Sep 03 2012

BUT CARING IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR KNOWING HOW TO TEACH

One of the more disturbing posts I’ve seen recently on this site is one called ‘I CARE SO MUCH’  As some of the posts I’ve referred to recently have suddenly disappeared, here is the post:

“Ms. Barnett, are you about to cry?”

Yes, I was emotional yesterday. But no, it wasn’t because of management issues or the mountain of paperwork awaiting me. Yesterday, I felt the weight of years of educational inequity in my classroom.

We always toss out the term “critical thinking” as a skill for students — the ability to process questions, determine what the answer needs to look like, and create a plan of attack to get from the question to the answer. I remember hearing that term for as long as I can remember. I had taken it for granted; I had always been taught to think this way.

Yesterday, as I asked my students simply to read the question and determine which formula to use (distance formula? midpoint?), some of them stared blankly back at me. They didn’t know where to begin — which formula to use? How to apply the numbers to that formula? Yesterday, I saw the gap in their education, where this basic thought process hadn’t been drilled deeply into their brains.

I have heard it dozens of times, but it wasn’t until this moment that I felt it so completely: my kids need a teacher with a vision. They need a leader in the classroom. They need someone with a clear plan of attack for their success. They need me.

Somewhere between trying new management techniques and crying on the phone to my mom (yep, it’s happened) and cheering like a crazy person at football previews and seeing the blank looks on their faces as they took their benchmark exams, my kids have stolen my heart. I care so much about my students. I want them to succeed — to be in a place where they can feel success on the football field and in the classroom; where they are able to play football because they are able to apply mathematical formulas effectively. I cannot wait to see their faces as they take the benchmark again, as they see how much they’ve grown over the course of the year. I cannot wait to see those “aha!” moments.

So, yesterday, I told them this. I did it. I got all emotional & passionate & gave them a speech about how much I care about them. Which brings us back to where we started: “Ms. Barnett, are you about to cry?”

No, I didn’t cry, but something lit up within me. As I said before, I have shed tears over the past month…mostly, they’ve been out of feelings of frustration or failure. I felt like something was dying. Yesterday, my emotion sparked something new. My kids need me, and I need them. We’re a team; we’re in this together.

Let’s go.

For new teachers reading my blog for advice about what to do / not to do as a teacher, I’ll say that this type of speech is not a good idea.  It might get a few minutes of silence, but what the teacher loses far outweighs it.  It is risky because it is ‘amateurish.’  No ‘real’ teacher would ever make a speech like that.  It is a desperate act, and one that can only be used once.  So if it doesn’t work — which it won’t — there won’t really be anywhere to go from there.

This teacher is realizing how far behind her students are, and she is assuming that this is because the other teachers that these students have had for the past have not cared enough:  “my kids need a teacher with a vision. They need a leader in the classroom. They need someone with a clear plan of attack for their success. They need me.”

One thing that I would point out to this teacher is that it is extremely likely that many of her students were taught by TFAers in previous years.  Most schools that hire TFAers have a bunch of them so it would seem likely that they were already taught by the kinds of teachers that they “need.”

What the students “need” is someone who knows how to teach.  And anyone who truly cares about students would start by admitting that.

14 Responses

  1. mches

    I was so tempted to respond to that post myself. It is so cloyingly earnest that I almost didn’t believe it was real. It’s like out of TFA Central Casting.

  2. Cal

    I was going to comment, but the blog doesn’t accept comments. Pretty nauseating nonsense.

  3. I am a big believer in the never-let-them-see-you-cry school of thought myself. Well, maaaaybe a tear or two at graduation, haha. Many of my students have more than enough extremes of emotion in their lives, so I want my classroom to be a drama-free zone, and I want to be a rock. I try to show my caring in a calm way through things like being attentive to what they are saying and doing, and offering help with specific problems and congratulations for specific milestones and achievements. But different things work for different people. I do think it’s ordinarily inadvisable to get too overwrought, though.

    • Hilary

      So true. School should be a place for routine, trust & learning. Walk the talk.

  4. Dufrense

    About the only time I get close to tearing up in class is when I read Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” aloud.

    I’m not a cyborg. I have a good a rapport with my students, and over my thirteen years of teaching I’ve been a mentor of sorts to a handful of kids. But the way I let my students know I care about them isn’t by trying to muster rousing pep talks or lachrymose speeches. I show them I care by being prepared, knowing my subject deeply, engaging them in different ways, maintaining high expectations, etc. In short, by being a good teacher.

    I don’t begrudge anyone whose primary motivation for teaching is a heart-felt concern for students. But I’m irked by teachers who assume students’ academic deficiencies stem from apathetic teachers and that by sheer effort they will “save” students.

  5. Wess

    Wow, though.

    Critiquing TFA or offering advice is one thing, but this post is just rude.

    • I don’t know that I agree with your perception of rudeness, but I think you’re not considering how deeply offensive the unstudied attitude can be to veteran teachers. The clear and unmistakable implication of the post is that these veterans are useless, don’t have vision, aren’t invested in their students, and that nothing can save this school but the vision and leadership of a first-year teacher who is still an outsider to the community.

      I think that the new teacher at the very least needs to check that savior complex – and as other commenters have mentioned, it’s important to think about your students’ context before having emotional storms in front of them – particularly if those storms are for their benefit and not necessarily with their consent.

      • Wess

        Yeah. There are a million things this teacher, like all first year teachers, needs to check.

        And reprinting the entire text of the post and embarrassing the author is a really rude way to get them to do so.

        • And casting aspersions on all other teachers – as the post does – is rude, too.

          This is reductive. I don’t agree with your conception of rudeness.

  6. I wonder if there has ever been a TFA CM who fell into that arrogant, superior, condescending attitude, stuck with teaching and retained the arrogant, superior, condescending attitude after a few years. (@Wess, if you think @Gary is rude, you don’t want to know what I’m thinking.)

  7. Based just on the description the post gives, I don’t think you can diagnose that the students don’t know which formula to use. Can they read and understand the questions – is their reading skill there, and are the questions worded in a format with which they are familiar (or explained if not)? Were they generally engaged with the material, or were they possibly choosing not to do (or do poorly) work that they were able to do?

    The poster may know far more than she wrote about what was going on, but I think one of the things you learn through teaching is the myriad ways something can go wrong. It’s not always obvious.

  8. B

    I like to refer to this as the Aaron Sorkin version of teaching. If you’ve seen some of the “Newsroom” soliloquys, you know what I’m talking about.

  9. jefebarrio

    This happens all the time. It’s called they have no idea what you just said and why you were ranting and raving, they only noticed that you were about to cry.
    This used to happen to me a lot when I would be teaching a lesson about multiplication or something and would use going to the bathroom for an example, thinking it would be more engaging. Maybe it would be, for some kids, but my students just talked about going to the bathroom for the rest of the afternoon and never understood the concept i was teaching.
    I’m sure his impassioned speech was well intentioned in concept, but the kids weren’t listening, or if they were, they probably didn’t care. They were too busy thinking that their teacher might cry.
    You can’t be Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society where you teach and at that stage of your teaching career, that’s what I’d say.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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