Monday, September 5, 2016

Teaching with 20% Time

I'm an avid follower of +AJJuliani. I've followed him for about a year. Based largely on his writings, I'm going to try 20% Time in my elective International Relations course. This is my first time teaching this course. Readers of this blog may know a little of my story. After teaching Middle School for 22 years, I then left to teach upper elementary school- 5th grade to be exact. After doing that for two years, I shifted to teaching high school last year. Though an experienced pro, I have had my fair share of new these past four years.

This year, I will be teaching 12th graders for the first time. Nothing is more real in traditional schooling and grading than the upcoming marking period for my students and they know it. They know the game of school and they are close to the final inning. They are going to resent these changes if not handled carefully and they may resent them anyway. I dream that they'll feel relieved and unburdened as I present them the freedom to learn about whatever they want. In actuality, I know that for some this may feel like a chore and burden.

It's a hard thing at times this teaching business, especially hard if you want to do a bit differently. I've read widely about education and pedagogy. Though firmly in the constructivist camp, I've always taught in a traditional school that has a slightly progressive flavor around the edges. (forgive me as I know I'm mixing metaphors all over the place and then whatever that last sentence was) Basically, what I'm getting at is that I've taught enough in the traditional method to know it and at times I've been told I did it well. I once prided on being a very good lecturer. At least that's what my students told me. My point is that when teaching differently from the traditional sage on the stage method that we sometimes feel that we are not teaching.  At least I know I have and that's with a firm philosophy and years of teaching experience behind me.

Good teaching is Mr. Chips. It is Robin WIlliams in Dead Poet's Society. It is Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver and Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. These dynamic teachers are the show! The movie and the class narrative is always about them! I reject this while being seduced by it at the same time.

Today, a brand new teacher at my school with years of experience in the Maker Movement came to me worried about not being seen as a teacher if he didn't teach via direct instruction from the front of the class in a computer science class he will be teaching. I have no easy answers to combatting these feelings. I urged my colleague to continue to do what his Maker training has taught him. I hope he does.

Also, it is worth noting that progressive pedagogy is an easy target for parents. They were raised with grades and homework and standards and RIGOR and they equate all of that stuff with learning and they want it for their kids. Years ago, one boy's parents blamed my lack of giving grades for their son's refusal to do any schoolwork. Of course, this boy wasn't doing any schoolwork in any other teachers' classes either and these teachers all graded him. My teaching was singled out.

I'm not going to cave on 20% time. Juliani tells us to celebrate our failures. I perhaps will be doing just that 5 months from now. To anyone thinking about trying to do this teaching thing a little bit differently, hang in there. I know it isn't easy.

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