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My General Attitude Toward Teaching

This is rough and it's angry. But it's honest.

Most of the time, I'm dancing in the classroom. I'm dancing down the halls (don't let the glare fool you, kiddies). Why? Because I get to work with people made of the best ore. I get to work with raw iron and diamonds and silver and gold. And I can see the iron becoming tempered steel and creating a plow or a sword or a jet engine. I can see the rings, the necklaces, the sparkling bits of delight and joy embedded in bits of coal and granite. And it thrills me. I've got no complaints with this job.

I've got a point of frustration though. Students need to be responsible for their own learning. Too many times I see a lack of personal integrity. Yeah, I know, doesn't that just make you so angry that I would question a student's integrity? But that's what it is--first thing! Come on, folks, integrity doesn't have squat to do with self-worth, self-value, and all that other egocentric twaddle. It has to do with working hard to understand and be understood. This is the one that seems to escape folks. You want self-worth; you want self-value? Create something worthy! Create something of value!

You know, John Dewey--a name that has the majority of teachers genuflecting automatically--was saying back in the 20's that students need to be empowered. School isn't there to entertain students. It isn't there to teach them a vocation. School is there to assist them in completing themselves. Students need to begin to take responsibility for their own lives! How else can you be complete? I mean, we're talking eighty years ago this guy was saying this! And I've got students walking into my Language Arts class and then bad-mouthing me because they didn't know they had to answer test questions in complete sentences! Why? Because you didn't say, Mr. Moran! So? What of it? Do students need to be reminded to zip their flies when they're finished before they go into the bathroom?

And I look at these students and I start to get angry. Why? Because they're GOLDEN! I can see it! I can see the value, the worth--I can! But all I can do as a teacher is show them how to use the rag and apply the polish and shine themselves up as bright and as valuable as a fresh-minted krugerrand. But I'm not going to shine them up for them! They've got to do the work. Hey, man, all I do is facilitate the learning.

Every time a student asks a question--wants to know, to understand, to get some direction--I'll be right there. I love my students.

Questions in My Classroom

Here's my attitude: the questions--following the explanation of ANYTHING--will often start with me asking: "Do you understand that?
    "So there are no questions?"
    And if there aren't any questions, then I'll take a random assessment by asking around the room to explain back to me what I just explained.
    If there are too many unable to explain, I'll say something like: "Who feels they got it? And don't say you do if you don't. If you're going to succeed in my class--or anywhere--first thing is to be honest with yourself. Then show the guts to act on that honesty. Even if it means [and here I'll wave my arms about and and say in a typically, biting, mocking, and very accurate way] risking looking like you don't understand something that you've never ever experienced before. Oh, the horror!
    'That's right,' you'll say. 'I've walked into a class not knowing something--and I have to learn it! I have to learn something I don't understand. In a classroom. Right in front of my friends! The shame!'
    "So ask if you don't get it. And yes, do it right in front of everybody. Even those impatient little smarty-pants who might have understood it on the first try. (Heaven forbid, you ask those smarty-pants for help later if I'm not available. They might actually know and might even help you. Oh, the horror!)"

Okay, so maybe not ALL that. But that's the general take on it.

Do you understand why I would do this?


I hate to break it to you, all you parents and students out there who just know otherwise, learning has nothing to do with the grade! The grade is a not a reward--not a cookie offered by the institution for your continued good efforts.

It's like students are sometimes thinking: "If I do really good work, I'll get an oreo! Oooo! And if I do really really good work, I'll get a double-stuff oreo! Oooooooo!"

Hrmph. The grade is a means of informing you of your current skill-level. Period.

Here's what the grades mean in my LA classes where communication is key:

An F means you've failed to communicate anything.

A D means you occasionally pull your head out of your heinie and communicate something. (A D for a lot of teachers these days means you deserve an F but the teacher's too frightened to put it on your grade report-as well she should be. The teacher's the first to get attacked--by the student, the administration and the parents--when a student wastes an entire term with her thumb up her ... and fails to learn ANYTHING).

A C means you communicate effectively.

A B means you communicate effectively and with some real courage. There's a hunger to know more (about yourself, or the material, or some aspect of the material) and so you strive for more.

An A means means you communicate powerfully: you risk failing dramatically, you question and argue to understand and be understood fearlessly.
    It means you want to learn and so work hard to succeed in learning deeply. And then you explain effectively what you have learned.

The grade isn't some condescending pat on the head that the system gives you. It's an assessment tool. And in my class it's way for a student and parent to know how well they've learned to communicate.

So what do you understand about what I'm saying about grades?

Is your answer worthy of a C? A B? An A?