Greetings everyone! We have certainly reached the dog days of summer. This is the time of year when Floridians get lazy. We skip long walks, going to the gym and well, going outside in the daytime hours in general except to go to and from air conditioned places. I have been known to tell my own kids that "it is too hot to go swimming right now" and today the pool a was "refreshing" eighty-nine degrees for our cookout--sort of like swimming in a giant bowl of soup! Nevertheless, a good time was had by all. Fortunately, nine out of twelve months are most pleasant so I will stop griping about the heat and humidity.
As we prepare for the new school year I have a million ideas zooming through my mind. This will be my first year back in a brick and mortar classroom in four years so I am excited for my "comeback". (I'm hoping it will be more like an Olympic comeback than a Brittney Spears comeback.) For me this chapter had lots of ah-ha moments, highlighting and notes off to the side. I hope you too got a lot out of it!
Part A (Choose 1 question)
Please respond to one of the following questions:
1. On page 106 Willingham talks about how great scientists are almost always workaholics. I think that this transfers to most other professions as well and education is no exception. Great teachers typically come in early, leave late, sponsor clubs/coach and serve on several committees. We also must take the time to do something "mindless" every now and again to avoid burnout. What actions steps do you take to avoid burnout? Or as my principal says, "what do you do for stress, ya know, what prevents you from throwing cats out the window." What advice would you give to a new teacher entering the profession to avoid burnout?
2. On page 107 Willingham talks about the "ten-year rule" to becoming an expert. Although this is not carved in stone he does point out that it does take about that long to learn the background knowledge in most fields. Would you agree or disagree that this applies to our field? As a follow up, we know that teacher retention rates are low. What are the long term applications if this trend continues? What can be done to change it? (Dream big for that last question--I want to hear your wild solutions.)
Part B (ALL)
I loved the final paragraph of this chapter and more specifically the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"Every artist was first an amateur."
I have been called both a crazy workaholic and crazy perfectionist. I am my own worst enemy at times so this was a great reminder for me. I think it will be posted in my classroom this year. What was the greatest piece that you took away from Chapter 6?
Based on the "responses" from the last two weeks, I would say the answer to #1 is "to take the last week of July and the first week of August off from having to think about anything to do with school." That said, thank you for sticking with this Shauna. Your questions have been very timely (in terms of what I am thinking about as I read each chapter) each week and have prompted a great deal of extra reflection on my part. I have appreciated the opportunity to think along with colleagues on what implications this book has for my teaching.
#1 and #3 I think are quite related to one another. Certainly, many of us involved in the book study (and thousands of others) are perfectionists and I have very high expectations for my students. I believe that I can help them to think like an historian with a constant and dedicated look at primary source documents and help them to read them as an historian would. However, maybe my expectations for the "finished product" need to be toned done a little. This chapter did a very nice job of helping me understand my sometimes frustration with my students because they just don't seem to "get it." I need to keep in mind that the vast majority of them are not going to be historians, or teachers of history, and that they are not going to be perfect at it over the course of a year. However, I will maintain a level of expectations for the quality of their work and the quality of their thinking in my class. I responded to a recent Will Richardson tweet wen he had this to say about an column in the New York Times about the necessity of teaching algebra: Will Richardson
While the article deals with algebra, how soon will it be applied to other disciplines such as ours, that idea that all of the facts are out there for students to find easily enough. My response focused on thinking and logical progression of thought. Part of what I don't see in students is any kind of logical, coherent movement from "A to B to C." That is why I will always try to make sure that while my students may not be historians by the end of their time with me, they will be thinkers.
As a mentor of new teachers at my school, I did want to weigh in on #2 as well. More needs to be done to encourage more experienced teachers to mentor newer ones. I remember my first teaching job and how I never saw my mentor except when my ship was already taking on water and the rats were leaving in a big hurry. As a mentor, I have made it a point to seek out my mentees on a daily basis, even if only for 5 minutes to make sure that everything is going OK. I let them drive the discussion, but I at least want to check in. All teachers need to make it more of a priority to check in with younger teachers, to go out of their way to say hi, to see if there are resources that they have that might help, to talk about students, whatever it might be. New teachers are often afraid to ask for help because they do not want to seem weak and needing of help, but will not stop talking if someone shows up on their doorstep ready to offer advice/help/"solutions." I know that this is not a "wild solution," but it is one that all of us can start doing on the first day of school this year.
Thanks for these remarks, Dan. They resonate with me because I am in the process of writing a book about how to use 11th grade US History content to teach critical thinking and other skills. I am currently writing about how I see so many of the skills used by research historians to be the same as those most of us profess to want to instill in our students to help them become the thoughtful, engaged, skeptical citizens our nation and world so desperately need. So, while I agree with you that very few of our students will become research historians or history teachers, almost all will become adult citizens. In that capacity, they will find great benefit using the skills we can help them develop. And, when they do we all benefit from the strengthened society that results.
I also want to commend you for your work mentoring young teachers. And that is not just for lending a willing ear when they need it, but because by doing so you undoubtedly encourage many of them to stay the course with whatever experiments they may be questioning, rather than succumbing to fears and doubt and falling back on the tired, traditional and most often deadly boring - text, lecture, quiz on Friday.
Q1B. I think new teachers often want to do everything and everything well to help their students. They sign up for every committee, club, or coach because they are asked and they have the “energy”. Then as they realize their classroom should and must take priority they become burnt out with all they are being asked to do. My advice to a new teacher is to focus on your classroom and pick 1-2 extras that you pick up. Don’t be pressured into anything because your JOB is to be the best teacher and that alone takes a lot of time and energy.
I’ve been teaching 10 years and I learned time balance VERY slowly (I’m probably not there yet). When I got married 5 years ago, I had to learn to at least leave school at a reasonable time so we could eat dinner together. We just had our first child in March so I’ve given up a few classes and I’ve “resigned” from coaching our varsity volleyball team (at least for a few years) because I’ve realized that in order to be the best teacher I can be, I need to be happy in my personal life – and right now that involves spending time with my daughter. When I found out I was pregnant, I slowly started giving up a few things so it wouldn’t be all at once and I could ease into having more time.
Q2. I think the most revealing thing in this chapter was hearing that students CAN’T think like the experts. It’s great for students to do activities that experts take part in however we can’t expect the same thought processes or results from students. Often times in education because technology is advancing at a rapid rate, we think students should develop faster. We sometimes forget about those educational psychology classes that reinforce that students need much more than academics in order to mature. We as educators can push our students to new types of thinking, but we are just one step in a process of maturing for students, not the end all.
Thanks for all of the food for thought with your fantastic comments. I thinking that taking the time to unplug and recharge is something that is difficult for many teachers and in order for our students to be on top of their game, we also must on top of our game in the classroom. In a true confession, it is why I chose to leave my previous job--I simply burnt myself out. The company thought that I was great but at home I was becoming not so great.
With all this talk of balance it really got me to think. I am primarily an AP teacher and my AP kids are totally on overdrive in terms of extracurricular activities and academics. Often I expect them to think like experts in spite of all of this madness. I will certainly be fine tuning this year and trying to work more with other departments in my attempt to do what is best for students. Dan you raise in good point in that only a handful will be history teachers or use history in their everyday work lives but fostering a culture of critical thinking is a must.
The thoughts on mentoring young teachers are also fantastic. I have often thought to start an e-mentoring program for teachers via text, email and web conferencing. It is that whole idea of coaching and mentoring while putting people at ease and helping them to add to their toolboxes before it is too late. Typically we give these new teachers a set of keys, have a "district-ee" type person pop in every now and again for these teachers to develop a portfolio, check off a few boxes and they quickly move on their way. Even these programs are going away with the economic crisis. There are of course, the helpful few at the school site to help out however planning doesn't always match up and no time is really built into the schedule to give these newcomers the support that they really need. I don't know, it just seems that the person that colors my hair has had more on the job training that those educating our kids.