In his New Year's round-up of the best education blogs, Jay Matthews wrote of Teaching in the 408, "The writing about his coaching experiences is particularly good, and honest." Matthews would later write of his May trip to the Louvre, "The auto-flush toilets are particularly impressive, and quiet."
Whether Matthews or this noob blogger will drive more traffic to TMAO's classroom blog isn't up for debate. He deserves every page view, I'm positive, and for that I'm grateful to Jay, even though his is the very definition of faint praise.
Personally, I can't decide if TMAO is a better teacher or blogger. The off-contract hours he logs with Saturday academies, coaching, grading, and planning, all of which have empowered the populations of San Jose, CA, most desperate for empowering, certainly merit a World's Greatest Teacher mug. Or a Starbucks gift card, failing that.
But there's an obese body of evidence to suggest that great teachers don't guarantee great bloggers. There's a wide separation between reportage and narrative, transcript and dialogue and TMAO positions himself on the best side of both.
Apart from some really great classroom blogging — funny, edifying stuff — TMAO is also singlehandedly creating the mythology of the young, new teacher. And before you sneer at that assertion or, particularly, at the assertion that us young, new teachers need a mythology — a John Henry-type for novice educators — check your age.
Check your age and then check how all the teachers nearabout your age are just about done. Then note all of us noobs entering the profession, banging our heads against the whiteboards, exiting the profession just as ceremoniously two years later, all the while leaving a legacy of failed students and sustaining the market for long-term subs. And then tell me that new teachers don't need some larger-than-life icon to keep us all together.
I may have buried the lede but if you're still with me then here: TMAO is that icon.
TMAO is ruthless and unsparing in his criticism of mediocre teachers and of himself. He hurls lightning bolts at those who claim the responsibility for student success lies at least halfway on the student and then claims no less than 98% of that responsibility for himself. He rejects the achievement gap in favor of what he rightly perceives to be the real crisis, the teacher gap, the difference between the effective and ineffective ones among us.
So many new teachers jump into this fray with a desire to "make a difference," and a fetish for "that moment, y'know, when the lightbulb clicks on over their heads and they get it."
This kind of sloganeering (which TMAO dubs "the glorious teacher-martyr") is poisoning new teaching recruits. In fact, teaching's PR department is having a serious message issue right now. We need to push TMAO's beer-swilling black-eyed mug onto posters pronto and tell undergrads that this is what good teachers look like.
Because if there's any worthwhile theme to be found at Room D2, it's that in the places where teachers are needed most, there are no lightbulbs. There are no Differences to be made. There are only these embers, a small pile of embers that just keep flickering closer to extinction, and all you've got is this tiny bellows, puff, puff, puff, to keep it all going, and if any of it's going to work out it won't be because you really wanted to make a Difference. It'll be because you worked hard and kept working harder.
The message of his blog isn't glamorous or exciting — not in the immediate sense, anyway. Some ed-bloggers have rebuked his message as "too real," but damn if that doesn't make it more essential to teaching. Time and again, TMAO demonstrates that only by digging in and scraping hard at the lowercase-d differences — like maintaining an accurate ledger of your strengths and weaknesses, like complaining less and protesting more, like demanding accountability for yourself and your colleagues, like caring (but not the patronizing, functionally-useless kind) — will we enact the uppercase-D Differences that appeal to us idealistic young noobs.
Reading and re-reading TMAO's posts has been the highlight of my 2006 school year to date. I'd call him the Mike D'Angelo of classroom blogging but that reference would be lost on all but one sporadic reader. So for now, I'll let it suffice to post his link twice in the sidebar and put the word out that Teaching in the 408 is without question the best classroom blog on the Internet. That still might be faint praise.