I’ve had four teachers at my current, inner-city school compliment me on my intelligence at separate times. Each of the four immediately added that compulsory layer of “it won’t make you a good teacher.” This has been a source of frustration for me.

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.

Mr. Bogush, for his part, also riffs on the hard-to-swallow theme of the four teachers in my department.

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. …

Unlike White Kids’ Unified, students have to come first at Podunk, Mr. Bogush said. Whether or not administrators demand it in Podunk doesn’t really matter — the situation already demands student-centric reflection.

At Podunk, you will have to reflect, reflect, reflect. Not about your curriculum, and 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.

Don’t mind my interjection, but is smartness really worthless? I chalk this up to hyperbole. He continues:

Don’t let being too “smart” keep you away from Podunk — let it drive you there. You might hate it; you might dread every minute. However, it will make a “thinking teacher” stronger. You will learn skills and insights that you will never get from a book, from a person, or by working at the other school.

I had intended to reflect on his comment, but I couldn’t bring myself to add anything. Mr. Bogush sums it up his point of view, and I have no perspective to counter it.

No perspective, at least, that the teachers at my school would allow themselves to appreciate. As far as they’re concerned, smartness be damned: I’m a student teacher. I don’t have any business making judgment on high educational theory.

What is the role of smartness as a teacher? What is the role of reflection, at either White Kids’ Unified or BFE-Podunk Joint Unified, and is the role different between the two districts?

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  1. dkzody

    Here’s my take on smartness–be sure to team up with people smarter than you who want to work their tails off to make a difference. Then smartness counts.

  2. The “smartness” that allows one to converse and survive in a world full of professionals, is not the “smartness” that allows one to survive in a world of gang bangers. The kid who can survive just fine at the college prep school, will find that his “smartness” is worthless at the inner city bottom of the barrel school. It is not being smart that is worthless, by “smartness” I was referring to skills used in one situation cannot be carried over to the same situation in a different environment. I thought I was hot stuff and damn smart going into my sentence at Podunck. In one day I found out that all my smartness was not applicable at Podunk. I felt so stupid. I had to become smart all over again.

    The difference between reflecting at the two schools is huge. At the WKU you will tend to reflect on your lesson–separate from the lives of the kids or your inner self. At podunck you end up reflecting on you. See, when my smartness did not work at Podunck, I reflected and found that it was me that had the problem, I was the one who had to change what I was doing. People who start teaching at the WKU tend to reflect on why the kids are the problem, what do they need to change. That is a subtle, but huge difference. True reflection is not a natural act. Our society breed us to go forward, not look back. You need a skilled mentor, or a really crappy thing to happen your life to make you stop, and do serious reflecting.

    You do have a role to make judgment on high educational theory — if not now then when? As the years go on, you will just bring more wisdom to your judgments.

    …and stop calling me Mr. Bogush.

    …and the thing you said I was riffing on…the “Curse of Knowledge” — that is a problem that almost every single teacher I know has…but only the really great ones recognize it and remember it when they are working with their kids.

  3. Ms. Zody: How do I figure out who’s smarter than I am? From my years as a student, I remember a lot of stupid people in the teaching profession.

    Mr. Bogush: Yes, Mr. Bogush. Whatever you say, Mr. Bogush. Of course, I kid.

  4. i had that curse of smartness when I started out.

    And even as late as last year, I was told that I intimidate other teachers.

    I’m just fine intimidating other teachers. If they can’t hang with smart, they should be intimidated.

    I don’t want to intimidate students, though. At least, not unintentionally.

    But, I’ve also learned to use those smarts to figure out how kids learn – it’s never obvious, and every thing they learn works just a little bit differently, to be able to open them up. It’s a good thing that I was an engineering major – I had years of applied problem solving under my belt. In this case, the problem has become “how do you get a kid, with unspecified distractions, to learn and understand some particular piece of knowledge”. That problem is entirely different than actually acquiring or using that knowledge yourself, and is, I think, at the base of the whole smarts comments.

    (BTW – I needed a wake up call to do that. that really crappy thing Mr. Bogush mentioned was my whole first year of teaching.).

  5. I don’t worry about intimidating other teachers, either, and not just because I don’t think I’ll ever intimidate them. At the very least, other teachers aren’t in the classroom.

    You bring up another question: How do kids learn? By asking this, I don’t mean to say that the credential program hasn’t even bothered trying to answer this question sufficiently enough to make the program worthwhile, though that is true. In asking how kids learn, I mean to find out if there is any specific, solid rule of thumb that will teach the middle 65 percent of students in my classroom.

    I already know there’s no answer to that question, because that’s what everyone says.

    What I need is a collection of rules of thumb that I can make specific to my methods of teaching. I need a collection of rules of thumb that will generally engage half of the class, given interpersonal tweaking.

    If anyone has a rule of thumb, I’d love to read it.

  6. I trust you saw the recent post at Dngerously Irrelevant about smart teachers (A) leaving the profession at a higher rate and (B) leading to greater student gains (if not, here it is: http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2008/05/low-ability-tea.html). I personally believe that intelligence is probably the best thing a teacher at White Kids’ Unified can offer to his students (since, in general, they’ve already got their basic needs taken care of); at Podunk, while still important, it moves down the list quite a bit.

  7. What’s more important at Podunk? What’s higher on the list than smartness? In writing this entry, I think that’s the question whose answer I’m most curious about.

  8. dkzody

    You have got to be smart for the Podunk kids because you are going to have to write grants, go after money, connections, partnerships, the whole nine yards, and keep up with the classroom. A team of smart teachers helps, take this from someone who knows. I work with an amazing team and it’s the reason our department still exists today and it’s the reason our students do as well as they do. We go after grants, partners, jobs, anything and everything to make our classrooms better.

    And about those stupid people, stay away from them.

  9. A “solid rule of thumb” Manage time and space.

    Time- when students arrive at class have a few things for them to do before the bell rings to start class, and get after any student who doesn’t start. Be sure to close the day going over objectives or starting homework, right up until the bell rings don’t waste a second.

    Space- control the seating chart and move kids who are behavior issues. Ask previous years teachers for a little heads up on good behavior/bad behavior kids. Have a desk isolated from the rest of the group for students who are being disruptive, moving their seat will solve discipline issues a huge majority of the time, and its better than sending them to the office or whatever your school procedure is.

    Another rule of thumb: was manage behavior first, curriculum second.

    By this, I mean whatever activity you are doing you have to make sure there are specific expectations and that those are being followed by all the students in the classroom.

    If you are in the front lecturing and students are taking notes, you need to circulate and make sure they are all on task, at all times from the very first second.

    A good lesson I learned was from a teacher next door who said she “head hunts” the first 2 weeks, looking for any student who isn’t on task and she goes right after them, enforcing her consequences and following through. She says it like this “if a student is breathing incorrectly, I get right after them.”

    The smartness thing is really important. In my building there was a student teacher next door who was smart to the point of being very condescending to other teachers and students. Doing ridiculous things like questioning the validity of another teachers exam, when he was the new guy.With him, the issue wasn’t that he was smart, the issue was his personality and condescension. Being a good colleague is a deal breaker for getting hired in most districts.

  10. To answer your question, I think at Podunk charisma might be the most important trait you can have, followed by things like patience, street smarts, and an awareness of basic psychology.

  11. Kathryn

    Speaking as a parent, I’m always going to prefer the smart teacher over the not-so-smart teacher, but there are all kinds of “smart.” Intellect is useless if you can’t manage a classroom. Great classroom management is not enough if you can’t think beyond the limits of the text book. The ability to differentiate effectively is golden.

    Your text book is going to address that middle 65% of your state. (To be honest, every text book is written to satisfy the middle 65% of YOUR state and every other state is an after thought, cross-referenced to whatever works for California.) That 65% may or may not represent the students in your district. If your district has a mean a little higher or lower than that of your state, you don’t even have a text for a good chunk of your middle 65%, much less the highly capable or struggling learners.

    I know only one teacher who differentiates well all of the time. It comes to her like breathing. Everyone else, if they do it at all, has to think about it, work at it, struggle with it. The key, I think, is to be able to articulate your strategies for given students. If you can’t articulate it, you haven’t thought about it enough.

  12. Ms. Zody: How do you find grants? How do you get grants? What’s your strategy?

    I know nothing about that whole world of free money, other than that it’s awesome.

    Mr. Cochran: You are more helpful than you know.

    I have more specific questions that address issues that I struggle with: What consequences are appropriate for a student not being on-task? Should I write a referral? Keep them after class? Give them after-school detention? What do I do when they blow off the consequence?

    I don’t want to make the consequence so petty that they can ignore it, or so severe that it’s serious overkill.

    Mr. Pullen: I’m still working on all of those things, and now I have a reason.

    Ms. Kathryn: When you write strategies, are you referring to studying strategies? Learning strategies? Strategies for staying on task when bored out of your mind? Strategies to make yourself interested in something you find, at the moment, boring? All of the above?

    If you can’t articulate it, you haven’t thought about it enough.

    Epiphany.

  13. Kathryn

    I mean strategies to differentiate lessons for the kids that just aren’t addressed by the text book lesson or even the cool TCI lesson (learning spirals aren’t for everyone.) All those points you mentioned are important, but they are learner strategies, not teaching strategies.

  14. What are those strategies? I’m open to any plausible suggestions.

  15. Kathryn

    Check out anything by Carol Ann Tomlinson on differentiation. In a nutshell, you can vary the content, process, or product of a lesson or assignment according to students’ readiness, interests, or what you know about how a particular student learns best (right brain/left brain, Howard Gardner, particular strengths or weaknesses.)

    Some examples: you can prepare tiered questions so that you ask some students to respond to questions that clearly have only one correct answer, while asking other students to use higher order thinking skills. You can prepare tiered assignments, maybe even let the students themselves select the appropriate level of complexity. You can compact or accelerate lessons for your linear thinkers or gifted readers.

    It’s not rocket science, but you do have to know something about your students as individuals.

  16. Consequences and behavior managment have to fit into your style….

    The consequences at our school are pretty ineffective. My first year I was following the pathway, but it wasn’t working for me. It was pretty much a write-up, sending them to the Internal School Suspension (ISS) room, and/or holding them after school.

    None of them worked very well.

    I read a few books over the summer (Setting limits in the classroom by Robert McKenzie is the best one, and another one by Lee Canter, Classroom Management for Academic Success) and its more of a preventative strategy then you won’t need the consequences as much:

    First and foremost keep kids busy. Not meaning more busy work, but if you are lecturing there are expecations for paying attention, taking notes, and so forth. If its group work, have parameters for that. The smallest behavior has to have the most explicit expectations.

    Behavioral Narration- This a concept from the Canter book and it is so simple and amazing.

    1. Lets say you want students to start taking notes.You say “Ok, lets start by writing down the notes heading on the front board here “the causes of world war 1.” After saying that, you circulate around the room and pick out a student who is doing what you asked and say something like “Julie has her notebook out and has her heading written down, nice work.” Walking around the room has an effect like they are being watched and many will start doing what you want just because you walked passed, or if you put your hand on their desk or whatever…

    You simply point out the students who are doing it correctly. many times, off task stuff is b/c they weren’t paying attention or didn’t hear.

    As I mentioned earlier, you have to head hunt and enforce consequences.

    I’ll get more into detail with this at another time, but whats worked for me-

    1. Hold a student behind class for 1 minute.
    2. Extreme cases, hold a student after school or at lunch or whenever their free time is to “re-train” the behavior that wasn’t up to par. “You wasted my time in class, so now you owe me time after.”

    If they refuse these then its no longer your issue. You have to write them up for insubordination. If it goes further than this you have to get the parents involved, calling them or having a parent/student conference.

    A lot of it can be school specific, and i’m not sure what type of school you are in. What might be a good idea is to ask your colleagues about types of behavior they have dealt with.

    Anyway, I hope that helps….

  17. More on consequences- I hope this stuff isn’t too long, it really works for me…..

    Overall, to limit behavior issues, you need figure out a way to stop “inappropriate talking.” Canter calls this a ‘cornerstone behavior,’ that 90% of all discipline issues start with inappropriate talking.

    From the beginning students should know when you are talking they are not. If students want to speak the procedure is: 1.raise your hand 2. wait to be called on. Demonstrate it, have the kids demonstrate it. I always tell students, “you can talk whenever you want, you just have to raise your hand and wait to be called on.” If a student can’t handle this, bring them in after school, sit them down and literally re-train them. Start with out to sit in their seat, what to do while taking notes, how to raise their hand, how to wait to be called on….everything.

    Be sure that in your procedures for doing activities, there is a clause in there that says “this is to be done quietly” and you remind them each time. I have a PowerPoint from my first day of procedures that has a lot of how students are to do stuff in it….

    http://mrcochran.com/Grade%208%20First%20week%202007/Class%20Procedures%202007.ppt

    One great way to limit this inappropriate talking is to use a technique called “think pair share extended.” After about 10 min of lecturing on a topic, pose a question to the group.
    “Ok, list 3 causes of ww1.” Now, with a partner, I want you to take 45 seconds and discuss with each other 3 causes of ww1”
    After you have them talking in pairs, walk around and see the responses. Make sure they are on task etc….Try to find a student who is telling his/her partner a good answer. After 45 seconds or whatever, bring them back to the front (I use the attention getting signal of counting 3-2-1….this is a different thing and needs to be trained from the beginning) When students are back and attention is on you, you re pose the question and then call on the student you heard give the correct answer. This does a few things-
    1. It gives them extra repetitions with material.
    2. It makes that 1 student look good
    3. It diffuses many of the students needs to talk incessantly with someone.
    4. It breaks up the monotony of lecturing for the full time.

    I teach grade 8, so they can be pretty high energy and some can get disruptive. Kids are researchers, just looking to see how far they can push the limits. They want to push things until you have to take an action step. Mckenzie outlines this really well, “action steps vs. verbal steps.” If a student is talking when they aren’t supposed to, you give them 1 verbal step “please stop talking etc….” If it goes further, you use an action step. This can be whatever you want, typically after a verbal step, i go with
    1. Move their seat (have a desk in the back of your own room)
    2. Hold them after school for re-training.
    3. Send them next door. (haven’t done this in 2 years of using this)
    4. I’ve toyed with using the ‘hold them after for 1 minute’ but I haven’t had to.

    My first year I would send them to the ISS room which was a “timeout” but that wasn’t effective at all. Kids wanted to get out of class, and I wasn’t really dealing with the problem. So in year 2 I paired up with the math teacher next door, and we both had a desk in the back of the room where a student could be sent. If a student was disruptive rather than send him/her to ISS, i just sent her next door. Now, I never actually used this, and the math teacher used it probably 1 time per month.

    Anyway, this is long…..let me know if this makes sense…..

  18. Ms. Kathryn: I plan to adopt a few maneuvers from other teachers I’ve asked — differentiation takes a lot of work, though, and I’m not sure I’ll have the time to write curriculum and differentiate it, even in my first year.

    I don’t want to screw up.

    Mr. Cochran: Excellent. This helps a lot.

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