The 8 Things I’ve Done This Year That Are Most Embarrassing in Hindsight

I was working on this post when I read this one from TeachThought.  My first reaction was to just hit the delete button, but Dean Shareski convinced me to publish a more personal list.  I thought it was a great idea, and here is the result.

Head in HandsIt’s clear to many of us in education that the way that we currently do things–the industrial-model that hasn’t changed substantively in more than a century–will eventually yield to more progressive learning and teaching methods.  We can’t continue to educate in teacher-centric ways that ignore the massive shift brought on by the omnipresence of the Internet and its resources.

Despite this awareness, however, I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to perpetuating the practices that most need to stop.  Over the past year–which I have spent in the classroom and on the road, working with students, teachers, and administrators–I’ve caught myself doing things that, in hindsight, left me feeling like a hypocrite.  Here’s the short list:

  1. Lecturing: During the first few months of the school year, when I was still teaching middle school science, I spent many hours standing at the front of the classroom telling students what to write in their notebooks.  I rationalized it as a necessary evil, but the truth is that it was just easier to dictate what was important rather than giving my students an opportunity to discover this for themselves.
  2. One-Size-Fits-All Teaching: Also while in the classroom, I sometimes  ignored the mountain of data I had about my students and instead treated them equally.  Sure, true differentiation takes time, and you can’t do it with every lesson, but good teachers know that we must react to the diversity of learners in our classes.
  3. Treating Teachers Like Children: This was always a pet peeve of mine when forced to attend low-quality professional development “experiences”, yet I caught myself falling into that habit several times after I took on a full-time PD position.  It is sometimes easier to use the same management and engagement techniques that I employed with middle schoolers.  But every teacher is an adult learner and deserves to be treated that way.
  4. Calling Out Problems Without Discussing Solutions: As teachers, there is always something to complain about, from misguided ed policy decisions to insufficient funding to poor leadership, but as a leader of professional development I need to focus on ideas for fixing things, not on the problems themselves. Too often this year, I failed at this.
  5. Using Grades as Extrinsic Motivation: I make a big deal in my classroom about developing students’ internal desire to learn and improve.  I go to great lengths to report content mastery apart from work habits, like homework completion.  I bemoan the fact that many students will only do their best work when they want to get a better grade.  And yet, far too often, I threatened low grades in an attempt to get students to turn in their work and do their best.
  6. Failing to Begin With The End In Mind: The “backwards design” concept is not new, and my personal copies of McTighe and Wiggins’ Understanding by Design books are dog-eared. Nonetheless, I found myself at one point this year sitting down to craft a end-unit test by looking back over my notes at the end of the unit.  I tried to remember what we covered, so that the test would be fair.  #epicfail
  7. Enjoying Being the Sage On The Stage: This is the one that most embarrasses me, yet is most difficult for me to stop doing.  My ego, and my sense of humor, feed off the feeling that I get when I’m regaling students with a story about science.  The rush is addictive.  But, it’s also not what my students need.  It’s not the best way for them to learn in this modern age of easy access to online information.  They don’t need me as the gatekeeper, but rather as the curator and the critic.  I need to step out of the way and empower them.
  8. Blocking Instead of Teaching: It is certainly important for adults to protect children from many of the evils of this world.  But, especially in a middle school environment, it is often more important to teach our students how to navigate the dangers of their world and how to respond to the inappropriate things that they will find.  But, as a teacher is so much simpler to block resources that might be dangerous.  I need to focus on being more brave and more proactive.


What have you done this year that you know you’ll back at in shame?

photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc

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