My Editor Needs An Editor

Okay, so what I’m trying to say is that the textual study of classroom management failed me in ed school. Even grails like The First Days Of School, Every Minute Counts, etc., didn’t do me anywhere near as good as butchering a period and slumping back for an autopsy with my mentor.

I can’t offer every new teacher that experience but I think I can offer them something close, something, I’m almost certain, better than the usual detached ed-school take on classroom management.

I want to insert teachers into a sequence of carefully engineered classroom management disasters – which we’ll call … um … “episodes” for right now – each one focusing on a distinct, typical conflict, each one increasing in complexity, and each one so virtual you can just walk away from the disaster with a pocketful of answers at the end.

In other words, I want you to own your management solutions rather than buy mine. My book of maxims is easily dismissed and finitely applicable to your classroom. But if I put you and your new teacher buddies into a virtual classroom management thicket (ideally alongside a mentor) and say, “hack your way out of it,” each of you will construct your own solutions, each of which will look slightly different from the others.

Moreover, as with any line of inquiry that begins, “What went wrong here?” you’ll find solutions to problems I included unwittingly, which is awesome. Moreover, you can insert yourself into the same situation a year later and watch your entire solution set change. Are these outcomes even possible with a book of prescriptive advice?

Obviously I’m talking about televisionWhoops – lost half of you right there but past that I’m still working things out.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. It’s called a case study.

    Simulation will never replace cold hard experience, but any attempt at facsimile is better than yet another list of maxims in my book. I’m interested to see what you come up with.

  2. Tom, if your link led to a gallery of nudes, I’d confuse it initially for comment spam, which is to say, I’m not sure how Millot’s analysis of ed systems plays out here.

  3. I am curious as to whether a video or print version of ‘episodes’ (or ‘case studies’) would exists on an initial level, followed by a virtual ‘commenting’ layer of social networking/solution-sharing that allows each example to be immediately engaged by anyone eager to play pre-service teacher or mentor.

    I am intrigued enough to sit back quietly at this point, waiting to see what you come up with, Dan.

  4. I think people’s solutions look not just slightly different, but way different. It’s tough to judge them, because there are both short-term and long-term results and impact to consider.

    The thing you’re suspecting about classroom management — that you can’t teach the skills by talking about the skills — I believe to be true for teaching overall.

  5. To be clear, I merely meant that it sounded like Dan was describing something similar to the case study model used in various graduate programs. I take it that most MEd programs don’t use it?

    It occurs to me I may have sounded a little uppity.

  6. I think the biggest problem with the idea of writing a classroom management guide is this: for most of the things that plague novice teachers, the solution is not how they react to that particular situation (which is the kind of answer they’re looking for), but in what they do weeks or months in advance. Until you get them to do the right thing at the beginning of the year, all those other tricks will be spit in a hurricane.

  7. Also, the problem with a written guide is that knowing with your head, while reflecting, what might be a good solution is one thing. What you can make your emotions, your body do – especially in the short term – is quite another.

    “Learning” means such different things. It means acquiring an insight, which takes seconds, and it means changing emotional responses, and shaping behaviors and habits, which take lots of time and are driven by quite different factors, and where the learning curve depends a lot on your personal history. It’s almost strange that we even use one word for describing such different processes. I’m just echoing age-old distinctions between knowing-that and knowing-how, or the concept/skill distinction, I guess, and my point (if there is any) is that more attention to the mechanics of acquiring the latter kind of “knowledge” is what I would need, and where a book does only so much.

  8. I haven’t been following this series of posts/comments very closely, but it sounds like the real solution is an old one: mentors and apprentices. I’ve wanted to see a three-year internship for teachers for a looong time. Why should doctors have all the fun?! ;)

  9. I don’t think this will work, Dan.

    I’ve been following this series of posts with increasing skepticism, although I doubt neither your brilliance nor your good intent.

    Someone wrote the key point in their comment: management solutions depend utterly upon structures, expectations, and reactions that are *cumulative*– that is, that build upon themselves sequentially in space and time. (I’m sitting here feeling reverbs right now of crappy decisions I made three months ago. I could even tell you what moments those were.) A one-time simulation cannot approach that reality at all.

    Now, you could certainly argue that *no* grad-school type management simulation, digital or not, can approach that cumulative reality, and that the Holodeck Approach is better by degrees, at least. I’d have to agree. But then I’d wonder about the efficacy of dedicating yourself to something which you can only improve by degrees by definition.

    And this is the main thing I am stuck on, actually– something you so rightfully hammer home over and over in your posts: the appropriate, efficient, and effective allocation of your personal resources as a teacher.

    There are hundreds of classroom management consultants, tinkering with hundreds of permutations of management. There’s only one of you. I think your resources– at least for now– are better allocated towards helping us do what you, Dan Meyer, do best– and *love* best: making *math content* come alive.

    Take it or leave it.

  10. Yeah, I’ll take it, but I don’t see how my influence on a) math education, b) classroom management education, or c) new teacher induction varies one to the next. They’re all limited by the blog medium, right? No blog post compares to field experience + good reflection.

    By your last ‘graf, you’re suggesting there are more people working the classroom management angle than math education?

  11. Amazon books on classroom management= 3,596.
    Amazon books on secondary math education= 210.

    And I apologize for not being clear: I’m not suggesting at all that you should limit yourself to blogging. Nor that you couldn’t contribute something cool to classroom management.

    All I’m saying is that I don’t know if a saturated market, limited returns, and a still somewhat green teacher managerially (forgive me. so am I), is an algorithm you want to spend your resources solving.

    But you’re a frickin’ rock star in math, dude. We all know that. You should work where you shine.

    Beyond this, it occurs to me there’s a fairly global perspective that needs to be considered as well. Math is what’s going to make the O2 atmospheric bubbles work on Mars when global warming does us all in, not digital mentoring. I think there’s a strong argument to be made that math needs to be rendered authentic, interesting and accessible, and teachers trained in how to do that, immediately– dare I say urgently.

    I wish someone had done it for me when I was in school.

  12. Dina, thanks for making the math teaching sound that important :) So many kids have bad, bad feelings about the stuff, dating so many years back – sometimes you end up feeling almost guilty about administering it to them – so thanks.

    And Dan – big CM project of this or not, a few more notes about small things that work for your students (the detail about walking in the same direction as the student, taking the student out of the classroom for a conversation (what does the rest of the class do in the meanwhile?)) would be interesting, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s very generalizable.

    With CM issues as with many others, once something is learned it seems so trivially obvious it feels uncomfortable to write about it – and that’s even though it may have been learned only recently, even if there was confused floundering before. For example, I constantly need to remind myself that positivity is effective, and every time it works I feel surprised and a little silly, because it’s so obvious it sounds trite in print, and I’ve read and heard and even written it before, and yet I’ll need to be reminded of it again soon, probably even tomorrow.

  13. H,

    Math IS that important. Holy crow. And when it takes off its bifocals, pocket protector and bow tie, it’s gorgeous, too.

  14. it doesn’t matter whether it’s very generalizable.

    Personally, I would prefer it not be. There’s a reason I mentioned the case-study method, and that’s because I think it’s a great way to develop a thought process in fields that necessarily produce thousands of possible permutations in practice. JD’s and MBA’s will rarely, if ever, have a chance to trace a canned solution onto a real-world legal or business problem, but by learning how to think about business, or about law, they can still take on all comers with poise and precision.