Going Off The PathAs a teacher, and probably anyone really, when faced with tough stuff we often look first for the easiest solution to put into action. I don't think this is because anyone is lazy, I think it is the thinking that fast and easy addresses a need that seems immediate. I have been guilty of this and this sense of immediacy is the reason that pockets of awful (thanks Mary) exist in all fields. The easy fix.
In teaching my "pockets of awful" have a name: AR, Star, Teachers Pay Teachers (used without discretion or purpose), Pintrest (same as TPT), mass-produced worksheets and work without feedback. These are the things out there that call to us as we walk along our teaching path. As we look down the road and see different journeys to choose from. Obstacles come up that cause us to pause and wonder if we have lost our way. Like so many fairy tales we are led off the correct path, enticed by the poison apple into the forest of crappy teaching. We mistake compliance for engagement and products for passionate learning. This week I had a student tell me my class was boring because all we do is read and write, why can't we do fun stuff" followed by "Just give me the worksheets and I will answer the questions, I don't want to talk about the reading." See this was hard for me to handle because I think the reading and the writing is the "fun" stuff. But the comments prompted me to step off the path, I looked up some unengaging question lists and printed them off. I dipped in to the pockets of awful. And this is what I learned. Thinking is hard and for students use to being given questions the idea of thinking and reflecting and creating is terrifying. It is a Dragon that they do not feel they can defeat.
I asked myself today while I participated in twitter chats, listen to a spectacular podcast and read a great blog post what I could do to get back on the right track, with this student and with all my students. I didn't have an answer and then I started reading through student work, responses to the reading of Peak and Boy in the Striped Pajamas and I found the answer. Just like Hansel and Gretel following Breadcrumbs back to the path I too needed to follow those Bread Crumbs of Brilliance my students were leaving for me. Insights into the text, well-crafted sentences, creative poems. At the school, there are visual representations waiting to be finished. My students and their success is the map back to the right path. I will not give up on a single student, I will continue to work to find their breadcrumbs of brilliance and in the meantime, I will let them discover them for themselves. That might mean some time spent in the forest trying to avoid the pockets of awful but I will find my way back and hopefully bring everyone with me. The journey to changing how things have always been done is long. My mistake was thinking I knew what everyone needed. I don't, but I am learning. Back on the path we go.
Also if you are a teacher make sure to check out the Heinemann podcasts. They are great.