Teach Like an Artist: Don’t Engage in the Teacher Wars

Daniel Huntington Philosophy and Christian Art.jpg

Do you want to assign reading? Do you want to let students choose all of their books and work in literature circles? Do you want to do some of each? Do you like to lecture? Do you prefer group work?  Do you like to start each lesson with a visual? Do you want to flip your classroom? Do you assign homework? Do you like to let students know what they are going to learn before the lesson? Do you like to have them gradually discover the point? Do you use technology every day? Do you use technology only occasionally?

Good.

Great.

Wonderful.

You are a fantastic teacher, and I admire you so much for what you do for students every day.

We don’t say that enough to each other, do we?

You’ve probably heard of the mommy wars–the way in which everyone supposedly has the ideal way to parent, and if you don’t parent your kids that ideal way you will be screwing them up for life.  You may have heard of the education wars–should we choose public, private, or home school for our own kids?

All kinds of groups of people who should be working together, non-profits, churches, political parties, fall into smaller groups who believe they know how to do the work best. Dante even addresses this idea in Inferno, only he calls it factionalism.  

He put these types in the 6th circle of hell.

Going too far?

Perhaps. But I would like to address an ill in education that hinders our growth in empathy: the teacher wars. See, we teachers sometimes act as if we have discovered the secret to the perfect classroom, and we preach the gospel of whatever new idea we have been implementing lately.

I am as guilty of this as the next person.  

And I’m sorry.

In my honest moments, I admit that some classroom practices I love won’t work in every context, even sometimes my own context. My method of teaching via Harkness is perfect in AP English classes, but it tanks in other classes if I try it without significant modification.  

Giving students time to work on their final drafts in class works really well in classes where a large number of students have to work after school and so appreciate the time to work. But this same practice will fail miserably in an AP class where students have been together since kindergarten and so are incredibly social.  

Some students appreciate suggestions for reading Young Adult literature; other students want to read Orwell or McCarthy or Baudelaire.

Some students need ample time to read independently in class; other students prefer to read for pleasure in the comfort of their own room.  

Some students want to choose all their own books; others want to be told what is good to read. (I tend to fall into the latter category, as I appreciate someone making me read something that I know I should but probably won’t unless assigned.)

I have been told not to lecture too much, but I have been in classes where the teacher lectured every day and it was fantastic. I’m not sure how anybody has that kind of stamina, but still.

I have been told that students won’t want to read something that I assign, but every year I have students who have profound experiences with books like Crime and Punishment or Hamlet or Dante’s Inferno.

I have been told to plan and deliver lessons in certain formats, and trust me, all the formats have worked for me.  And I’ve also had to adapt and change every format until it works for me.

All of my teaching decisions must be made based on the context in which I am working. The course description, the needs of the particular students, my own expertise, the course objectives, my particular school, department, district, etc.

But what will work for me in my particular context will not necessarily work for everyone in every context.  

We need to be able to approach each year and each set of students with the question, “What will work best in this situation?” That doesn’t mean that approach will work best in all situations.  

As teacher-artists, we need to allow ourselves to experiment with the wide variety of tools we have at our disposal.  And potential and actual failure are possible side effects of experimentation.  

We need to allow each other to experiment, and yes, to possibly fail.  

If you have a practice that works well in your classroom, by all means share it. Be passionate about it. Evangelize even.  

But be patient. Be kind.

Let’s share our ideas, our experiments, and yes, even our failures, in a true spirit of collaboration.  

Let’s invite experimentation and risk into our classrooms.

Tell me what works for you.

I’ll listen, I promise.

 

Image Credit:

Daniel Huntington Philosophy and Christian Art“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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