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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings, School Stories

The Few Like You Are Still The Few Like You

Following up on Pam’s post, “Once Upon a Time We Put a Human on the Moon,” I have to say I agree with much of what she said. In the “olden days,” there were desks in rows, kids doing worksheets, very little choice in assignments, mostly the teacher as dictator, and teachers who taught as they had been taught. So the profession has continued to perpetuate itself, much as it ever was, and yet people cry foul–that the tests made us this way.

No, the tests didn’t.

No, accountability didn’t.

Our reluctance to reinvent the profession did. Our fear of change did. Our belief in the myths we grew up with as students did.

So we walk into classrooms and see much of what we saw 20 or 30 years ago in many classrooms. And sometimes, even in a classroom where the desks have been traded out for tables or there are beanbags or rug areas, we still see a very traditional teacher who has simply changed the seating–but not her practices.

But, in a few classrooms all over, there have always been teachers who dared to be different. Think Steven Levy, who describes his journey to develop his own curriculum in Starting from Scratch. Think the teacher you’ve always admired because of how she or he worked with kids and taught. Think Torey Hayden, a special educator who called it like it was in her books describing her classrooms and schools. Think anyone you know who has done amazing things with kids. But how many of those people can you say you’ve seen or worked with, or known in your school system?

And why is that? Instead of talking school reform, we need to talk teacher reform…we need to change how teachers are inducted into our profession, how we treat one another, and how we support those new to the profession or those who are struggling in their own classrooms. We know what kinds of educational experiences we want to provide-and we’re discovering more as our kids share with us what they’re doing at home to learn  with digital tools we may or may not have. We have brain research that shows us how people learn.  We have school and learning research that shows us how to support that learning. So why aren’t we all doing it?

The leaders in my system speak frankly about our pockets and pools of innovation–and how they are not pervasive or even, in some cases, growing. (See a parent page I made here where that is discussed somewhat.) I think back over my career and know how few times I have had a peer that I could really talk philosophically with and struggle over my practice and ask the hard questions and be asked hard questions. I have been blessed by having an especially strong central office group in the 90’s who helped me think reflectively and engaged me in conversations much akin to those I’ve found on twitter and in blogging and in the groups I have joined online. (@pammoran, @ann1622, @beckyfisher73, @lmccullough, and some others were among those questioners back in the early ’90’s.) I’ve had life experiences that changed what I believe about our brains that have impacted how I teach. I’ve been discriminated against and I’ve sworn never to make kids feel that way. I remember sitting in classes and hiding books behind my school books so I could entertain my own active brain. So I work hard to make my classroom a place kids want to be, where they learn what they need to pass the tests, but mostly they learn to learn, and learn about themselves.

BUT–why haven’t we got more teachers who are the exception to the rule?  Why was I told, just last week, that “The few like you are still the few like you”?

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


8 thoughts on “The Few Like You Are Still The Few Like You

  1. I hope that communities like ours help people give themselves permission to join a growing “many like us” in 2012. Some of us are waiting; some of us need help; some of us need to feel like we can begin to share; we all need to question and push as frankly as you describe for teaching and learning that makes sense.

    I think “teacher reform” is as much about being open to learning as it is to adopting sane and humane teaching practices.

    Apart from the few already like you, where do you think the learners are lurking, and how do we go about finding them and empowering them in our – or any – system?

    Happy New Year, Paula – thank you for being you!

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 1, 2012, 8:59 am
  2. Maybe there hasn’t been much change because the average teacher thinks that the way we have been doing things actually works. How long did it take doctors to start washing their hands after the discovery of germs? I would guess (not having done any research) that most doctors continued to practice as they had been practicing until they quit. Of course there were probably a small number that read the research and chose to change, but I would guess that they would have been the exception. I suspect the change came after the schools of medicine started to teach what the research was showing. So, I guess change will be noticeable about 10 to 15 years after our schools of education get with the program.

    Posted by William Chamberlain (@wmchamberlain) | January 1, 2012, 11:29 am
    • It’s even harder when some of what we have been doing is working. It takes humility to say, “I was wrong. This isn’t working.” But it also takes humility to say, “Some of what you’ve been doing is great.” Some of the best ideas are vintage.

      Posted by John T. Spencer | January 3, 2012, 10:31 pm
  3. I have been so inspired by Steven Levy!!! Thanks for sharing his work here!


    Posted by dloitz | January 2, 2012, 4:38 am
  4. Paula, you are a fresh, daring voice for me and many other teachers, today. The piece about “the few like you” is especially provocative. I have been stunned by the lack of dialogue among my peers this year so far. It seems as if many teachers are either uninformed, uninterested or unwilling to stand up, speak up and show up for real discussions about the change/reform and its impact on our profession. This is my last year (30+) and I’ve never felt more charged up and eager to mix-it-up with colleagues. Frustrating.

    Posted by Sandy | January 2, 2012, 1:19 pm
  5. You may have hit the nail on the head when referencing reluctance to reinvent, the belief in myths we grew up with and, especially, the fear aspect. I think there are many more “like you” who are hiding out in their classrooms and performing small acts of reform — they just aren’t talking about what they are doing.

    Posted by Brent Snavely | January 3, 2012, 12:58 pm
    • I love your notion of the small acts of reform. Those are the stories that need to be told. And yet, there is a very real sense in which you can get into trouble telling those stories. (I got nailed before for sharing how we painted murals, how a principal painted them white when she thought they were offensive – It makes you think twice about sharing)

      Posted by John T. Spencer | January 3, 2012, 10:38 pm
  6. Wow, John, You must have been eavesdropping on a conversation I had with a fellow teacher today. We were talking about how years ago we put a lot more out there than in the past few years, and how part of that was the sense of getting in trouble somehow…not necessarily with administrators, but often other teachers as well. We also talked about how we needed to change that. We’ve both committed to sharing and making our practices more visible.

    I think the small acts of reform we may be doing, or that we refer to need to be made visible. That
    ‘s my ned mantra–making it visible. And, yes, I agree–those stories absolutely need to be told!


    Posted by Paula White | January 3, 2012, 11:04 pm

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