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Archive for the 'new teacher lab' Category

In advance of their EduCon presentation, Dean Shareski and Alec Couros put out the call for brief interviews on teacher education, addressing these two questions:

  1. What are your general views on the status of teacher education in preparing teachers, especially in regards to innovative teaching? What positives, negatives, or general views can you share? Please do pull in your own experiences if applicable.
  2. What is the ideal role of teacher education in developing teachers who are media literate and technologically savvy?

For whatever reason, they decided to bury the submissions at the bottom of a wiki, which taught us all a valuable lesson. Here is mine:

Two Minutes On Teacher Education from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

New Tweecher Induction

Alison Blank:

Everyone out there seems so full of love for the students and the job that it carries them through the long hours, but it hasn't been enough for me to break out of the vicious cycle of frantic work and procrastination I've been stuck in since first grade.

This is as good a description of teaching's tumultuous first year as you'll find out there on the blogs. It also summarizes:

  1. teaching's great deception — "love your students and the rest will follow."
  2. teaching's jarring transition — from sleepwalking into your 08h00 MAT 180 class to teaching your own classroom of sleepwalkers where every bad work habit you've accumulated over your entire life pays off huge negative returns.

Let's table this post for a few years. It took me five years to feel even a little put-together in this job, to feel like I wasn't just scrambling to keep pace, but I give Alison half that.

Had I gone to grad school this year, I would have put some time into a collage of new teacher profiles. Not my kind of new teacher. Not the traditionally inducted teacher, two mentors assigned by his district over two years, mentors who in all likelihood teach an unrelated subject. The sort of new teacher aptly described by statistics like "50% attrition rate."

Rather, scan the list of commenters at Alison's blog, scan her Twitter crowd (Twitter account required, sorry), and tell me you don't think she's going to bend the induction curve upwards.

Let's assemble a control group. We'll have the experimental group spamming questions at jackieb, jdyer, dcox21, colleenk, samjshah, k8nowak, sweenwsweens, dgreenedcp, et al, while blogging the experience as time permits.

I don't know if it's any kind of model. I only know it would've made me a much happier teacher, much sooner.

Too Hot For USC

I was profiled for USC's Master of Arts in Teaching program last month. The interview covered my (short) professional bio, advice for new teachers, along with a question asking me how awesome I thought my own master's program was. I'm pretty sure they canned my interview off my qualified response to that last question but there were elements of the interview I liked (and haven't ever discussed at this blog, like my lifelong struggle with Restless Leg Syndrome) so I am posting it here.

USC: What and where do you teach?

DM: I teach high school math — a mix of Algebra, Geometry, and remedial math. I teach math to a lot of students who don't enjoy math.

USC: How long have you been teaching?

DM: I just finished my fifth year. The fifth year is much more fun than the first. There isn't any comparison, really.

USC: What inspired you to teach?

DM: I never wanted to teach. Now I'm a third-generation fourth-generation teacher. [Mom informs me my great-grandfather taught in a one-room schoolhouse. -dm] Both from a spirit of childhood rebellion and because I saw my dad work incredibly hard to support my family on a single teaching income, this job was never my ambition. I wanted to make movies but I was exceptionally untalented at filmmaking, a fact which various film school admissions boards also confirmed. In my final year of a mathematics degree, I interned in a pre-calculus classroom where I found myself exceptionally empathetic to the struggle of the learner and moderately gifted to resolve that struggle. Therefore, teaching. Because I wasn't terrible. Put that on a mug. Of course, I moaned for three years that my passions and abilities hadn't aligned. After my second year I made another unsuccessful leap at filmmaking. After my third year, my passions and my abilities aligned a little more, and it was hard, after my fourth year, to imagine doing anything but teach.

USC: What classroom methods are most helpful in pushing students towards their goals?

DM: I started using a digital projector in my third year teaching. In terms of methodology, nothing before or since has affected student achievement more. Runners up, however:

  1. I assign one homework problem per night. The longer I have taught, the less time I waste on discipline, which has made it easier to get enough done in class to let us take the evening off.
  2. I measure student achievement on a series of skill rankings, which are fluid and updated weekly. This has struck me as more accurate than a series of comprehensive unit exams.

But that's methodology. And functional methodology in a toxic classroom culture is a bullet train to nowhere. I have made a lot of intentional steps, then, to promote "curiosity" as a cultural value of my classes.

USC: What is the one thing you wish you'd known when you started in the classroom? (i.e. advice for new teachers).

DM: Your students will excavate with profound determination and speed every social anxiety you thought you buried. It will take them minutes to decide that you are insecure about your appearance. Do not wonder if they notice your post-adolescent pimple. They do. They will exploit these anxieties as often as you allow them to. Determine quickly what matters to you and rid your psyche of the rest. Interest yourself in your students as often and as genuinely as possible. Love this job. Love your students. I'm not kidding about that last one even though I'm positive my 21-year-old self would have scoffed at that kind of attachment. Take it from me, please: you do not want to be the teacher I was when I was 21.

USC: If you have a masters in education, what did your training teach you that was most helpful in preparing you to enjoy and thrive in a classroom today?

DM: I hold the teacher preparation program at UC Davis in high regard. My coordinator, Allan Bellman, selected a cohort of chatty, introspective educators who responded to their profound, daily incompetence by talking and talking and talking. And when we stopped talking, Bellman asked good questions that got us talking again.

The same school awarded me a master's degree, for which I now receive a modest yearly stipend from my school district. In terms of "enjoying and thriving in a classroom today" or even in terms of "students learning more from their teacher" that money is not well spent. I enjoyed the program. It taught me to think about my practice in more academic terms. But I thrived in my job and enjoyed it not even a little bit more after I finished the program. Find a good community of good teachers. Find them online if you must. Read blogs. Write a blog. Tweet, as a last resort.

(Anti)resolutions

Sam Shah puts out the call for three new-school-year resolutions. Alison Blank, second-year math teacher and blogger to keep an eye on, drops a list:

I will take just a few minutes to review lessons after I've taught them, and learn from my mistakes.

I have found "learning from my mistakes" to be exceptionally easy in the minutes and hours immediately following un lesson de suck, while the stripes are still fresh, ragged, and raw. It's another matter entirely to learn from those mistakes a full year later, as you're about to confuse transformation with translation all over again.

Which is one point in favor of slideware. It's simple to leave yourself notes on top of the offending slides, notes which you'll encounter the next year, notes which (for me) were often profane and excoriating but always always appreciated.

Todd Seal takes a different route to his new year, vowing a set of anti-resolutions, what he won't do this year:

Collect writing and then ignore it for a month. Expect study questions answered every night. Give daily reading check quizzes worth tons of points. Skip grading blogs on a Saturday morning. Wait until April to institute a classroom after-school writing lab. Circle every single grammatical error on a given page.

It's an awesome exercise and every bit as valuable as a set of positive resolutions.

One more word while I'm on Todd: I'm pretty sure this is his thirteenth year teaching. He's well above my blogroll's median level of experience but he comes at his teaching and, especially, his writing about his teaching like he's fresh out of an induction program.

What I'm trying to say is, it's one thing for Alison or Sam or I to write a post of resolutions. That kind of regret and self-recrimination basically spills out of eager, new teachers. But I would urge anyone looking to turn this job into a career to keep an eye on Todd, how's he's stayed hungry long after his peers have fattened themselves up.

These two photos go a long way to summarize the transformation of Dan Meyer circa 2003 into Dan Meyer circa 2009. I lifted the first one off an advertising kiosk in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in June and used it last week in a discussion of similar figures.

The second photo shows what $17.00 and thirty minutes will buy in Abbot's Thrift Store where, last week, I walked around agog at all the interesting glassware and rolled them around on the floor whenever the clerk wasn't looking.

In 2003, I would have counted that half hour as a regrettable casualty of a demanding job, but I realize now that the calculus is much trickier than that. I realize now that the return on that investment of thirty minutes of my personal time isn't the promise of more personal time later. (ie. "I'll get to reuse this next year.") Rather it's the promise of easier and more satisfying work time now.

The question I suppose I'd put to my younger, narrower self is: how much personal time would you give up every day if it meant that your students would be, on average, excited to come to your class? Would you give up thirty minutes every day if it meant that driving home that afternoon you'd feel flush with connection to other people and assured of the relevance of your work to the world your students see in thrift stores and airport concourses1? I think my younger self would go for that. Especially when the alternative, driving home, was this sort of sterile sense of basic competence and the freedom to do whatever completely forgettable things I did with all that free time back then.

The magic isn't in keeping work and play as far away from one another as possible. If I can get to that understanding with someone, if I can convince a new teacher of that, then we can talk about the best investments for those off-contract hours. But until we get to that point, it's all seating charts and pyramids of intervention and my heart just isn't in it.


  1. It's worth a footnote to mention that I become more and more thrilled by Algebra every new year I teach it. Thrilled.

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