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Archive for March, 2010

Die-cast car collectors are all excited about GMP’s release of the 1:18 scale replica of the famous Ford Thunderbolt from 1964. This little car is so cool to look at (well, if you’re a car enthusiast.) But the most important thing that strikes me about it, and indeed other 60’s die-cast miniatures–HotWheels, et al–are how nostalgic they make me feel.

I once heard nostalgia defined as how you feel when the past seems better than the present is or the future looks. We long for the good old days. We remember how education was when we were the student. We remember high expectations and no toleration for disrespect. We seem to remember things being better.

The reality is that some things are worse. But many things are better. We must not fall into the black hole of gloom and doom. You still have good students, right? They still inspire you, right? You still get to give a lot of good grades, right? Then as far as the act of teaching goes, it is probably still rewarding in most respects.

Walk into that room everyday expecting the future to be better than the past or present. Build on those positives. Repeat those positives. Duplicate those successes.

Because the past is just that: passed.

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I’m glad in a way that texting while driving is illegal in my area. Personally I cannot do it. If I were to hold my cell phone out to my right and try to steer with my left hand I would quickly drift to the right and off the shoulder of the road. The reverse is also true. Either way, I’m in danger.

Why? Well, we tend to go where we’re looking. We tend to drift in the direction of our attention. We usually wind up arriving at whatever destination we give our attention to, and it’s not always what we really want. Most of the time it’s just “whatever” and “where ever.”

When one of my children was learning to ride a bike, she was concerned about a small sapling in our yard.

“Don’t let me hit that tree!” she said. “I won’t” I reassured her, “Just steer toward me.” 

“But what if I hit the tree?”

“You won’t! Just look at me.”

She began to peddle then coast across the yard. And yes, straight into the tree. I ran over to her and through the tears and snubbing she said:

“I TOLD you I was gonna hit that tree!”

When you set out on a journey toward educational or professional success, look at your goal and focus on it every day. Imagine how it will look and feel to be the person you desire to be. Learn to stay focused. And as you learn to be good at it, teach your students to do it.

It’s much more rewarding that driving and texting.

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I love traditions. I’ve blogged earlier about our Christmas tradition called the Parade of Toys. Many school traditions are centered around seasonal sporting events, like homecoming, a bonfire, a dance, or some other rite.

But when I ask someone why they do something year after year that has no apparent value so far as student growth is concerned, I cringe when I hear “It’s just tradition!” Why are there some subjects we teach the same old way year after year and say “That’s just how you teach this!” It may interest you to know that the exponential rise in the use of multiple sensory inputs used by our students (games, phones, mobile browsers, cams, etc. and many time all rolled up into the same device) has had a surprising effect on student learning: they can learn faster than we can teach. I’m not saying they can assimilate it all or even use all of the information correctly, but as far as simple acquisition of knowledge? It’s fast!

This means I have to get creative. I have to think in a new way. They’ve been there-done that, and they are under-whelmed by most teaching methods. Students have a bad habit of devaluing knowledge. They only want to know what’s “on the test.” They think knowledge is only good for passing tests, getting the credit, graduating, and going on to get a job so they can spend the rest of their lives paying for things they want or need. “Knowing stuff” is no longer it’s own reward. Growing as a creative entity is not on their list of things to do. Making sense of life is no longer a priority. They are surrounded by uninspiring, uncreative, traditional people who tell them “Don’t get your hopes up,” and “Just graduate and get yourself a good job.”

Granted, graduating and getting a good job are worthy goals, but is that the end? I look at students everyday who I fear are just going to “settle” rather than go on and excel. I am outnumbered by the nay-sayers. I am not heeded like their peers and kin. I feel like John the Baptist  in the wilderness crying out “Get ready!” But all they see is this life.

So each day I have to try to be bigger than life. I have to try to create curiosity and foster hope and show patience and love to them. And somehow I still have to teach them .

But if they ask “Why are we going so slow?” or “I’m bored!” will I answer “It’s tradition?”

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One of the most important things to remember about the weaving of the tapestry of life is that each one is supposed to be different. We each came into this world to work on our own image and not others’. That’s difficult to remember when dealing with our industrial style educational system. Oh yeah, I know how we are to differentiate instruction, but when it comes testing time they expect the widgets to conform to the same specs. (See earlier post about “widgets”)

So here’s our solution: We say “I have been to college to do this, and I know how to do this job. I have been out there in the world ahead of you and I have the experience to help you. Now I want you to do this my way and perform in the way that makes me proud and makes me feel good so I can give a good report to the principal and keep my job and make your parents happy with me.   Got it? Good! Now the first thing you have to learn in life is to stop thinking it’s all about you!”

I hope you’re laughing right about now. We can easily fall into this trap. The pressure of the grade is ever upon us. It can take perfectly good teachers and reduce them to cold-hearted widget makers.

The challenge, then, is to try to see the image on each student’s tapestry and discern what it is they truly intend to become. You have to somehow lead them out of their self-defense shelter [educate: from Latin-educare  to pull or draw out] and into your world where their individuality is valued.

Yeah, I know it’s a tall order. I also know you think you can do it.

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Each one of us comes into this world with a single thread. We start looping it and doubling it and weaving it into a tapestry of life. As time goes by, this tapestry gets not only longer but wider as well. We have experiences–learn things–that broaden our view and add color to the panorama our tapestry will portray. We spend our hours laboring on its form, investing our hopes for a joyous life into its images.

Then something happens. A knot in the thread, as it were. We get side tracked and the joy fades because our focus on future happiness seems shifted irrevocably in another direction. This happens again and again as we age and soon we forget all about our original intention. By the time we are adults we have adapted to this life of frustrated desires and accept as an axiom “Life’s not fair.”

We encounter students at different points of development of their tapestry, that is to say, all along this continuum of life. Every day something or someone frustrates their aim to have a happy life. The result is bitterness, confrontation, or as most of us teachers call it–drama.

We need to somehow remind them that these seeming failures are really just bumps in the road. And a simple failure is not the same as defeat. Defeat only comes when you give up. They need to be reminded of their original intentions and hopes and dreams. They need to be reminded to focus on these things daily, to think of the good their future can hold, and to regain their focus on their true goals.

That tapestry of life will start to look pretty good again if we can somehow teach them this lesson.

But we have to first learn this lesson for ourselves.

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