ready for students to pick ways to archive and reflect on their work this fall.
  2. Learn more outside the school. We worked with several partners this year – with local instructional coaches (like @bethcosta6 and @tborash) and community partners, as well as with PLN tweeps like @crudbasher, @engltchrleo, and @kperry. However, we did so somewhat haphazardly thanks to snow-days and other hiccups in pacing. I’d like to work with my school to set aside specific time each week for each students to do, learn, and/or make something outside of school. I have in mind “electives” with a blacksmith, a master carpenter, a green roof nursery, a nursing home, and a musician. That covers maybe 3/5 of us according to numbers and interests. I need to do more legwork in soliciting ideas from students and lining up expert tutors this summer.
  3. Bring in the parents. I know a few parents are happy that I’ve developed better relationships with their children. I know a few parents are happy that I’ve implemented self-directed learning. I know a few parents are always going to ask about grades. I know a few parents wonder what the hell I’m doing. I need to set up parent education nights – several of them, repeating and then spiraling – to try and share the big picture of teaching and learning to which I ascribe. I need to explain how a nascent democratic, self-directed classroom looks in a public school and how it promotes and tracks deep and authentic student learning. I need to explain how our class might be different from others, but also how every class here is alike in its determination to serve our students and rehabilitate their notions of learning and what school can be.

Back to teaching better by not teaching.

Here’s an embarrassing story. I’m so glad that this kid stuck with me. Note my sterling use of Choice Theory in August. Crikey.

August: Here’s your work. Hey, look, its on a computer. Let’s go. Hey. Come on. Do something. It’s right there. Wiggle the mouse. Come on. Click. CLICK! What? Come on. Get your foot down. Okay, okay. Now get your foot out of the drawer. Please. Out of the drawer. Let’s go. Come on. Can I help you? Can you tell me why you’re choosing not to work right now? You have to work to be here. Come on. You don’t have to go. You just have to choose to work. I’ll help. Hey – FOOT! DRAWER! If you won’t talk to me, go make a plan…

…December: Blah blah blah work blah blah choice blah help blah WHAT? I’m sorry, but you can’t say “this is [frakking bullpoop]” and stay in class. Go make a plan.

February: Okay. So we’re going to try something new. It’s called self-directed learning. You’re going to make a plan to learn about whatever you want. You’re going to make something to show me what you learned. You can make whatever you want. The idea is to read and write about something you love, and to make something with what you read and write. You tell me when to check in with you. I want you to do something you like at school. You do have to direct yourself to learn – it’s not do whatever you want time; it’s self-directed learning time. A blog? Sure. Basketball? Sure. What are you going to do? Write about the games? Okay. Can I leave you comments? Great. FOOT!

March: Can I see what you wrote? Okay. Let’s talk about organization. Like when you switch from one game to another, start a new paragraph so I can see I should think about a new game.

April: Great headline. Can we talk some more? Great. I wrote about elaboration in your comments last night. Elaboration just means details. Like when you predict who will win the playoffs, you give me your idea, but you don’t tell me why. If you tell me why – if you can give me some stats or reasons for your prediction – then you’re adding detail or elaboration. Okay? Okay. Try it.

May: A report? On what? Three-point shooters? Okay. Are you willing to research? Can you come up with questions? Sure I can help. How many questions do you think would give you enough detail to write a paragraph about each player? Three? Okay. Try it.

June: No, seriously. We have to do this before the end of the year. Please put your blog away. Yeah, I know, it’s [frakking bullpoop], but here we are. Save your draft. Let’s go. Thank you. I’ll get you back to it as soon as possible.

Here’s the student’s first post from March, after he got his blog set up:

Minnesota Timberwolves are on there 16 losing streak.

Here’s one of his inquiry posts from May:

Nate Robinson is one of the best dunkers in the NBA. He plays for the celtics now but near the begining of the year he played for the Knicks he is so awesome at dunking it is amazing. Once he dunked over yow ming he is really tall. He entered the dunk contest three times. He won the dunk contest three times. That is really good. He helped his team a lot when he was on the Knicks but when he was on the celtics he’s not that good now. He dose not play that much anymore but he is a good dunker.

Lebron James is one of the best dunkers in the NBA he can jump from really far and can do some awesome tricks in the air. Lebron James helps his team a lot he is like the best player on that team and he is like the best player in the league. Lebron James is a bad sport though and last year this guy named shannon Brown entered the dunk contest that is why he didn’t enter he was going to but then he punked out because he was scared. But he is good at basketball.

Andrey iguodala is a awesome basketball player and a dunker he should join the dunk contest then people will se his skills. He has got some real serious jumps he can dunk over just about anybody thats why i think he is such a good dunker. He helped his team a lot over the years. He plays for the 76ixer’s they are ok but not that good they did not make it to the play-off’s

Dwight Howard plays for the magic that team is really good they are still in the playoffs. Dwight Howard has only entered the dunk contest once but he won he finished it with this dunk called the superman it was awesome he put on a cape and then got the basketball and started running and then he jumped in the air so high up in the air that he through the basketball strait down in to the hoop it was awesome i did not get to se it but i still herd about it on ESPN he won the whole entire thing with that. He is a big man. I told my brother about that and i said why did he win he did not even dunk it and my brother said the whole reason that he won is because the fact that he was high enough to throw the ball in to the hoop in the air. It was amazing for guy that tall and big to jump that high.

Jr Smith is one of the best dunkers in the NBA he so good at dunking and three point shots. He should enter a dunk contest thats how good he is at dunking he would might even win the whole thing if he try’s his very best in the dunk contest. He plays for the nuggets that team is okay but they are not the best team in the league. He helps his team a lot by how good his dunks are and by how good he is at three point shooting in the game. He will not let the nuggets down in the next playoffs i just know that he wont let them him down.

This is great progress, but, look, I know there’s work to be done. I know several students who accomplished more with me in a shorter amount of time in a traditional classroom. But I also know that there are kids out there like this basketball blogger who don’t have a shot at feeling safe, acknowledged, or valued in the traditional classroom. And I know it’s not the kid’s fault. It was mine. For all the other kids like this one in my first eight and half years of teaching, the fault was mine. I am sorry.

Sometimes you have to stop teaching because no amount of it will fix a broken relationship or make up for one where there isn’t one.

Sometimes you have to let go of yourself to hold a kid up.

Sometime you have to turn your back on what you were taught in order to learn what’s right. You have to turn your back on what you know to do what you believe. You have to turn your back on your past to change a kid’s future. You have to stop investing your salary in test scores and gamble it all away on finding ways to make learning matter. You have to stop measuring yourself by your best students’ scores and start measuring yourself by what you’re keeping all of them from for the love of a stratified society.

You can’t give up kids to the system and still be the one who won’t let them down.