Stop Standing Outside the Classroom and Complaining; Get inside!

I am currently a thorn in poor Marc Aronson‘s side, carping at him in the comments of his blog, Nonfiction Matters in response to his posts about his concerns about how to get new and exciting ways to consider history into the minds of kids. Marc’s focus is on the books and how to get them to kid readers. Mine is additionally on those who get them to the kids — in other words, teachers. While he writes that he has, “… no desire to blame teachers,” he also writes:

If you write a book that expects critical thinking from a student, how do you get past a teacher who may find that approach distressing, troubling, rather than liberating? If you write a book that dutifully tracks through facts easily available elsewhere, who needs it? This is like the issue of context, but it is a matter of intellectual context — how do you speak to the bright minds of students around the corner of a teacher who has only limited training in a discipline and may not recognize the value of fresh thinking?

What I’ve been trying to get at in my comments to Marc is that rather than getting past that teacher who is troubled by this approach or around the corner of one, get to that teacher in her context. That is, show and model how to use these books in the classroom yourself. Find teachers who like the idea of working with you and get in there with them. Work with them, present the results with them at conferences, and write about that in articles and blogs. In other words, stop standing outside the classroom. Get inside!

As I wrote today on Marc’s blog, I went into teaching in the 1970s partly because I wanted a steady income (I was an aspiring illustrator at the time) and also because I liked doing it and was good at it. Because there were no public school jobs at the time (they were laying off teachers here in NYC) I ended up in a private school and moved to a few others before landing in my current school quite a while ago. Now I feel very fortunate that I’m in a private school where I can teach creatively without being hobbled by the dictates of NCLB. But I also am very careful in my recommendations to my colleagues in public school who have those constraints. Even in my school I see what happens when teachers are pushed to do things they don’t want to do or haven’t yet bought into. Doesn’t happen or happens badly.

Those of you in publishing, who write books that you want to see used in classrooms — please, please just take the time to learn what happens in those classrooms, to respect and appreciate and celebrate that work. Do not just look at the horrid articles of doom about our schools (with nary a teacher’s voice to be seen), what is happening with that one unfortunate teacher your child is now struggling with, and so on.

I love to teach and think it is a noble profession. It is perceived that way a lot more in other countries, sadly, than in the US. What is the saddest to me is that we are losing a new generation of teachers with the constraints of NCLB. The best new ones are not staying — when it is horrible they will go elsewhere. To schools like mine or out of the profession entirely.

So, to end this rant — get into those classrooms! See what it is like for us teachers, really.


Filed under Teaching

4 responses to “Stop Standing Outside the Classroom and Complaining; Get inside!

  1. I agree with so much of what you’re saying. I get nervous, though, when we blame what’s difficult about working in public schools right now on NCLB. Much about the law is impractical or poorly implemented, but I don’t think we should so readily dismiss the idea of insisting students demonstrably learn the basics even in our most troubled classrooms.

    I’m teaching now at a charter school whose students come in pretty much as low as anybody in the country; we are subject to NCLB and then a whole raft of other standards from our organization. Our kids kick ass on these tests. Yet our mantra is “we are college and life prep, not test prep,” and we are home to some of the coolest, deepest learning I’ve ever seen, including at the elite private school I just left.

    I feel inspired and validated by the knowledge that I will be held accountable for my claim that the cool stuff I do with my kids will also result in their learning to read better. I think what’s going wrong in the public schools is not that they are held accountable for the basics but that they can’t get the basics done for a whole variety of reasons and then do progressively dumber things in an ultimately doomed attempt to pretend that they can.

    And if for some kids it comes down to a choice between dumb, ineffective things that get them to pass the tests and dumb, ineffective things that don’t — I pick the former. Because the better tests — my city’s are pretty good — really do just test in very binary fashion whether you can read.


  2. I’m glad to hear that about NCLB. A young teacher who worked with me last year is now teaching in a charter school here. He is so excited and I admit I worried that the tests and all might do him in. I know of another young man who, after two years teaching in a Bronx high school, quit the profession entirely. He said he might do something in education, but not in the classroom. His experience was so horrific he won’t go back.


  3. delzey

    Thank you. I had originally written a much longer comment but thought better of it when I realized I was rehashing too much negative from my own teaching days.

    Yes, those writing history (or any non-fiction for that matter) need to get into the classrooms, see how the curricula is used, modified and adapted in the field, and figure out how to best present that information. I think the book is still one of the best forms of communicating information but it may need to find new ways to adapt itself to a classroom setting.


  4. It’s so true that we need more participation in the classroom, by authors, and also parents.

    One teacher with 20 (or more) students is a recipe to leave kids behind.

    There is a plethora of negative opinion about the state of education, but where is the help?

    I volunteer in my daughter’s school, and it’s exhausting but rewarding. I’m glad to be there and to help her teacher who has a lot to do every day, and a lot of little people whose attention she needs to keep.

    I’m not saying this to say “I’m so great”, I’m just saying I agree with you that more cooperation will be a good thing!

    I’ve decided to go back to school. Guess what for? First, to finish my bachelor’s degree, then an MAT. Woo hoo! I’m inspired by being in the classroom, so have decided to finally fulfill a goal I had a long time ago.


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