Sunday, November 13, 2005

This Year's Model

For over 20 years, I’ve been attending faculty meetings. Several times a year, a weary administrator stands in front of a room, and tells us just how things are going to be:

“From now on, there will be no more standing in front of the room.”

“This year, all student work must be placed in portfolios.”

“The aim must be phrased as a question.”

“The aim must be phrased as a statement.”

“Portfolios are out.”

“There must be bell-to-bell instruction.”

“Instruction must last for no more than 10 minutes.”

All the approaches sound grand when you hear them. Each one is calculated to solve all the ills in education, and finally clear up those lingering doubts about whether or not your teaching techniques are valid. Why, then, do they so frequently contradict one another?

Well, there’s probably validity in most techniques, contradictory or no. The problem is, they’re invariably presented as not only good, but irreplaceable and exclusive as well. Discussion is now useless, because we must work in groups, all the time, every day without exception. Nothing else can possibly work. Ever.

After hearing this enough times, a reasonable mind cannot help but grow skeptical.

Aren’t they simply going to replace this revolutionary technique with something new next year? Won’t they then tell you every minute you’ve spent applying last year’s technique was a complete and utter waste of time? Why should you bother to listen at the next meeting?

Well, it’s not the supervisors’ fault that they’ve been assigned to tell you the newest earth-shattering technique. They’re just doing their jobs. If they’re reasonable (and some are), they won’t insist you use this year’s technique to the exclusion of all others. That, you’ll have to judge for yourself.

Here’s what’s important—these techniques may or may not work for you. One thing the theorists invariably fail to take into account is that teachers, actually, are not donuts, or widgets, and it’s genuinely possible that different techniques may suit different personalities.

When you really find what works for you, you’ve found your own voice. No trendy technique can compete with that. Unfortunately, what works for you may not work for me. And it may not work for the unfortunate group of teachers compelled to sit at the meeting, either.

Why can’t the geniuses who devise these techniques realize that? And why must every new technique supplant every other that came before it?

It seems to me there’s more than one valid approach to communicating and reaching out to young minds. I know what works for me.

Regrettably, it does not necessarily follow that I know what will work for you.

And that’s just one reason I’m not an administrator.
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