This is a bloggy blog . . . no lessons or ideas here, just some unreasonable statements and questionable language about the current state of my reality.

Trying to Ponder My Current Reality

Recently, I walked around my local shopping mall, apparently to remind myself how out of phase my interests are with the rest of the world.  The things I care about: education, puppets, making, hacking electronics, the color orange, trains, and books are not even at the mall. There was one store with bookstore-style trinkets, but no books. I went to a giant toy store and they had NO PUPPETS.

I work knee-deep in the most interesting questions in education I can find: How do we infuse classroom experience with the ethos and tools and skills of the DIY/maker movement? How do we harness both existing energy and use the tools of DIY to empower students?

The way I am doing it is with puppets, which is not “normal” in the technical sense. If you made a graph of teachers, the big swell in the middle would not use puppets. So I am an outlier on content delivery. That is OK. No one else needs to use puppets. In fact, you should avoid it, because you will have to spend too much time explaining yourself to people who are fearful. (it turns out they are afraid of acknowledging the inherent human-ness of children in schools, this is context)

It isn't really about the puppets. It is about connecting with kids and setting the stage for learning from each other. It is about building learning experiences from the ground up. It is about live testing ideas with kids every day.

Teaching is Design, Follow Your Interests

Teaching is an endless design process and it starts with the kids in your room. Stop buying curriculum. Make your own sh*t. This sounds unreasonable, so that is about right. We aren't going to change what education feels like by being reasonable. Also, no one else is being reasonable, so why should we? The public expects miracles, and they are products of the same system.

Writing a blog is great when I forget about the audience. I like making videos that I can use in class, and I like writing for a specific audience. When I think about creating content that is responsive to trends, it doesn't speak to me. I was interviewing an author recently on the TechEducator Podcast. We were talking about what we are working on and I mentioned PuppetsTellJokes.com, and he said: “Oh that's what you do.” It was dismissive and condescending at the same time. I get that all the time. All. The. Time.

If you do anything different, expect to be dismissed and challenged, this is where resilience is important.

To truly innovate, you spend a bunch more time than anyone else doing a thing no one cares about yet. Also, when people find out you are putting your time and money into this for no monetary profit they will get judge-y.

You don't need much support, but take your allies where you can. There are few things as amazing as a truly supportive administration. I have experienced the whole spectrum, from being banned from technology for 3 years to my current work helping kids curate, create, and share great content on YouTube.

Tenure? What's That?

I'm working without a net, literally. Teachers in independent schools like mine have no tenure, ever. Staffing is subject to change based on enrollment and the will of the school board. Allies in these communities can be outspoken advocates, but a single foe can be devastating. It can be challenging to face this reality day after day, so I don't think about it and turn the music up louder and meet the kids dancing.

I spent the first 10 years of my career learning the best ways to teach. I was an acceptable English teacher. I did a great job teaching writing, but too narrow and deep in the reading for conventional tastes. I reached a point in my career when I knew that I wasn't going to get any better at what I was doing. It was never going to take less time to grade and respond. It wasn't that I was perfect, but there wasn't that much more to it, other than to keep doing it until my eyes and my back failed me.

I was frustrated with the work, the hours, the pay, and my life. I needed a change and I found fun.

I began to connect with 12-year-old me, or at least my interests. Sewing, puppets, robots, circuits, toys, trains, play- this became my list of things I needed to connect to “bulletproof pedagogy” in order to bring them into my classroom.

I want to make an argument about what science says about fun and learning, but science isn't trending. Build your own shit and have a blast doing it. Don't let the sad sacks win.

The “product” in teaching isn’t the lesson plan. In fact when you take my lessons and place them with a different teacher and different kids they wouldn't make sense. I made those lessons as a learning experience shared by my students and myself. I have heard people talk about the old “factory” model of education, well we might have flexible seating, but they are still looking for the lesson to market like it is a widget. They still want teachers to leave the classroom to become an administrator or a curriculum specialist BEFORE they can make choices about what is happening in the classroom.

All of the people making choices about what happens in the classroom should be the people in the classroom, all of them.

Tell me about yourself . . . no really!

The way that “education” gets better is that teachers make it better, in their rooms with their kids.  So the question is . . . What are you making?

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. Oh Sam, I love you! Thank you so much for sharing your journey and helping me feel good about being my weird self. I am a gifted intervention specialist making a district-mandated move next year from pull-out (glorious days with my kids exploring, inventing, and having 30-second dance parties) to push-in/coteaching and PD. Can’t say that I’m thrilled about the change, but change is the inevitable, right? I’m on a mission to make weird wonderful. I’m bookmarking this post to share with teachers and hopefully help them be brave enough to teach from the heart instead of the book. Adventure awaits!

    • Gail we have to feel good about our weird selves! (some days I am all I have) I encourage you to think of coteaching as tag team wrestling. My favorite is the move where the kids think you are handing off and bag suddenly you are both teaching. No seriously, I am co-teaching in my summer program and have co-taught for the last 4 years. Now I focus on enlisting co-teachers into creating kid-centered experiences I couldn’t pull off on my own.
      Ask yourself, what choices in this lesson can be left to the kids, start small and never stop trying new things. Thanks for reading and thank you for caring enough about your kids and their learning to get out of your comfort zone and learn side by side with them.

  2. this part of your blog ministered to me greatly — and I need to say THANK YOU

    “You don’t need much support, but take your allies where you can. There are few things as amazing as a truly supportive administration. I have experienced the whole spectrum, from being banned from technology for 3 years to my current work helping kids curate, create, and share great content on YouTube.

    I’m working without a net, literally. Teachers in independent schools like mine have no tenure, ever. Staffing is subject to change based on enrollment and the will of the school board. Allies in these communities can be outspoken advocates, but a single foe can be devastating.”

    I’m on the roller coaster ride of tech on our campus right no — sometimes we are cruising along and then suddenly the brakes are pulled. Never in my entire life of teaching have I questioned myself more or doubted myself. Your comment about a single foe — is SO SPOT ON.

    Thank you for your transparency —
    It helped me greatly today
    Jennifer

  3. I also make lessons that no substitute can follow.. even if I scripted every word and facial expression. I like to believe I make learning opportunities responsive to students and to lrng needs conveyed by their teachers. I love that, as a library teacher, I have always had tree freedom to make my own curriculum. Oh…and sometimes I make students smile while learning.

  4. Sam, I share your frustrations more than you know. I love the idea of teaching students and cringe at the fact that we teach lessons. I thought become a Teacher on Special Assignment would give me a golden opportunity to help Ts embrace this, but have found this a very lonely road. Every other TOSA that I have had the chance to work with is either an admin, or applying for admin jobs as we speak! And I think this is a travesty. Teachers who teach kids and not lessons should be the models, not yanked out to become friggin compliance robots! It hurts my heart to think how undervalued we are. Rant Over. Thanks for lighting fuses with your powerful words! BOOM!

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