Paul Bogush knows whether I should choose the rich kid or the field worker district, but asks that I first answer his questions. As a courtesy to the pagan deities of depth and straightforwardness, I’ll answer the questions here.

Do you believe all kids can learn and are worthy of your time?

Nine out of 10 are worthy of my time. One out of 10 take up so much time that I would be remiss if I gave them everything I needed — to do so would happen at the expense of the rest of the class. I’m there during lunch and before school, so it isn’t like I’m unavailable. I just can’t justify the choice to stop molding nine minds to take care of a non-responsive lump.

If the administrator is to be believed, enthusiastic students are all over the place in Podunk.

When you explain something for the tenth time and the kids still don’t get it, who do you blame?

I don’t want to blame myself. I do, anyway. Chances are, there’s a fault in the lesson or the vocabulary I use — very often over the heads of my students. My master teacher is convinced that I’m too smart for the really low achievers. She’s probably right, and that’s one of those reasons I hesitated in considering Podunk.

I get around this by getting a star student to paraphrase it back to me, or to the rest of the class.

Who is responsible for helping you become a better teacher?

I am. Is there any other answer?

I know I rail on my credential program, but it isn’t because I hate it. It’s because I really hate it. As far as fundamentally useless wastes of time go, this blog is a whole lot more rewarding.

How do you deal with failure?

I ignore it for a time, and sometimes I even get back to it. In the classroom, the petty failures are taken care of easily and immediately — see above “use star student” strategy — while the systemic failures I avoid quite a bit longer. I’m a bigger fan of tweaking than reinventing the wheel.

That’s going to be a problem when I come up with one of those fundamentally flawed lesson. Y’know, like the free ones they have online.

I hope these answers suffice for your questions, and I hope they don’t sound too much like interviewspeak. I’m trying to be critical enough that I don’t sound like I’m interviewing again. And that’s the trouble — the credential program teaches us all the right answers to these questions, and doesn’t dwell enough on how to make these vague generalities work in real life.

Even worse: We don’t have enough time in the classroom to figure it all out for ourselves, or with our master teacher. Just because the good doctorates think they know everything doesn’t mean they have to have all the specificity of Nostradamus.


  1. Ancient Bearded One

    I have a minor issue with your master teacher’s “too smart” comment. It’s true that you have to make sure you can communicate with the students and not talk too far outside their experience. I’m pretty sure that treating the students with respect and acting with firm self-confidence is more imporatant than careful delivery.

    On the other hand, your intelligence is part of why you enjoy the subject you’re teaching. It’s the source of the enthusiasm you have for what you teach. Your sense of fun and enthusiasm speaks volumes to the kids. It’s a great source of encouragement. The high school teachers I had who enjoyed their subject go a lot more work out of me than people that just did their job.

  2. She’s just convinced that I talk over the kids too much, that I don’t speak with words they understand. I talk over them.

    And I do. I still need to work on it. It isn’t like she’s trying to tear me down — at least, I hope not. It’s more a matter of making me aware of my weaknesses. It’s a necessary part of student teaching.

    Not that I enjoy it.

  3. There is no such thing as being “too smart” for your students. You may be the only source of “academic language” that your students ever hear. Give them the language AND give them the tools to decipher the language.

    And those “free lessons” on the internet can be wonderful if you find the right ones. Free is GOOD, especially if you know how to shop.

    I wish my credential program had required that I blog. That would have been the most relevant thing in the entire program. Lessons will bomb left and right throughout your career…keep reflecting. It gets better.

  4. Ok…I was going to go through this mess and fix it up — but let me just let it rip…and stop calling me sir and mister, makes me feel old and I don’t know if you are being sarcastic ; )

    Glad to see that you give respect to the pagans…I will bring that up with them next week when I dance around the May Pole.

    Go to Podunck. When you eventually end up in Lily White Memorial Middle School, you will be able to do things and understand behavior unlike anyone else. Your insight into education will be perceived as a lack of by your colleagues, but it will be worth it.

    All that follows is some brain vomit that I wrote in between classes and observing my student teacher…sorry for the unpolished mess.

    Question 1
    Remember, at Podunck 8 out of 10 kids will need more time than you have. Are you ok sacrificing that many? At Podunk you will walk in with 100% energy, and use 75% with one kid in your first period class. Do you have a spare tank to dip into? Can you get back to 100% during your 15 minute lunch? Answer one more question….who are you? If your answer is “a teacher” it will be hard for you to recover. Burn out will be around the corner. It will be hard to separate yourself from the classroom. You will need to find the ability to stop being a teacher when you leave school. Free your mind and think about other things. If all you think about is being a teacher, those 8 kids will weigh you down.

    Question 2
    I just twittered this a few hours ago:
    “To improve community in our classes and learn how to better reach our students, we have to see learning through our students’ perspectives.”
    You have the “Curse of Knowledge”–you know so much that it is often impossible to realize what it was like to not know it. You are a thinker so initially it will be impossible for you to realize what it is like to be ignorant and naive.

    You can exist and be considered a successful teacher at the “White School” without ever considering the perspective of the students. Seriously…you can give them a reading, take notes, review, get good grades on a test and you are a king. If they make pretty posters that hang in the hallway watch out.

    Getting to a point…

    Something will happen to you at Podunck that will not happen at the other school. After reading your posts I think it’s cool that you think — sounds silly, but not a common trait amongst student teachers…or any kind of teacher. At Podunck you will have to reflect reflect reflect. Not about your curriculum, not about your primary sources or images, but about your mindset and the students. Why do they think what they think? You are so smart that you will feel stupid. Day after day. You will find that all the things in life you thought were important are not, and some of the things that you took for granted become precious. You will have to be a mom, dad, brother, sister, social worker, and thrift store operator first. Only then will you be able to teach. You will learn that the “smartness” that you have is worthless and you will have to figure out 100 other ways to a kids heart. Anybody can get into someone’s head.
    Don’t let being too “smart” keep you away from Podunck, let it drive you there. You might hate it, you might dread every minute, but for a “thinking” teacher it will make you stronger and you will learn skills and insights that you will never get from a book, person, or by working at the other school.

    Question 3
    I have to insert here that I am thinking about Podunck schools in the Northeast, every situation is different — I am writing from my personal experience…maybe they are different out west and every single thing I have written is wrong…but to trudge ahead and continue with my therapy…

    You might have only “you” to rely on for growth. You could walk into the school and not find a single teacher who will push you mentally and make you grow either by sharing a lesson, or through a conversation. You can’t for a second rely on Professional dev or your mentor teacher to be there for you. It can be lonely. You might look around and hear and see all sorts of things that are simply wrong and have to figure out if and when you will make a difference outside of your four walls.

    Question 4
    You will have to reinvent the wheel everyday, every hour, every minute. That curse of knowledge will blind you. You will work all weekend on something and after one minute you will realize it is going to fail and you will have to reinvent it on the spot. A lesson that you could force through in the other school, a lesson that you could plan off the cuff and be successful with in the burbs will be your death at Podunck. You might experience a systematic failure. Not of a lesson but of yourself. If you are a “blame the students” teacher, the type that says ” I gave them the notes, gave them the study sheet, went over answers and they did not study and failed — what’s wrong with them?” You will not experience failure. If you accept their failure as your fault, life will be painful. It took me five years to be able to sleep at night. But I would never, ever trade the 10 year experience. It made me who I am today.

    As you can see I have huge issues with my Podunck experience. I still harbor deep guilt for never feeling like I made a difference, or was ever successful, and feeling like I ran away from the city and the kids out to the burbs. Now I can look back and I can see that I was determining success based on what I could have been doing with my nice little honor class at the schools in the burbs.
    If as your master teacher said that you are really only good enough for the smart white kids, than you not even good enough for the smart white kids—but I don’t think that is the case. Maybe your mentor is only good enough for the white school, and knows that they would not survive at Podunk. If they could, you better believe that after ten weeks with you, they would have opened your eyes to what it would take to survive at the other school. I think you need to find out if you are good enough. Go for it. When we die we never regret what we have done, only what we have not.

    I am stopping…I really could go on forever—thanks again – this is more than a comment on your blog, but me letting out some unresolved issues that I have on the Podunck vs. White school choices I made. In some way I feel that I have to convince good teachers to go to the Poduncks because of the guilt I feel over leaving. There is only one time in your life you will have 100% energy everyday, with no kids or wife at home(?), and this is it. Go for it. Hope you go because they need you…and if you don’t, do it guilt free. Both decisions will result in you positively influencing a few thousand kids.

  5. Keisa: This is no requirement, actually. I do this of my own volition.

    Paul: You prompt another blog. Watch out for it.

  1. 1 My Curse of Knowledge for BFE-Podunk « On the Tenure Track

    […] Paul Bogush had some thoughts about the essential differences on the role of intelligence in each BFE-Podunk Joint Unified and White Kids’ Unified. He shared them in his comment. […]

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