Saturday, June 12, 2010

Newkirk Chapters 2 & 8

The abundant research on medical decision making illluminates the responses of doctors and nurses who (like teachers) find themselves in complex environments that require far more than the application of research. In other words, each situation is, to a considerable degree, a unique experience that can't be anticipated by a preset procedure. Professionals often work in environments where "problems are interconnected, environments are turbulent, and the future is indeterminate" (Schon 1983,16). Classroom teachers will recognize this description. Classrooms are complex environments-"messes"- in which teachers must deal with uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and completing values. It is little wonder that teachers are skeptical of guidelines and prescriptions that fail to account for this complexity.

Teachers' resistance to research and that which is termed theory by academicians comes not from a belief that this work is inaccurate-only that it is too general to be useful in the situations they find themselves. It exists at a level of abstraction that they fail to find useful as they deal with the complex "messes" of classroom life. To do their work requires a particularized, situated, child-specific, class-specific, day-specific, school-specific form of knowledge-often intuitive and unarticulated- that is rarely considered to be theory at all. In the hierarchical models of professional knowledge, this localized knowledge never has the status accorded to research or abstract theorizing. The teachers' place at the bottom of the hierarchy is secure- they deliver instruction. (pages 27-29)

Newkirk continues (in chapter eight) to consider a counter-narrative to the "heroic, exemplary self-sacrificing" teacher narrative portrayed in the media outlets such as in the movie Stand and Deliver. From a psychoanalytic perspective, these narratives present a very narcissistic image of teaching, an inflated self-presentation, even self-admiration-that leave teachers vulnerable to psychological pain when they receive criticism or experience difficulty (or feel emotions) incompatible with this self-image. And to the extent that, as a culture, we treat these depictions of selfless teaching as an ideal, those (like me) who fall short also feel inadequate, and I will argue, lose some pleasure that might come from a more realistic vision of teaching, with its small victories and small advances. (pages 159-160)

The term resonate will be used throughout the Summer Institute as a term that refers to "what strikes a chord with you". What do you agree with and what do you push back against? What resonates with you regarding Newkirks' statements on the practical applications of research/theory in the classroom and/or the "heroic, exemplary self-sacrificing" teacher narrative?


  1. While reading Chapter 2, I could not help but think how lucky I am to have been charter-born and charter-raised. Throughout my teaching career I have always resisted district policies, especially those designed by outsiders, and I have been extremely opposed to uniform teaching. I do not believe there is a “one-size-fits-all” program that will satisfy the needs of every child. Newkirk said it best, when he said, “Teaching is far more than “delivering” instruction; it involves virtually constant decision-making and judgment” (p. 28). Similar to doctors, teachers should be trusted to make educated decisions based on academic research and their own professional experiences and intuition.
    Of all the chapters we have read, Chapter 8 seemed to resonate with me most. This chapter caught my attention because it addresses issues that we often keep to ourselves. Newkirk writes, “And what I find most difficult to believe, the teacher never shows signs of despondency, frustration, anger, impatience, or disappointment” (p. 163). This to me is one of the hardest parts of being a teacher. Teaching can be a very isolating profession if you do not surround yourself with friends and colleagues that you can trust. I consider myself very fortunate to have found a group of colleagues at my site that are willing to share in my challenges and my triumphs. It is for these reasons that I am very excited for the Summer Institute to begin ;) See you next week!

  2. Newkirk’s view on the polarization of educational research is something I really connected with because I’ve seen some polarization, to a degree, in the places I’ve taught. I consider myself fortunate to work with colleagues who are willing to try new approaches to teaching; however, there are instances where new research strategies receive push back because the strategies we’ve used in the past are working. The question then is always, “why try to fix something that isn’t broken?” I think that this questioning is a great thing! How scattered and rarely effective would our teaching be if every researched based strategy were blindly adopted! Still, I agree with Newkirk’s assertion from chapter 1 that “The more degrees of freedom there are in practice, the wider the discussion and debate can be.” (9). When teachers aren’t forced to use strategies in a one size fits every student model because we are trusted as professionals to adapt to the uniqueness of every class, good instruction takes place.

  3. Part I
    Laura- I didn't want to be the first one to post, so thanks for bravely stepping up. I can't wait to see you all next week either, and believe me the support is there. Windows do open when doors close, I know that. !!!
    We first read Newkirk last year, and thought so much of the veins of thought and feelings he opened up that we wanted to offer it to this year's SI; Chapter 8 is also the one I resonated to the most. I see kids’ names scribbled in the margins, and added more this week. Kids I feel I never reached. Kids who opened up new veins in my teaching physiology; each year I hurt in places I didn’t know I could hurt, and not because I couldn’t “emulate perfection,” but because everything I knew and tried didn’t make much difference.
    I've been so fortunate in my teaching, an "outsider" teaching outsiders. I taught ESL/ELD mixed grade level classes for 10 tears; go find a how-to binder on that! Then Seminar 6th and 7th, with the request that I reform it, get rid of the "cute" and introduce some rigor. Again, no binder, rigid scope-and-sequence, no "go-to" person, and unbelievable freedom. I can't imagine it otherwise. I also am well aware of the unspoken: I have attended really good public and private schools, I have a strong background in linguistics and writing, and as a Fellow of the Foreign Language Project and TC for SDAWP, I can't imagine doing what I do without the "team" of support behind me, surrounding me, nurturing me in a meaningful and regular way. There's no binder, but that intense camaraderie binds me to press on, to reflect systematically on what my students are learning and doing. And of course there are "lessons" (I detest that word, with its false sense of assembly-line closure and top-down didacticism) and days that suck, kids I feel I have let down or utterly failed, and times I can't read the political landscape on campus well enough and go stick my foot in it.
    Needless to say there's a ton in these two chapters that I so connect with. Even my students this year began to use the term 'messiness' when referring to writing; they got that it's not all lock-step and linear and work-sheet based, (what they were used to, even coming from 9 different schools) and it was an intense learning curve for all, those "dynamic messes," kids who jump right on board and those who resist and those who refuse...and there I am, struggling with Plato's kairos (situational) knowledge, points of success and points of frustration and failure. (I have to plug the piece in today’s NYT on Voice Recognition programs and avatars: and how they just don't "learn" situational language. Perhaps because it's necessarily human??? NYT 6/25/10)
    One reason I so dearly love the SI, and am more passionate about it than any other aspect of SDAWP and all our work, is precisely because it invites and cultivates and presents and nurturess our microtheories, our demos and feedback and discussions of them, our "on-going series of microtheories that extend and modify the repertoire of teaching.." (31)
    I love the SI precisely because it cultivates and honors us. And our immensely hard work. And asks us to do more! And I don't think we're respected or honored nearly enough. I'm thankful I don't have an admin coming by daily with a clipboard, but on the other had I am so alone in my little laboratory of 30 kids, and nobody but us ever will know what happened there. I ache when I hear stories of teachers being messed with, when admin haven’t even observed them, talked to students or interviewed/debriefed teachers themselves. I ache when teachers retire and are handed a slab of cake and a Target card, not shadowed and interviewed for a month as a living mentor. Or when novice teachers are given the most challenging kids without support, thrown into the deep end with the helpful adage “All kids can learn, you must be doing something wrong.”

  4. Part II: (My entire post was too long, so I split it.)

    There are, yes, those moments of victory and serenity Newkirk points out, those vistas and that laughter on a daily basis, but still I find myself falling into traps.
    So-called evidence that I’m doing an OK job. That I’m OK.

    I do look at test and benchmark scores, even though I don't teach to them. I intentionally and carefully embed standards, and I have great faith that is sufficient and organic and cognitive, and in most cases it is. I do lose sleep when there's a parent who's got an issue, or a kid I can't inspire. I spend - as we all do- countless hours reading and responding to student writing, and move mountains to make revision meaningful and rewarding. In silence, in a vacuum.
    I love Spring Open House when I’m mobbed with parents, lining up to thank me for changing their kid's views of writing, piles of portfolios and student work everywhere; it's a love fest until I stagger home exhausted.

    But then cheesy me, I also secretly look forward to the sweet notes and little gifts at the end of the year. I'm not sure why, but I know it's something my heart needs, a sign from kids besides their piles of work that acknowledges all the invisible acts of thoughtfulness, of sheer hours, of changing lessons ...recognition that I cared and responded and worked really f-ing hard. Not that I try to be a miracle teacher, a martyr teacher, I don't. I want to make a meaningful difference, not miraculous changes. Who was it who said “Someone who works with their hands is a laborer, with their head is an intellectual, but with their hands, their mind and their heart is an artists.” Louis Nizer, I believe. Anyway, that’s how I’ve always regarded teachers and teaching, and we are so not seen or understood on those levels.
    So I was baffled this week at there being so very few notes or gifts. Blindsided. Typically it's about 30%, this year it was 5%. Amazing. I can't help but notice. Another teacher asked me, and I told her, and she confessed she'd received 3 gifts, one less than me. I felt guilty. We're talking bar of soap and a coffee card. And we teach in La Jolla, where the 6th grade just raised $18,000 to pay for swim fees at the high school through their PE class. It must be the times, a collective excuse to cut back? Or forget? Or ignore?
    Tuesday I got an email from my sister, who teaches art in a public middles school in Connecticut, also a wealthy area:

    Last day. One plant.

    I still don't know what's up, and feel shameless for noticing, for counting, for feeling so pitifully sorry for myself, and I see myself in Newkirk. And as I gathered some cards to write thank-you's to the families who did bother to make a gesture I realized, a stunning a’ha: Each of them were teachers themselves. Every single one was a teacher, acknowledging and thanking me, a fellow teacher. And now somehow my attitude is shining, utterly transformed, a glimmer of arete. In a climate or landscape of indifference or selfishness or whatever, we teachers are not indifferent to one another, we know what work goes on, what work it takes, what thoughtfulness and refection and revising goes on. Maybe we're just too much like Martha Stewart's cliche'd dinner party hostess, a swan gliding gracefully, feet paddling like hell beneath the water’s surface. We swans recognize one another. We see the invisible, we know it's there, and we know it's not magic. It’s hard but realistic to acknowledge, as Newkirk says, that we're not as central in their lives as they are in ours (160) but I have to be open to the nature of kids, the climate and situation of school and the larger world of schooling (I am a part of a system I mostly detest) and realize it's my integrity, my witness, my decisions, that I share openly and willing with students, many times collectively, and I share all that honor with my fellows. See you next week!!!

  5. I can't count how many times I've asked myself if "they" have ever stepped a foot inside a classroom. If "they" have ever spent a day juggling the demands of everyday teaching while dealing with the emotional baggage that comes with each individual child. When I come across "educational research" I am immediately skeptical and my knee-jerk response is to push back. It doesn't surprise me to read that schools have historically been framed after factories and students viewed as products. It didn't take me long to find that most kids don't fit in those perfect little boxes we were trained to put them in. One of my favorite parts of teaching is one of my biggest challenges: facing the new crop of kids each year. No matter how much experience I gain, or time I spend getting ready, there are always those situations that arise that nothing can prepare me for. From the year I had a blind student to the one where I met the most intelligent 8 year old on the planet. From my group of "mean girls" to the year I had to make 2 different CPS reports. At the end of the day, you remember that the actual teaching part is only one piece of your big, complicated job. Newkirk states, "Effective teachers draw from their experience to form regularities of expectation that guide them in decision making...Every class takes on a personality as the year progresses...Reading one's class is an indispensable condition for effective teaching..." I live by statements like these. The best part of chapter 8 was Newkirk's admission of feeling inadequate, incompetent and like a failure. Hallelujah! I am not alone!

  6. Last night was a difficult night to be a teacher. I’m sure you’ve all had a similar experience. You’re at in a social setting, meeting new people, making small talk. Inevitably, the question “So, what do you do?” is raised. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to talk about your passion for teaching, share cute anecdotes, even engage in a good conversation about education, smoothly transitioning into a lighter, more “happy hour appropriate” subject. Other times, like my experience last night, the minute you say, “I’m a teacher”, the response from the new group of individuals becomes judgmental, hypercritical, disapproving. The look on the man’s face last night could only be compared to the disgusted face of someone taking a shot of cheap tequila. What I’ve realized about the general public is that most people don’t “get us” as teachers.
    We’re viewed so harshly, judged so easily, underestimated beyond belief. We’re glorified babysitters. We don’t need to make more money, since we would all do it for free anyway. Teaching is easy. We have summers and holidays off. As a primary teacher, clearly all my job entails is playing with my students all morning, leading and participating in naptime for an hour or so, and teaching coloring while singing songs.
    When people make these ridiculous judgments about my profession, I can’t help but write them off as ignorant somethings (insert word of choice here, I couldn’t choose just one). For this reason, chapter 2 really resonated with me. I wish I could make people understand that teaching is complex. Perhaps I will make a t-shirt that reads “The practice of teaching involves a far more complex task environment than does medicine.” Nah. I’m pretty sure people will never quite understand. I did, however, provide our administrators with a copy of chapter 2; for the leader who hasn’t taught in over 30 years and continues to shove “research-based” theories in our faces refusing to model the “how”, simply evaluating us based on the “why” and the other leader (who has never taught) who recently stated (and I quote) “Teaching is easy…as long as you love the kids…and there is a website that tells you the standards, so really it’s very easy.” So there you have it. All we need to do is love our students, follow the research, and teach the standards.
    Sigh. If only it were that easy. The fact that individuals IN the field of education are saying such silly things, how can I ever expect someone I meet at happy hour to respect what I do as a professional? I don’t think Newkirk is available to come to all of my social outings with me to defend what I do for a living.
    So, I sometimes get a little discouraged. However, at the end of the day, after defending the complexities involved in a teacher’s day to my boss and hopefully convincing him that teaching is not quite as easy as he views it and after being judged by an idiotic stranger and his drunk wife, I love what I do. In my classroom, working with my students, dealing with the everyday “messiness”, I know the effects of my work. I’m a teacher. I’m a 2nd grade teacher. And I’m damn proud of what I do.

  7. Teaching seems to be a very misunderstood profession. With government clamping down and regulating teachers and teaching practices with the fear that we are a nation at risk, there seems to be an idea that there is a simple scientific formula that teachers can follow to ensure student success. I agree with Laura that this one-size fits approach to education will not work in any classroom. Most teachers would agree that we do MUCH MORE than simply deliver instruction. I find Newkirks description of the classroom as "complex messes" (p 28) fits what I see in the classroom. Teachers are constantly dealing with uncertainly, instability, uniqueness, and competing values. He continues to say that teaching involves a more complex task environment then medicine, since a doctor is confronted with a single patient at a time and teachers are dealing with a classroom of 20 - 30 students at a time. Yes, This is the messiness and complexity of a classroom. The very solution proposed, standardizing education, would not motivate students or improve education. (Students rarely squeal with joy when they pull out their textbooks and turn to page 120!) In fact, when I think about the teachers I have learned most from, they are the passionate, unique individuals that cared about their students (and me), their subjects, and found ways to make the curriculum meaningful and interesting.

    I was relieved to read Newkirk Chapter 8. Although many people (outside the education field) think teaching is an easy profession, it can be a very difficult, demanding, lonely occupation. (p. 164) With the support and insight from nonjudgmental colleagues, the demands of teaching seem much more manageable. Newkirk reminds us to focus on the small and immediate changes, even when trying to achieve long-term goals (p. 171). With the crunch of time and the breadth of our curriculum, it is hard not to rush through our lessons. There is no time to let our lessons unfold or the "teachable moment". When we, as teachers, free ourselves from standardization, then we can be alert to the small changes and the small victories that can happen daily. These moments are times when we allow our students the ability to make small leaps in their educational journeys and times that remind me why I teach.

  8. Oh, Jamie, did you just strike a nerve with me! I am constantly dealing with this same feeling of social prejudice against my career, and predominantly from my own friends who are not in education. At the end of the school year when I'm celebrating a strong finish on Facebook, I have to get responses from friends calling me, "Brat," because they think I'm bragging about getting three months off from my piece of cake job. As Susan mentioned, nobody but teachers really gets teaching. However, while I appreciate Newkirk's comparison of teachers and doctors, I do notice a certain difference in the respect doctor's pay themselves and their field versus teachers. Yes, there are teachers like us who embrace the research and the impact our profession has, but there are many teachers to whom this is simply a job. To them, research is some dumb way another teacher made money or got notoriety. As long as we share professional space with teachers like these, we will have to face a general lack of respect for our career. Can you imagine a doctor surviving in his or her field who practiced the way some of our bad teachers do? Law suit!! Not, that I think we should start suing or pursuing bad teachers- there are all sorts of ways that can go wrong. I do believe, though, that until teachers approach their profession the way doctors do: constantly reading, researching, publishing (stuff I don't do!), we can't expect to be revered in the same manner by the greater whole.

  9. Jaime I can really relate to your experience. There is a columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune that regularly criticizes teachers, and although I do not often read that paper, it seems like every time I have picked it up he has something negative to say about us. I have written a few venomous, defensive letters in my head each time I read his tirades, and then I remember that I do not have to defend what I do and that I do not want to care about what morons think about teaching and teachers.

    What I do know is that when I was the director of a violence prevention program in Oakland and I told people what I did I got a lot of positive feedback about what important, difficult work that must be. It felt kind of good to get those responses, but what I always knew inside was that nothing was more important, and difficult, than teaching. And although our culture may not always acknowledge it, I know that teaching is the most potent social justice work that I will ever do.

    I am really looking forward to talking with all of you about the topics that this book has offered us. I agree with some of it, but I do feel a little uncomfortable with my response to research based stuff- I want some guidance! I do not want to be so solitary and insulated in my classroom, and I get that research based might not be the answer, but I do want some parameters and guidelines. Fortunately, I feel like I finally have found that support from participating in the SDAWP and I can't even imagine what glorious things will come out of this summer institute.

    I did appreciate Newkirk's willingness to address the "teacher hero" syndrome. I feel like I had such a peaceful teaching year and I think that one of the reasons, besides the support of the writing project, was that I was kinder and more forgiving of myself as a teacher than I ever have been in my life. I didn't see every student failure as evidence of my inadequacy as a teacher, and so I was therefore less defensive. For one of the last lessons of the year I asked my students to do the writing template that Newkirk discussed in chapter 7. A lot of students said that it was helpful, but one student said that he didn't use it because he thought that it was confusing. I think that before I might have gotten defensive and tried to explain it again and tried to prove to myself that it wasn't a bad idea. Instead I just said, "Oh, okay, Dennis. I just wanted to give you guys another tool for your writing, but if it doesn't work for you that is totally okay. Use whatever works for you in your writing." It was such a small moment, but I felt such tremendous relief that I was able to give myself that space, which meant that I could in turn give my student the freedom to find his own way. I don't want to be the teacher that doesn't notice that my hair is on fire(p.159)- I want to be the teacher that is able to be patient, loving and forgiving with my students because I have learned to be that way with myself.

  10. I read Ch.8 right after we got the book because I was struggling with some teaching difficulties at the time. I remember feeling very comforted and reassured that it wasn't just my problem, but a shared one. That isolation and fear of showing any negative emotion toward teaching is really insidious. Interestingly, today is my first day of summer vacation, and when I went back to review the chapter I had more of a mixed reacion. I love that Newkirk exposes the flip side of the mythological all-giving teacher, and the pitfalls it presents. But at the same time, I know that without some degree of feeling heroic, I would have a hard time mustering the energy needed to enter that room full of students each day. So it comes back to trying to find the balance of maintaining healthy skepticism without getting depressed. I think the main value of Ch. 8 for me is to remind that when we do get discouraged, we may need to take another look at unrealistically high expectations.

    In Ch 2, again I appreciate Newkirk's historical perspective, and agree with what others have echoed about questioning the push for "research-based" or "brain-based" programs.

    Looking forward to Tuesday.
    Judy G.

  11. Hmmm...where to start. I remember having a complete break down about 3/4 through my first year of teaching. I had just given my class their Theme 5 benchmark test in language arts and they BOMBED it. This happened after working until 9 or 10 almost every night all year long. This happened after giving up the weekend days I had off from my second job to work in the classroom. I was devastated. So much so that I took the next day off from work...something I never do - I don't even miss work when I'm sick. I knew it wasn't that the kids couldn't do it, it was that they didn't care and wouldn't try. Their poor performance was in my mind a reflection of poor teaching from me. I must have done something wrong. I was mad at my students not only for not doing their best, but for making me look bad. I even had the students retake the test without showing them the results and...they did much better. I ended up using it as a teaching point with my class about effort and doing your best. While I have definitely grown as a teacher, I still find it hard to separate myself from my students scores. I still find myself getting bummed out if they didn't do as well as I think they should have. I don't know how to separate myself. Even worse, I find that it doesn't always go in the other direction. I get so excited and proud when one or all of my students show success that I my eyes will begin to tear but I don't really see me as being the reason. My students did it, not me. It's their success, not mine and while I'm immensely proud I find it hard to take credit. As I type this I realize how absurd it sounds...their failure is my fault but their success is not. I guess it's because if they didn't succeed it feels like there is something I didn't do, I didn't do my job and when they do succeed I did my job nothing special.

    I have more to add in a bit...

  12. I appreciate how Newkirk addresses the difficulties of teaching and the societal pressures of being a “martyr”. I had to laugh out loud when Newkirk spoke about the book Teach like your Hair is on Fire. His account of the expectations of teachers to be so involved in their profession that their own social and emotional needs are cast aside resonated with me. I indentified with Newkirk and his struggles as a teacher. I know we have all had days when our only resource was to crawl into bed and pull the covers over our heads. It is not that one should dwell on the negative but to be reflective. Society, however, frames teachers as workaholics devoted solely to the children.

    In my first four years of teaching I have often felt isolated and pressured to live up to an unrealistic standard of excellence. Only within the past year have I been able to find a teaching partner who I can connect with and share my struggles. I have noticed a significant drop in my anxiety level and increased time on focusing on individual students.

    This year my school has begun to adopt team planning time. This opportunity to meet with others and discuss student data has greatly improved my teaching. The one thing, however, that is still lacking is the ability to see what wonderful teaching practices are occurring in our own schools. This is essential to helping one another improve teaching practices (not mention cheaper than going to conferences).

    Recently our school district paid a lot of money to have a business consultant tell the office staff and principal how to be more effective. In the teacher training, one point was emphasized: the fact that the principal should visit classrooms more often. This professional was paid thousands of dollars for this apparently ground-breaking new theory. All of that money could have been applied to teacher collaboration instead of being told what our principal should do. The tendency to find new trends in education and blindly apply them causes the teachers to be overwhelmed with new theories and unable to properly implement anything. I feel overwhelmed with new curriculum ideas that are never fully implemented. I have only just begun to use a word I should have a long time ago: “no”. I feel freed by saying no to five new policies a year. In the past, I was pulling my hair out trying to do everything at once. Now I am concentrating on what works for me and what I have noticed that makes a difference.

    This idea of having people other than teachers decide how schools should run is what Newkirk shows is part of what is wrong with education. This theory that adopting a textbook with scripted text will teach everyone how to read and close the education gap is so shortsighted. There is a bias towards reforms over teacher judgment as seen in the case of the Wisconsin School District. Their inability to receive Reading First Funds because they were not using “scientifically validated” methods even though they achieved amazing results shows that teacher knowledge is overlooked. When will experts see that classrooms are organic environments where each learner is different and the teacher holds a wealth of knowledge? Newkirk likens teachers to doctors. We diagnose problems and treat each case with varying methods and techniques, none of which can be replaced by a textbook.

    After reading this book, I feel validated that others struggle with their classes and am reminded that teaching is a process of small successes. The personal connection that a teacher forms with their students and the focus on treating each individual’s needs is what makes teaching joyful. We are so much more than a body to read instructions in a textbook. We are teachers, counselors, parents, cheerleaders and disciplinarians. Our jobs are complex, and in the end, rewarding.

  13. What resonated with me is this idea of “heroic, exemplary self-sacrificing” in chapter 8. This sounds so familiar. It is true how can you live up to the narratives that go Hollywood and end happily-ever-after? You can’t, well at least not always. I am a newer teacher in comparison to some of us in this summer institute and I can’t tell you how many times I have given something my all and it does not work out. Yes, of course it’s defeating a first, but everything doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. I just brush myself off and try again, and again, and again if needed. And this is far different from what Newkirk described as those sunny teachers that are optimistic all the time. Who to me seem in denial and I can’t relate to them. How can teaching go so perfectly, if as we all know there are so many variables?
    Regardless I would have to say it is times that I don’t succeed that push me to do better. Teaching is hard and difficult to say the least, but so rewarding. There are times in the year that things are working out so amazingly well and other times when they don’t, and that’s O.K. That’s makes teaching real, because my students are not the only ones learning so am I. I’m not in far, far away land where everything works out, that would make this job boring. I guess what I am trying to say is that yes, teacher sacrifice and yes, some of us are heroes at times, but we are all make mistakes, get down on are selves, like to live life, and do happy hour (Jamie =) . Teaching doesn’t have to be perfect all time, although we might try. It is O.K for us not to have a Jaime Escalante story (but chances are we by the end of our careers we will).

  14. Perhaps it's because school is out and I'm reading Newkirk's book in the more relaxed tempo of summer vacation, but several key points in these chapters resonated with me.

    Studying history has been "my thing" for most of my life, and I find myself putting most things in a historical perspective. A couple of hundred years ago, a child would learn to read by listening to their parent read, usually from one book - the Bible. (Which, granted, has lots of words in it to learn.) Richer families could afford a tutor and a minority of young men went off to universities. And there were a handful that taught themselves to read. I thought of all that as I read chapter 2 and the siren call school districts follow to find the "newest and best" research-based method for teaching reading. The truth is, people learned to read for centuries without a researcher telling them how to do it.

    Which is why I push-back against new research-based theories trotted out by the district and experts. (And we have a lot of those around us since my district is in P.I. status.) What I have found to be true in my time in classrooms is that you can't force any one to learn. Part of our teaching has to be showing children why learning a new skill or strategy will benefit them. If they don't trust that what we're teaching them is worthwhile, no amount of research-based theory is going to make it meaningful for them. And honestly, if I don't believe the research-based theory is meaningful, I can't convince them. (The figure on page 19 of a direct instruction reading program is frightening.) And too often the research-based theories are too disjointed and unauthentic, which Newkirk wrote about in one of the previous chapters we read.

    In chapter 8, Newkirk writes about the isolation teachers have from other adults. I became a teacher at 38, after spending decades in newspaper offices where I was surrounded by adults all day long. Many things made me go home and cry during my first year of teaching, but the isolation was the one that surprised me the most. I'm grateful Newkirk included the story about hiking and "being there" wherever you are. (The top of the mountain might not be better!) This school year was frustrating for me because I didn't bond with many of my students and I'm not sure many of them grew very much as students. But I know I was "there" on the days when one of my students, whose parents were going through a bad divorce, would come up and want a hug. Time may change the way I think about this past school year, but I know being there for him may have been the most important thing I did as a teacher this year.

  15. What resonates with me is that I wanted to give my director this book to read, especially these two chapters. This last year at my school, we had two programs forced on us even though we knew they weren't what the kids needed. Beyond that, as Newkirk correctly asserts, These "programs" and scripted lessons take away from the impromptu teaching where great ideas come from. If we narrow our focus on these one-size-fits-all materials, it makes it very difficult to adapt to each individual's needs. Or for me, a big problem was my teaching style. There are so many good ways to teach, and I think one's teaching style really dictates how you teach and what materials you use. Students also need this variety of teaching styles. We are doing a disservice to them by all teaching the same way. That, however seems to be where education is going towards: Treating teachers and students as uniformed widgets and forgetting about the variety that both bring to the table.

    Since I'm on my high horse, another thing that bothers me is politicians always talking about getting rid of "bad" teachers. I have met very few bad teacher, one. And two, I frankly think we need some bad teachers at every school. A lot can be learned and said when a student has to deal with these teachers and struggle through their class. It may sound a little demented, but I would argue (and I think Newkirk too) that a few bad teachers are actually good for a school.

    Chapter 8 made me smile. There was an expectation from our school that we be a Jaime Escalante or Erin Gruwell. If we didn't rise to these "Stand and Deliver" or "The Freedom Writers Diary" levels we were somehow failures. There was this erroneous thinking that every student would be engaged by our stellar two programs we were supposed to use and, in turn, we would have no difficulties with the students. Thus, we had no real discipline policy. The expectation was if we were doing our jobs correctly, then there should be no problems with the students.
    Needless to say, Newkirk's ideas have been refreshing in that they have given me a real and sensible perspective on teaching.

  16. In my particular teaching situation, I find it hard to be one of the few teachers actually interested in doing my own research. Many of my colleagues look at classroom-based research with suspicion, and have gone as far to say that when others use data, any kind of data, that it is clearly "manipulated" or "unreliable" or simply "bad data."

    These fears of research are probably grounded in a history of data for data's sake...or perhaps even administrators using data to do "bad things." But what about when new ideas...and new data to justify the new ideas...are needed?

    One such area that is frequently coming up now is acceleration; the idea that we need to get our underprepared students through pre-college course work faster and with fewer levels from beginning to end. There is a lot of data that demonstrates that for every level put in front of a student, the less likely they are to finish a sequence...even if they are successful and pass the courses set in front of them....they just can't make it to the end!

    The only real way to see if acceleration works is to test it out, but many faculty members already know "it won't work." They just know this...without any data. I honestly believe it is this very attitude that gives instructors a bad name.

    In sum, I'll share a joke that another professor told me this last week on this very subject:

    Q: How many college professors does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: CHANGE?!?!?!!?

    Doing goal-less research is clearly ridiculous...but fearing change that good research can bring is just as bad.