Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Old School

A lot of us don't like it when we're told to change our teaching methods. After all, we've been doing it this way for twenty years, and it's been good enough for everyone. Why do I have to deal with all that computerized crap? Who needs a screen? Why do I have to put my grades on a computer? Hasn't my grade book done the job for decades?

I'm guilty of that too. Every time something new comes up, I know it's gonna be a pain in the ass to figure it out and make it work. Of course it invariably is, but I'm often persuaded it's an improvement. One time, maybe fifteen years ago, I lost a paper grading book when someone broke into my trunk and stole my bag. I had to try to remember and improvise. I'm willing to trust our grading program not to have its trunk broken into.

I'm also pretty well sold on using visual displays to teach vocabulary and remind my kids of various things we have to do. Once I got used to using PowerPoint for that it became easy. In fact, because I search for illustrations for the blog each and every day it was just that much easier. Of course there is a whole lot of crap that comes down the pike, and if we use technology poorly we may as well not use it at all.

But I was taught old school in high school, and it sucked. I remember high school as one of the most grueling, tedious and uninspiring periods of my life. Of course I was going through all the adolescent nonsense we all do, and that didn't help. But I also remember a bunch of teachers and their methods, and I'm now absolutely sure they were total crap.

The most egregious case of that was my biology teacher. He was a bearded man with a long white lab coat that he wore each and every day. His primary activity was stroking the beard. Beyond that, he had a binder and an opaque projector. He would place a page on the projector, and we would sit and copy. At some point, he would ask, "Is everyone finished?" If yes, he would change the page. If no, it was more beard stroking. I had a beautiful girl to my right. While she had a boyfriend in college and had no interest in me whatsoever, I found her far more fascinating than the notes about hormones and enzymes, or whatever.

I failed each and every biology test, all year. I had copied all the notes dutifully, but it didn't matter. I had no idea what they meant and couldn't have cared less. Around June it dawned on me that I might have to spend another year copying notes. I bought a red Barron's review book, and read it every spare moment I could find for two weeks. I passed that test though not by much.

I now realize, with the notebook and the projector, I could've taught that class. I don't remember a thing about enzymes but if makes no difference. I could grow a beard and buy the white coat if necessary. In fact, I could probably do it all on PowerPoint. This would be an example of teaching crap with modern technology.

Other teachers I recall were my English teachers. I had multiple English teachers who felt the best way to teach a work of literature was to read it aloud in class, and then never discuss it at all. I believe that was my first exposure to Shakespeare. But I most recall the novels we read. All I had to do was pay close attention when the girl in front of me was reading. If I could figure out which page she was on, I could then read my page. Of course I was daydreaming over 90% of the time and had no idea what the books were about. Were I on my own, I'd likely as not have been reading.

I try very hard not to treat my students like that. If I ask anyone to read anything, we will talk about it. I'm guilty of boring kids sometimes, but I'm always at least trying to capture their interest. Some people vilify chalk and talk, but that would have represented a great improvement on whatever it was I got back then.

I had exactly one single teacher in high school who asked us what we thought and how we felt. It was extraordinary. I loved that class. It was called sociology but it could have been anything. Any teacher can reach out to kids, and that's where I think we need to be.

Alas, the geniuses in Albany and Manhattan are all about finding the One Way to Teach and make us do it. If only we had one single educational leader cognizant of the fact that we are diverse, that we have different voices, and that there is more than one way to crack an egg.

But I'm a dreamer.
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