Blog Entry #4


Thursday, February 28. 2008

Title: Letter To A Young Teacher

By Chris Lehmann

Original Post:

I don't remember where I read it, but I was reading another article that mentioned the oft-quoted stat about how many teachers leave the profession within the first five years, and I was thinking about how many really amazing young men and women I've known in my career who fell into that category, and I was thinking about a conversation I had with an old colleague at Beacon and how she said, "Yeah... that year three or four mark, that's a dangerous time, because that's when you think you know so much more than you actually do." And I was thinking about my own progression as a teacher and how true that was... And I was thinking about some of the things people who stayed with the profession seemed to embody that the ones who left didn't. I was thinking about what I want to say to all those teachers who, right around year three or four, start to leave the profession...


Dear Young Teacher Thinking of Leaving,


You've stuck with this job for a few years now. You have made it past the hardest few years, but it's still a really hard job. And you're at a point where you know a lot about the job, but there's still a lot to learn. And the things you haven't learned yet are the some of the things you need to stay with this job. I don't know for sure that you should stay; after all, people switch professions these days. But here are some of the things it takes longer than three or four years to really, really learn. Some of these are things I've had to learn the hard way, some of these are things I've seen others learn the hard way, and a lot of these ideas are things that I keep having to relearn all the time.


This job is a marathon, not a sprint. As much as we don't like to admit it, we have to acknowledge our need to pace ourselves.


However, you learn something in time that makes that easier. You aren't their only teacher. You aren't the only adult in their life. And even if you were, you can't be everything to every kid.


You learn that perfection is a lousy goal because it is unattainable.


You learn that excellence is a better goal, but even that is a moving target.


In other words, you learn that the perfect really is the enemy of the good.


You learn that it's just not about you. And it's just not about the kids either. It's about the space between where the meaning happens.


You learn that you can't reach every kid. And you never really learn to be o.k. with that.


You learn that you know a lot less than you think you do.


You learn that your colleagues know a lot more than you think they do.


You learn to find the teachers who can prove to you that you can do this job for thirty years, and you learn to go sit in their classroom when you need to.


You learn that you don't have to be young to relate to the kids.


You learn that teaching is both an art and craft, and that it is something you get better at.


You learn that the more you document what you do, the happier you are the next year.


You learn that retooling a unit takes less time than creating one....


You learn that the more you get good at the basics, the more you can experiment with new ideas.


You learn that you can't grade everything.


You learn where you can compromise and where you can't.


You learn that not every kid is going to major in your subject and you accept that that's o.k.


You learn that you aren't perfect... and neither are the kids, and sometimes the best thing you can do is forgive... yourself and the kids.


You learn that taking care of yourself is important... and that the kids know when you do... and want you to.


You learn that you shouldn't idealize other jobs.


You learn that the worst thing you can do is think of yourself as "just a teacher."


You learn that the second worst thing you can do is think that being a teacher is the hardest job in the world.


You learn that the best things that happen in your class weren't wholly because of you.


But you learn that the worst thing things weren't wholly because of you either.


And you learn that, in both cases, your presence did matter.


You learn that every time you are feeling like really know what you are doing, it's important to find the thing about the job that humbles you.


You learn that every time you feel like you have no idea what you are doing, it's important to find the thing that reminds you how much you have learned.


You learn how to ask yourself, "Did I give what I had to give today?"


You learn how to look at that question over time.


You learn that life is hard... that the teaching life is hard... that the movies rarely get it right... and that being a young teacher means being the adult in the room, and that's o.k.


You learn to find that teacher's voice inside you that is real, authentic and effective.


You learn how much good you can do... and how important it is to find ways to do that much good over a whole career, not as a martyr to the job, but as a healthy, clear-eyed teacher.


You learn patience.


You learn how much you have to keep learning.


Most of all, you learn that once you stop trying so hard, you can listen better, and then you can hear what the kids are saying back to you. And then you can learn that they change you as much as you change them.


It's a hard job, it's a frustrating job, and the vast majority of our schools are underfunded, understaffed and swimming upstream to teach the adult values of hard work, sustained effort and sustained focus when there is very little else in teenage life that reinforces those values. And you realize that the kids are hearing your message, even when you think they aren't.


Our schools need so many more of those early-career teachers to stay in the profession so that they can become the master teachers of the next generation. We need you to stay and figure it out. It's never easy, but it does keep getting better as long as you are willing to continue to learn.


And you do learn that, in the end, so many of us love our jobs more than the rest of the world does.

 My Response:

Dear Chris, I find your letter to be very helpful and encouraging to those of us out there who are, or will soon teach the youth of America. As an education major I envision myself many times in the classroom doing what I know I'm meant to do with my life, and then I realize that the experience doesn't stop once I have a degree. The only thing I do not know is what exactly my experience will be. Many people have to embrace the fact that there will be continuous hurdles on the path to self-satisfation, but by being challenged, we should allow ourselves to cease the opportunity to grow from it an learn some more ourselves. I now have your letter saved and maybe someday I will be able to look back at it from another standpoint and still be just as encouraged as I am right now.
Sincerely, Alex Cozzi


Blog #3

TITLE: 21st Century Literacies from the NCTE

21 Feb 2008 05:08 pm

By Will Richardson

Paul Allison tweeted out this update from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) exec committee last week in terms of how we need to think more expansively about literacy in the context of these shifts. As a former English teacher and NCTE member, I find these couple of lines to be of particular interest:

Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies-from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms-are multiple, dynamic, and malleable.


I think that one word, "malleable" is a fascinating choice (and a fine SAT prep word, by the way.) The ideas that these literacies must now be adaptable and bendable to meet whatever comes down the pike is a pretty big shift in thinking. Literacy, in other words, just got a lot harder to measure on a standardized test.

I've written before about the idea of a "network literacy" that is almost a requirement these days. I want to write more about that shortly, but a lot of what the NCTE is putting out there moves toward that. The idea of "build[ing] relationships with others" and "shar[ing] information for global communities" as English literacies is a pretty wild shift on some level.

If nothing else, this goes to the heart of connective reading and connective writing that we've been talking about here and elsewhere now for years. Reading and writing is still about the ability to understand and to create texts of various types, but it's increasingly more now about connecting to other ideas, other people, and other conversations.

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My Response: Comment by Alex Cozzi 2008-03-05 01:39:19

I, along with many other people responding to your blog and otherwise agree that the word "malleable" holds an important notion that we must keep in mind. As technologies advance younger generations are on the reciprocating frontier. As a future English teacher myself I believe it will be important to keep students engaged in this so-called "network literacy." Technology most importantly is happening now, and as it will only continue to progress, English teachers of the future will be faced more and more with embracing the developments. An even more difficult part could be maintaining and integrating manuscript. Either way I find this to be an interesting concept that I think will only become more popular as time goes by.
Cheers, Alex


Blog Entry #2

Title of Post:

Chasing False Gods



Monday, February 18. 2008

by Chris Lehmann

I was speaking to a group of high school students the other day -- not SLA kids -- and I asked them what they wanted their high school experience to be. Many of them said, "We want it to be fun!" It echoed some of what I think I hear from some voices in the School 2.0 movement. (Not all voices, probably not even most voices, but enough that I think this is worth exploring...)

I've some conversations with kids at SLA about this idea... and yes, I think that SLA is a fun place to be, but more importantly, I think we've created a place that is a meaningful place to be, and that matters more.

And that strikes me as what we want to create in our schools -- places of true meaning. I worry that we spend so much time looking at these amazing tools as tricks to make stuff more engaging and fun without tending a critical eye toward meaningful learning. I worry that we mistake engaging and entertaining, and I worry that the tools we have at our disposal allows us to amuse ourselves and amuse our kids without getting down to meaningful work.

One of the biggest challenges we face today is that we live in a society that doesn't necessarily reward meaning. We have more distractions at our disposal, and I worry that more and more, Neil Postman's warning to us in "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business" (Neil Postman) is more and more true. How do we compete with Wii? How do we compete with Facebook? How do we compete with Saw?

The answer is simple -- we don't.

We have to understand -- we cannot compete with the ever-more-fast-paced and realistic entertainment world. What we can offer is meaning and purpose and authenticity.

Kids know the difference. It's the difference between enjoying playing Guitar Hero and learning to play guitar. One is fun, the other is meaningful. It's the difference between playing pick-up basketball in the park and working every day at practice as part of a team. It's the difference between a class where the teacher excels at keeping the kids amused and one where the teacher excels at keeping the kids engaged.

The thing is this... what we have to offer in our schools is harder than immediate gratification that much of the rest of youth culture is offering. Our kids walk a path these days where they must navigate distractions, both legal and illegal, of an increasingly powerful type. What we offer is, I believe, an antidote to that. School can offer a path to meaning, authentic learning, and a reflective and contemplative space where kids have the time and tools to make better choices.

What we have to remember, as we attempt to do that, is that we don't have to mimic the world outside our walls that seems to constantly be selling one thing or another to our kids. In fact, that might just be the worst thing we can do.

 My Response:

I agree whole-heartedly that, "School can offer a path to meaning, authentic learning, and a reflective and contemplative space where kids have the time and tools to make better choices" (Lehmann). However, recognizing this truth and actually making it happen are two very different acts. Though this is a brilliant theoretical perspective of learning, it also provides no solutions. It neither promotes the implementation of what might interest students nor identifies specifically we are doing that is ineffective. How then do we make schools places of meaning? Is it not the dream of teachers that students accept the offer that education provides? We need to accept that some students are just not cut out for the 9+ year committment that is education. My friend's younger sibling is a Junior in high school, probably the most restless of phases and he simply wants to graduate and get out. With this not so distant dream nearing he seems to have lost all interest in school and what it has to "offer" him. I'll never forget a few weeks back when he was retelling a story about the "stupid detention" he recieved. In response to his punishment, he said to his teacher, "You're just mad because I only have a year left till I'm out and you're stuck here forever!" I could have choked when he said this, but it hit me, some kids simply do not care. They would much rather be off doing the things that "entertain" them. On this note, I do think that it's important to impliment our culture in with our lessons. If school is going to be the place where students are kept away from distracting decisions like drugs and such We must make them want to be there. Games, innovative technology, and films all have the possibility of stirring up something that is meaningful to the class on an educational level. Remember, there will never be that universal lesson to keep everyone on their toes, but we can try, one at a time to try new things. #20 Alex Cozzi on 2008-02-26 20:31


Blog Entry #1

Title of Post:

Making the Connection


January 16th, 2008
by Chris Lehmann

Interestingly, I think that both answers are reductive. Teachers are born and made. There’s no question that there are people who can step into a classroom and manage it, engage the kids and make the classroom an enjoyable place to be. And there are teachers for whom learning how to manage the classroom is a difficult, even torturous process. But what we’re talking about is really just one part of being a teacher. Can you connect naturally with kids? Is that important? Of course it is. Very important. Kids who connect with a teacher will work for and with that teacher more easily.

But there is more to teaching than that. There’s the craft of teaching, of learning how to structure a unit so that it’s a cohesive whole, so that the ideas come together with skills and kids can end the unit and speak to what and how they’ve learned. There’s the craft of thinking about curriculum in ways that make it much easier for students to understand what they learn, why they learn and how they learn. That comes with study, that comes with dedicating ones’ self to the craft of teaching. And that often starts, for those “born” teachers, the first time you realize that those kids who are listening to you don’t yet understand what they are doing or why they are doing it, except that they are doing it for you, which is, of course the wrong reason for a student to do anything.

Teachers aren’t made or born. Teachers — good and great teachers — learn that the best way to improve as a teacher is to bring the authentic sense of themselves to the classroom and combine that with careful and deliberate study of the craft of teaching to become the best teacher they can be.


My Response:  

I agree with a few before me that teachers are made as well as born or they can be neither. As a student currently in the process of becoming a teacher I have all the confidence in the world that this is what I am meant to do with my life, but I still lack the actual experience itself to learn and improve from. I anticipate feeling overwhelmed and confused at times in the future otherwise, if I do not then I am not challenging myself enough to be as good as I can possibly be. Those who do not grow and learn from situations cannot possibly be progressing. Some teachers will not be made, however. I have met my fair share of Education majors who seem to be drifting through the process and going through the motions. Simply earning the prize does not necessarily mean that you know what to do with it.

Likewise, not all future teachers are "born" with the talent, but this does not mean that he or she can not realize it down the road. Looking back on my childhood I guess I was always monitoring the activity of my playmates and always trying to encourage them to do new things, but I still faced defeat that MADE me learn how to find success in the future. Just because someone is born with the likeness and the talent to educate others does not mean that it's a bad thing to help mold them into what they desire.

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