Monday, December 9, 2013

The Art of Teaching, or why the freedom to teach is so important.


As a certified teacher in the state of Massachusetts I have learned a tremendous amount in different graduate school classes and professional development sessions. However, the most important things I have learned have come from my fellow teachers and from experiences in the classroom. The Notes from the Chalkboard Blog is where I will share some of those hard won lessons. So without further ado, here are some of my notes from the chalkboard.....

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Walter Duncan is a 15-year veteran K-12 teacher. His students were ranked in the top 15% of all Massachusetts Public School students on MCAS ELA in 2012. He has deep experience getting the best out of his kids in inner-city school districts such as Detroit, Washington DC, and Boston. Additionally he is the co-founder of Design By Educators the makers of the Quick Key Mobile app, a social impact company that seeks to empower teachers to more effectively close the achievement gap. The free Open Beta version of the Quick Key is available on the Quick Key Homepage.

The Art of Teaching

They gave her a script! All I could do was shake my head. The pressure to perform on high stakes tests has gotten to the point that teachers are being given scripts to teach from. This is a travesty. As I thought about this I could only arrive at the conclusion that those who make these decisions simply do not understand teaching.

In my experience, excellent teaching is comprised of two very important parts (in truth it is more complicated, but let's just keep it simple for now). The first is content, a teacher must understand the content and earnestly endeavor to employ a variety of methods to help students master it. That being said, technology is now available that will always be able to give students access to more content than one individual teacher could ever hope to. And teachers are evolving, shepherding students to resources and helping them to gain mastery over the opportunities that new technology provides.

The Art of Inspiration 

There is, however, a part of teaching that no technology will ever be able to replace. It is the art of inspiration. It is impossible to teach in a training course, it can't be gained from a new miracle method. Quite simply, the dedicated teacher develops this through trial and error. The veteran teachers can guide rookie teachers in finding their authentic way of inspiring students. It is intangible, it is special, it is magical. It is why you remember the teacher that changed your life (shout out to John Sbordone!). It is what you do at that moment when you help a student face a life crisis by just listening, or when you chastise a student for not performing up to their potential. It cannot be measured in a new fangled evaluation rubric, and a teaching script is its death nell.

Why I created Quick Key 

All of the above being said, we still feel the pressure. The students must perform, the rubrics must be filled out, the appetite of the evaluators must be satiated. But I will not turn my classroom into a fear of failure based worksheet factory. I created Quick Key so teachers could have access to and track formative data that they could use to support their out of the box teaching practices. When data exists that can back up the wacky and wild ways that educators find to inspire and educate their students, everyone's needs can be met. I can have the freedom to teach, and at the same time have clear measures of student progress toward the standards. Let us marry data with the art of teaching to the benefit of our students. We must teach inspired!