Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Am Not A Great Teacher

by Shelly Blake-Plock

I am not a great teacher. Many of my former students would probably agree. I'm at times flaky. And I can certainly be absent minded. I tend to ask students to do too much work all at once, probably because that's the way I do things.

I'm a terrible test-prepper. When I do give lectures, I tend to go on tangents. Sometimes I mix up names, dates, events; this happens at family BBQs, too.

I keep my gradebook relatively up-to-date, but tend to prefer talking directly to students about what we've been learning/doing rather than just mark up assignments. This works for some students, it doesn't for others. And thus, I often find myself in the position of doing what I'm "supposed to do" as a teacher when I feel and I know from experience that there is a better way to do things.

When I started teaching, I was absolutely terrible at classroom management. A decade in, I realize that my classroom management issues stopped being issues around year 3 when I stopped trying to control everything going on in my classroom. I don't think any of us really realize what classroom management is all about until years into teaching when we've realized that we haven't thought about classroom management in a while.

I try to talk candidly with parents. And I will argue my point. But I'll also listen to yours. As a father of three elementary school kids, I value conversations with their teachers where they are open and honest with me even if I disagree with what they are saying.

Sometimes I've gotten into trouble because I've been too open or outspoken about things. I know there are many folks on the faculty who don't like me. I've let certain grudges go on too long.

But at the same time, I feel like there are people who get an idea in their head about what you represent, and from there on out, there is no changing their opinion.

Happens in my head, too.

I am not a great teacher. I'm not always prepared. Though I do think I am a pretty good improviser. And I think that is an essential, but over-looked skill. I like the idea that any kid can bring up any point about any subject and within seconds we can be talking about something that could potentially change a life in a way my prepared lesson never could.

I tend to hate most professional development. And yet, I like to design new kinds of PD.

A lot of people confuse me with someone who thinks technology is the answer to all of our problems. Those people are probably people who don't like to read long blog posts.

Fair enough.

I always hated working in groups as a student. But now, I work with groups all the time. In some ways, I couldn't function professionally without my network. That network -- that group ever changing and evolving in thought and substance -- is the circulatory system at the heart of what I think about when I think about education.

I'm not a great teacher. I can't teach you how to be a great teacher. You are probably a better teacher than me. I don't know.

What I do know is that I'm a pretty good learner. I like learning. I'm also a pretty good share-er. I like sharing. When I am learning and sharing, I don't feel like my back is to the wall. I feel comfortable. I feel like my motivations are honest. I feel like I can be myself. And I feel a bit more useful to other folks.

I am far more interested in being a conduit for ideas. A conduit for conversation. A conduit for debate. For real learning. Connecting. Rethinking. Reframing debates. Debates and discussions. The stuff of humanity.

I don't remember off the top of my head what year Napoleon became emperor. I'd have to look it up. I guess that makes me a pretty lousy history teacher.

But I'm willing to not know.

I take a lot of solace in the example of Socrates. Not because I think I'm like Socrates, but because I think deep down Socrates is a lot like all of us. Socrates was a guy who both boastfully and intimately explained that in the end, he really didn't know anything.

And that was enough to change everything.

41 comments:

  1. And THAT is why one size doesn't fit all in the classroom. You've found your niche. But other teachers out there ARE excellent lecturers, grade papers with precision and zeal, and don't like the conduit role. So I hope the takeaway from this post can be that not all teachers need to be all things to all kids.

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  2. A good teacher isn't necessarily a perfect teacher. Teachers are human with human flaws, and it's good for students to see that. You learn and reflect -that's what makes a great teacher.

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  3. I love the transparency of this post, Shelly.

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  4. So well stated and well written! One cannot be a "perfect" teacher. We have our niches where we excel just like our students do. As long as our students keep changing there will never be such a thing as a "perfect" teacher. Even if one were to get close to perfect the next set of human beings that enters your classroom can quickly send you back to learning mode.

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  5. So well expressed! That's exactly how I feel in My classroom and in my role as à teacher. We try to reach out to our students with our knowledge, but sometimes we reach them easier using feelings and our " know how" that fits the moment!

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  6. I love your humility. Quite a contrast to the hubris that I've seen throughout my career in K12.

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  7. Thank you for being human. We are not perfect beings and our imperfections help others, namely our students and parents, identify with us. Leveling the playing field means making those meaningful connections that last a lot longer than dates and formulas.

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  8. As I read this article, it helped me reflect on my own teaching style. This article describes me to a "T" : ) Great Job !!!

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  9. I could easily have written this post about myself; I guess I've done one version of it or another several times, but you lay it all on the line.

    As I make the transition from history teacher to teacher-librarian I realize I spent far too much time and effort trying to remember specific dates, names and the like, especially now that we can access that information almost immediately online.

    What is most important to me now, and I suspect to you as well, is that we model learning in all its different forms and methods. Our students need to see that the active pursuit of knowledge, of making sense of the world, is a process that should not end at the end of the school day, the semester or at graduation.

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  10. I hope you know how inspirational your post is to me and I'm sure many others. I think its very cool how totally open you are in this post and you provide inspiration to many of us who struggle so much to be perfect. Your blog entry reminds us that only when we let go and not try to fit into a certain mold can we be who we are meant to be and be the natural leaders we were meant to be. Thank you.

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  11. I found this post quite challenging. Sometimes I am a great teacher and there are definitely times when I suck. I do, however, aspire to be brilliant. Is this foolish? I love the drama of teaching and live on adrenaline for long periods during the school year. I make myself take time to be reflective and sometimes I cringe at how awful a lesson was and am damn glad no one was there to witness its appalingness.

    I think you're probably like that too, otherwise why bother writing (or reading) a blog like this?

    The point is, despite my failings, I keep trying to be brilliant.

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  12. Thank you for being honest and imperfect. Your blog entry reflects how I often feel about teaching, learning and sharing. It is nice to know that there are others that feel the same way. With all the controversy swirling about education, educators, evaluation and assessment it is refreshing to read your blog and reflect on my own practices, knowing that I am not alone in my pursuit.

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  13. Loved this post! You said it so well. We all have strengths and weaknesses. When we can acknowledge those and use them as best we can (use both our strengths and weaknesses) then we are preparing children for the real world. The world is not black and white, there are many shades of grey. Thank you for a post that made me really reflect on my teaching practices and why I got into this profession in the first place.

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  14. That's it in a nutshell and yet the entire spectrum of teaching is so wide open.... Flexible in some areas, straight in others. It sums up to being human with a love of sharing with other humans. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. Great post. I just finished my first year teaching. My classroom management was horrible. Many times I felt like a BAD teacher and a few times I felt like a good teacher. Not sure if I ever felt like a great teacher. I keep seeing things to improve on and students who I can do more for if I had 40 hours in one day. I know I care for my students. I know they know that too. I know I try my best and that I will never give up on them. I know I'm a great person... still working on the teaching!

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  16. A very candid and wise post. Hats off to you!

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  17. You have done a excellent job of putting into words how I have felt my entire career. Thank you for taking a huge step in saying the that you are not a great teacher. Teachers are put into this stereotype of perfection and all knowing.

    I'm not a great teacher but I am striving to be a better and effective teacher. I like to help my students know that we are striving to become better than the day before. I want them to be asking questions, sharing experiences, finding answers, role playing what they have learned and so on. I know I have made a positive difference for so many. Yet, I am never satisfied with myself. I now realize there are others that have the same feeling.
    Thank you for your honesty! Love the post.

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  18. Thank you for writing and sharing this post. So glad I didn't miss this link on my Twitter account.

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  19. I think we can all agree with much of what you have said. The art of teaching is figuring it all out and your open and honest reflection was perfect. Thanks.

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  20. Hi Shelly,

    The range of your intellect and the genuine enthusiasm you bring to the table make you a great teacher whether you care to admit it or not. And there are a lot of other reasons too. It has taken me way to long to realize that this is not a very productive question. We can't be all things to all people. A person who claims to be a great teacher will probably never become one. BTW, thanks for creating this blog. You are a great teacher!

    Paul Perrot

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  21. Thank you for writing this. I might just do the same - recognize my humanity as a teacher, accept it, and just keep trying to do what I know is right by my students.

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  22. *I* am the perfect teacher. Now, listen to me. Hey! where's everybody gone?

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  23. I loved this. Well put and perfect.

    Btw, am I the only one who only notices my classroom management abilities (or lack thereof) when another adult is in the room with me?

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  24. Wonderful post! Like many others, I see so much of myself in your description. It is nice to know there are quality teachers who experience the same feelings and situations as I do.

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  25. I LOVE the part about improvisation. We use it all the time. What happens when a student asks you a question that you had not "planned" for? Tell them to come back tomorrow?

    Nice work!

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  26. Thank you for this wonderful post. As a "future" teacher, getting ready for student teaching, it makes me feel at least a tiny little bit better.

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  27. You stated so many things I've thought about as a teacher. We can't be everything to everyone, but we are something to some.

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  28. I don't know, you sound like the perfect teacher to me...

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  29. Thanks for opening yourself to us. I guess if you think you're a great teacher, there's no room for improvement. We as teachers should always strive to do our best, even if we think our actions/intentions weren't good enough. It will touch more students than we think. I'm glad I found your post on my Paper.li.

    Sincerely,
    Theresa

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  30. I could have written this. The entire time I was reading it, I kept thinking, "Me too!"

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  31. Thanks for your honest dialogue about your teaching. I, too, hated working in groups as a kid, but then, I could "do" school (although it wasn't easy for me -- I knew how to do it!). But for most of my students, working in groups gives them confidence and teaches them about finding and using resources (in people, information, and tools) which is what helps us all function successfully; we cannot do everything alone. And your openness with this post to your internet group shows how networking, openness, and humility help us all improve. We strive to be great teachers. Always striving...

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  32. In 1991, while applying for a position at a high school in Kyoto, Japan, I was asked what made me a great teacher. I answered with, "I don't think I'm a great teacher, but I'm always trying to become a better teacher. I was hired and spent 5 fantastic years as a teacher and a learner in a foreign country. I think it was the letting go of the expectation of perfection that has kept me in this profession. Thanks for saying what I have long believed is true: being a good learner makes a good teacher.

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  33. There's a word I'm coming back to often, which wasn't really part of my training or experience, formally, but was truly at the core of my progressive education as a child in the 1950's: constructivism. While "project-based learning" is also almost always a part of a real learning process, it's too pragmatic sounding a phrase to evoke much resonance philosophically or politically. But constructivism does: the word itself calls forth some thought, a reaching for a new understanding if it's an unfamiliar word, or the invention of a new sense in relevance the present context just by its mention.

    Thanks for an eloquent reminder of the primacy of learning and the futile search for a "fool-proof" teaching approach, the "great teacher pours it out" model of filling empty vessels. We build our profession by learning together.

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  34. This honestly sounds like a post that I would have written. I'm glad that I'm not the only one, and after reading this find that I feel like less of a fraud now. I'm human. I make mistakes. I think that it's good for my students to see that.

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  35. Thank you for this post! Great teachers love learning and share their passion for learning with others. We are passionate about finding new ways to inspire (sometimes returning to the tried and true, but learning loads along the way). I am still on fire about education even though it can be one of the biggest source of frustration.

    I just completed my fifth year teaching and realized that I was preoccupied with classroom management during my first three years. Not so much anymore.

    Again, thank you for your heartfelt words.

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  36. Shelly,
    The first quality I seek in teacher evaluations is ....is the teacher reflecting on what he/she is doing with the students? The best teachers,I find, are the most reflective and more critical of themselves...never satisfied. Does the teacher inspire students to look into things outside the scope of the classroom? Does the teacher get the students to think? Does the teacher encourage creativity?

    You taught me for part of one day and I am still pondering many of your questions and suggestions, so is Ryan. Mechanical processes and preparation can always be improved once a teacher understands their weaknesses.

    Knowing facts does not make a good teacher, but helping students learn to find the answer might be... Your former teacher from the Mount

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  37. Thanks for this great post. I have struggled with feeling of inadequacy all my years of teaching, even when my students and other teachers have said otherwise. However, I am passionate about learning, and I try to model that passion for my students. I try to help them see how being excited about learning is "cool". I also appreciate how technology gives me to opportunity to connect with other impassioned learners (and teachers) all over the world. I spent many years isolated in my classroom - with "MY" students and had little time with all the lesson planning and correction, etc. to connect with other teachers outside my classroom. Sadly, this is still the case for many teachers. Finding the time to read blogs, follow great educators on twitter, and participate in webinars around the topic of education, has opened the world for me. We need to make these resources available for our students -help them to find a passion for learning. Am I a great teacher -No, but I am an evolving teacher, trying to find ways to be better every day. This fall I enter my last year of teaching, and I have one overwhelming goal -to shut up and listen more to what my students have to say and to continue to be a better teacher by being a better learner with my students as teachers.

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  38. Educators like to be acknowledged for the good teaching tahat they provide, and evey teacher has that potential -these great teachers way may be useful & inspirational to teachers,educators http://www.geocities.ws/greatteachersari

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  39. I really enjoyed reading that - thanks for sharing.

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  40. I salute all the teachers who have teach kids to achieving their goals. Interesting page in here.

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