Saturday, March 12, 2011

Biggest obstacle to change is the way we were taught

    Yesterday, I reserved the laptops for one of my classes so when I wheeled the cart in I wanted the students to get right to work on some presentations we were working on. At the beginning of the class, one of my students had the laptop on his desk but was trying to read the last few pages of a book. I knew the student was making good progress on this project and presentation (we had talked about their progress in mini-conferences the previous day), but I instantaneously told him to put that away. Why? Because this is what teachers are supposed to do. I mean, this is what every teacher did to me or a classmate growing up. This is what every teacher I observed in teacher training did. Control and strict obedience are everything in a classroom, right?

    As I said this, I saw the look on his face and how disappointed he was. He wasn't angry or upset with me, but rather disappointed because he was so excited to finish those last few pages. I quickly thought about how thrilling the sensation of finishing a book can be and I realized that I was squashing this student's natural excitement to learn. I quickly told him to take out his book and finish it. I know he will finish his project and 5-10 minutes is really nothing in the grand scheme of things. To the student, finishing that book was more exciting than the "fun and exciting" project we were working on. Learning doesn't fit into tidy little boxes, with tidy little time periods, and tidy little subjects. Unwavering control and command are not best for learning. But we are taught growing up that it supposed to. This "training" all too often takes over for teachers. For one day and for one moment I was able to catch myself and I hope the student benefited.


  1. Hi Timothy, great post. I think about this a lot: The obstacle to which you refer. It's funny you chose the title you did because a very similar one is the tagline for my blog: "The biggest obstacle to school change is our memories." Allen Glenn. My struggle is fighting the way I think a teacher should be. I learned it by watching my teachers... Thanks for sharing. My blog is here

  2. My memories of school is something I want to blog about soon. I hated school. I cheated, lied, and slept through my first 12 years of school. It wasn't until college when I had choice to explore things that I am passionate about that I opened up to education. This is one of the reason I started teaching. I loved learning in college and I was bummed that I missed out on so much. And yet it is a shame when I catch myself squashing student passion. It is something I strive to work on. Later that day, students wanted to research the Japan quake on the computer instead of the research for a project. The quake was relevant and important to them and I am happy to say that I said go for it. I think that was an accomplishment for me. My students knew they could ask me to pursue their own learning.

    I read a lot of your work so I might have had that title stored up in the subconscious. I am a huge fan of your short conversation series, especially because many of your guest are my personal heroes in education. Thanks for your work and comment.