Month: April 2008

Total 25 Posts

Who Do We Think We Are?

During The Faculty Room’s last cycle, contributors responded to claims that teaching is an overrated career. Greg Farr titled his rejoinder “The Greatest Calling of All.” Gerry Kosater opened with the line, “A career in teaching is more meaningful than any other profession.”

This refrain isn’t new. Neither is my opposition to its Hollywood incarnations, but my reaction has reached a boil and I really have to ask three questions:

Is It True?

Is this the noblest, greatest, most meaningful profession? The impossibility of measuring nobility aside (much less ranking nobility) hypothetically, is teaching noble?

Maybe. But the reasoning in both posts — that every successful person was, at one point, taught — is thoroughly unconvincing. Can’t we say the same of every thief, rapist, and murderer? And how many people have succeeded in spite of their teachers? Are we claiming we’re the noblest on average? That the Escalantes balance out the Letourneaus? How can we perpetuate the absolute nobility of a job in which so many people freely perform ignoble deeds?

What Good Is It?

Perhaps this incantation serves as some compensation for those teachers who elected this job out of self-sacrifice, social obligation, a “calling,” or another emotional impetus which — I point out in full disclosure — I almost certainly do not share.

In short, for a lot of teachers, the refrain feels good to say. It feels good to hear.

What Harm Is It?

Lots, where I work, where I aim at professional work in a job which doesn’t demand professionalism. Daily, I leap at and sometimes clear a bar which exists only in my head, in the work ethic I have self-imposed, a bar which in reality hovers shin high. Can I tell you: the friction between what my job asks of me and what I ask of myself is spectacular.

I want teaching to be a viable option for professionals — for people motivated more by the challenge this job offers an intelligent, persistent worker than by noble aspirationsNot that one can’t claim both. Please let’s skip that criticism. — and, towards that goal, these refrains are an impediment.

Because professionals do not issue bulletins proclaiming their nobility. Professionals proclaim heightened standards of care and increasingly rigorous self-critique. Professionals fight for and maintain their public’s trust.

Tell me how we earn that trust when we protect the worst among us from oversight, when we shun professional standards even in the abstract, when we then sing this nobler-than-thou hymn on the doorstep of the same white- and blue-collar workers who pay our salaries?

These poems and platitudes give the impression that we are fine over here — further recompense unnecessary — content in our cloud of self-importance. But I am not fine. I need more from my 60-hour work week, more from my career, and more from my job than poems and platitudes.

Wait. I Can’t Just Teach Them Anything?

NEA Today exposits lamely on teacher attrition:

State standardized testing preparation is in full swing for Griggs and her colleagues. An administrator sends an e-mail late one day demanding that the seventh-grade teachers immediately respond to her with a list of their “power standards.” Griggs stares at the computer screen. She doesn’t have a clue what a “power standard” is or how it’s going to help her students. She turns off the computer and heads home for the night. [emph added]

Never mind that NEA Today conflates three very different issues (standardized testing, standards-based instruction, and the overbearing administrator) under the same heading (“NCLB Mandates”); those last two sentences clearly articulate everything that drives me up the wall about teachers and, separately, about NEA Today.

Weak Become Heroes

I put this opener on the board three times today and each time the weakest student in each class figured it out first. In two classes, the weakest student was the only student to land it.

In one class it was the soft-spoken student whose father committed suicide earlier this year, who’s been in and out of class all year, whose eyes were bright like a torch after I told him, “Nice! Now hide that, hide that.”

So Happy Together #6

The Oakland presentation is behind me but the value of this digital projector becomes more apparent every day. This digital projector is decreasingly an affectation and is increasingly essential to my math practice.

Here is a Vimeo clip [1:14] I edited to illustrate what is no doubt some well-known cognitive theory which I’ve been too lazy to study, but which I arrived at through two years of error and trial and error just the same.


So Happy Together #6 from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

In summary: as you’re scaffolding a complicated task, it’s essential to highlight the small differences, the subtle ways an easy problem — one which we’ve mastered — now becomes difficult. The brain senses differences and a digital projector makes those differences more apparent than does a) a pencil and paper, b) your voice, or c) a whiteboard and dry-erase marker.