In celebration of the five years that I have used this space to broadcast my voice, I am republishing my favorite blog posts, one each month. For the month of May, I’ve decided to go with a piece that solicited lots of comments. Many readers felt I was being too critical of myself as an educator, but to this day I stand by what I wrote. I, like many others, often get caught up in the self-centered spectacle that teaching can be. I think that we all need to be reminded to step off the stage and put the students first.
This piece was originally posted in April 2008.
As I have found myself immersed in the world of edublogging lately, and I have even been able to work face-to-face with some of the bloggers whom I respect enormously, I have come to a sobering conclusion.
I have known for some time that praise from administrators and fellow educators does not always correlate with sound pedagogy or exceptional work in the classroom. After all, these individuals are basing their opinions and evaluations on (at best) very short glimpses of teachers working (they don’t call ’em snapshot observations for nuthin’). I have blogged in the past about the somewhat empty praise that I have received. But, my ego still gets the best of me.
Over the past few months, I have read posts from the likes of Will Richardson, Dan Meyer, Bill Ferriter, and Scott McLeod extolling the virtue of using digital tools to enhance instruction. Bill, in particular, has described the how he uses these tools to improve what he has always done. All along, I have nodded my head in agreement. After all, I said to myself, anyone who is confident enough to engage in a discussion about what works in the classroom must be already doing it, right?
It was only in the past month, as I began to think about what my teaching assignment for next year will be, that I have felt like the Emperor who suddenly realizes that he isn’t wearing any clothes. A better analogy might be the addict who counsels other users to abandon their habit. I have opened my eyes to the truth, and it has been somewhat painful.
It is far too easy in the isolated world of a public school to frame your abilities within the context of your classroom, team, department, and school. It’s so tempting to look around, without really seeing what others are doing, and tell yourself that you are Great. I’m embarrassed to admit that my measly seven years of experience, along with praise from teachers (who had never seen me teach), students (who enjoy a good joke), and parents (who listen to their children), led me to believe that I was doing all the right stuff in my classroom.
But, in reality, I am that guy. I am the self-absorbed “Sage on the Stage” that turns every class period into a one-man stand-up comedy show. I keep their attention by making them laugh. I bestow knowledge and dispel myth from my lofty residence at the front of the room. I use technology extensively, but I rarely put it in the hands of students. Sure, I use excuses like, “There aren’t enough computers in my room” or “You can’t trust eighth-graders with expensive equipment”. In the end, though, it’s about control and my ego, and when the show is on, it is intoxicating to be anywhere in the room. It’s fun… but it isn’t good teaching.
You’ll notice that I use the present tense to describe this problem, in a similar way to how a recovering alcoholic will always call himself an alcoholic. I will always be that guy. Now, I just have to begin to become That Teacher.