I’m the best teacher in the world. I just spent four days teaching a writing workshop and you would not believe how much those students improved in an incredibly short time. I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m awesome. I deserve a giant raise!
No, wait. I’m the worst teacher in the world. Two years ago, I taught a class for an entire year and even after a whole year with me, many of those students demonstrated no growth that could be measured. In fact, most of them didn’t even graduate from high school in four years. I guess it’s pretty obvious that I suck. I should be fired or put on an improvement plan.
Say what?! How could one teacher—me—be so highly effective in one class and so grossly ineffective in another? Continue reading Lesson 2: Merit Pay Is Unfair to Our Most At-Risk Students
I think often these days of Wilhelm Fleiss. Who doesn’t? you’re probably asking, but in case you don’t remember: in the 19th century, while Freud was developing the theory of psychoanalysis, his friend Wilhelm Fleiss dismissed Freud’s talk therapy as a lot of windy hoo-ha. Why sit around listening to people blather about memories, dreams and feelings? Fleiss’ cure for neurosis was swift and conclusive: stick a hot piece of metal up a patient’s nose and cauterize the connection to the brain.
As you can imagine, this technique was not very successful, which is why you never worry about making a Fleissian slip unless you are running around with a piece of red-hot metal, in which case you have much, much bigger problems to worry about. But for years, before Fleiss destroyed a patient’s nose, causing half of her face to cave in (she later sued him, then became a psychoanalyst), Fleiss’ technique was held in high regard. Why? Because it felt so scientific.
Obviously, in retrospect, it was not remotely scientific, since it never worked (though it may have seemed to work in the short term; who could continue to obsess about their emotional problems while in such excruciating nose pain? To be fair, I suspect that his other cure, “cocainizing” the nose, may have been remarkably effective, at least until the buzz wore off or your money ran out.) But Fleiss’ cure had the trappings of science: the metal instruments, the procedures, the insistence on physical, observable things like body organs. It makes me think of Stephen Colbert’s word “truthiness” for ideas that feel true even though they’re not. Fleiss’ technique may not have been scientific, but it had “science-iness.” And that was close enough, at least until the lawsuit kicked in.
I think of “science-iness” every time I hear people refer to our students’ future success or failure as “outcomes.” Continue reading Science-iness
As I watched Kristin Damo teach one day at Locke High School in Watts, then watched Cynthia Castillo the next day at Augustus Hawkins in South Central, I suddenly understood why I was so often dogged by the suspicion that I was a fairly crappy teacher.
I mean, I know I’m passionate about my subject matter (who else would blog so much for no reason at all?), and inexplicably enjoy the ridiculousness of teenagers, but I’m gonna be honest: there was a lot that I was really, really bad at, and when I was in the classroom, it was all coming at me so fast that I could not pull apart and analyze how, exactly, I’d gone wrong. Now, watching Kristin and Cynthia, I suddenly see my key problem:
I am horrible at creating and implementing systems.
Systems! Who thought teaching was about systems? Continue reading Why Teachers in Underserved Communities Should Be Paid More. A Lot More.