Back to the Drawing Board

Back to the Drawing Board

I was recently reminded I even have a blog by a mentor I was lucky enough to run into at the NAIS conference in Boston yesterday. I just counted: 15 drafts of posts each awaiting my perfectionism to publish. The demands of life always seem to come first… putting that reality aside for a minute, here is my foray back into the virtual world of online teaching and learning. (Also I recently remembered I had a Twitter handle, when asked what it was after beginning to tweet again yesterday, I had to look it up.)

This experience of feeling like I am somehow failing at my goals of being an innovative educator is a representative of how my classes have gone this year, post Klingenstein Summer Institute. My classroom is my laboratory, in theory and in practice. I hope to post soon about my trials and errors with competency based assessment experiments with seniors and sophomores. Yet, in my AP US class, I feel like I am the Benjamin Button of innovative teaching, I started with all of these ideas and goals, and have become more traditional, not the other way around. Sure we use tech every day, and there is a Harkness discussion once a week, we use multimedia, and different platforms to go over the content, but it is still teacher centered.

What happened? Why did my twitter handle fall silent? Why did I stop innovating in that class? Why did I fall out of the blog-o-sphere? Well here is what happened.

I wanted to do a good job.

I wanted to prepare my students for an AP exam to help catapult them to the college classroom and in doing so I reverted to the traditional, teacher centered model of education.  My diligent students are suspicious and often resentful of paradigm shifts. They (and this is cultural) are so focused on college and outcomes rather than process that my student-centered approaches were too scary and new to use on an unwelcoming audience.  I can easily empathize with their outcome-driven mentality- I felt that pressure as a student–it is the culture they are in. They have signed up for my AP class with the college process in mind, even if they genuinely love history.  I let my empathy for the students in the “sausage machine” of college admissions distract me. They were/are more comfortable with my role as the “bastion of knowledge”… perhaps I was/am too.

What is even more disappointing about my “regression” is that the new AP US curriculum doesn’t require you to have a content driven course anymore. Although the textbook companies haven’t quite caught up, (even my excellent new text Give Me Liberty! by Eric Foner isn’t structured to support it.) I don’t have to teach the way I was taught. But I do. I teach via my relationships with the students, a bit of personality, and knowledge of the subject. But too rarely do I give students the opportunity to drive the course.

A new colleague reminded the entire school in chapel talk last week of the importance of optimism. He is new to the school this year, and he commented on the common-place phrase he has picked up over the past six months “that will never happen.” I am reminded at NAIS, as I am inspired by the innovation around me, of the importance of rejecting that statement.

How do I shift the paradigm about teaching and learning from the bottom up in my classroom? How I do I counter all of the grade-motivated, college motivated, outcome based culture even in my AP class? Of course I hope we can do this on an institutional and cultural level, but in my “cog” of School House classroom #3, how can I shift the paradigm?

I have to go back to the drawing board. Practice some design thinking. Doodle. And most importantly never again say, “I can’t do that because it is AP.” I can do it. What “it” is I am not sure yet, but I will let you know.

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