Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Teacher as Artist

I'm a Beatles fan.  Imagine if the Beatles record company in 1964 told the Fab Four, don't experiment, keep on writing songs like "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."  They would have flamed out by 1966 as music changed and listeners became bored.

Instead they were allowed to pursue their artistic visions and experiment with music and sound.  I've heard it said that John Lennon and Paul McCartney challenged each other to write a song about their childhood in Liverpool.  McCartney wrote the upbeat song "Penny Lane" and Lennon wrote the psychedelic "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Two different approaches, two awesome songs.

A few years ago, I was talking with a former student of mine from Christian Heritage School.  He had entered the noblest of professions, he was a Social Studies teacher in a public school in Georgia.  We were talking "shop" when he told me how the department of education had planned out the topic he was to teach for each day.  What he said next was chilling, "(Kevin) if you taught down here, you would not be able to do any of the creative things you do in the classroom."  The pacing the state had come up with for all history teachers to follow would not allow the time.

For the past few years, my school has had to split the Geography class between two teachers due to student population numbers.  It brought about parent complaints.  We were both established veteran teachers and no one was critiquing our effort or ability.  The complaint was that the other teacher and myself taught the class differently.  So instead of allowing us to teach to our strengths, they wanted us to teach the same things the same way.  We were being asked to stop doing the things that made us the effective teachers we are and to adapt to similar ways for the sake of uniformity.

One of the greatest benefits I have had in my teaching is to serve under two principals for 17 of my 21 years, who were both big supporters of my methods in the classroom, but more importantly allowed me the opportunity to fail in trying different things in the classroom.  With this freedom, I have developed a variety of skills, simulations, questioning techniques, etc.  I take pride in the job I do.  Sculpting a lesson and seeing the finished product, the student's understanding of the material and task at hand, can be exhilarating.  Sometimes I step back after something I planned and say "Masterpiece".  Other times I step back and say, "Garbage".  Yet in 21 years, I never rest on the masterpieces I created or let the garbage I produced frustrate me.

Show me a teacher that teaches with passion for their topic, who spends time creating out of the box learning experiences, and I will show you a classroom of students who are engaged and willing to learn.

Allow a far off state department of education (with whom you will have no contact with) dictate the lesson and approach of the classroom, and I will show you a bored and unmotivated teacher and bored and unmotivated students.

And if you think test scores tied into a teacher keeping their tenure will prevent the teacher from being unmotivated and bored, remember the words of Peter Gibbons in the movie "Office Space"

"That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired."

It would be like the poet who is regulated to writing formulaic poems for a greeting card company.

Don't allow your state departments of education to shackle teachers by dictating what lesson is taught on what day.  What is the point of of all this uniformity?  How will it improve your child's educational experience?  How it will prepare him/her for the real world, where they will have different bosses or clients who are not uniform in the approaches?

Aren't we to embrace diversity?  Embrace that different teachers bring different skill sets into the classroom when they put together the "notes" of their lessons together.  I guaranteed your child will bring to ears the many symphonies they are experiencing in their classrooms.

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