Good Teaching Takes Courage

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how good teaching takes courage. Three separate stories:

  1. Nancy Flanagan, a retired Michigan Teacher of the Year, recently wrote a great blog post about how great it was covering for the 2010 Michigan Teacher of the Year’s history class to pilot a great sounding student-centered history unit on Revolutions. Nancy had a great experience teaching the unit, and it sounds like the kids were getting into it. When she checked in how the unit was going a few weeks later, the teacher informed her she had stopped it and returned to traditional teaching because of a parent’s complaint.
  2. Miss Teacha recently wrote about planning a lesson to develop her students’ critical thinking skills using primary documents to create a readers’ theater, and that it totally bombed because students were not used to being asked to think.
  3. My father-in-law sent me a link to Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on creativity. There’s a lot of great food for thought in the talk, but none more than this line: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Three separate situations, but one common thread runs through all of them: creating the kind of schools and classrooms most people want for their students and children requires an element of risk, and therefore teachers need the support of their administrators, peers, parents, and students in taking these risks to better serve all their students.

I have been very lucky to work in a school these past five years where I have been supported and encouraged in taking risks that have greatly benefited my students’ learning. Lately, I have been thinking about what I can do in supporting my peers to do the same.

To that end, last week I met with one of our social studies teachers who has wanted to do more to get his students actively participating and discussing in class. However, he is fearful that if he gives up control, there will be chaos. So last week, we sat down and planned a lesson together to have his students participate in a debate between Booker T Washington and WEB DuBois. Today I will be in his classroom to observe and give him feedback. He’s teaching a thoughtful lesson that should be a success, but chances are it won’t be. It probably wont be successul because, like Miss Teacha, his students are not yet used to this kind of lesson, and the first time you ask anyone to do anything, it tends to not go well. But this type of lesson will lay the groundwork for future class discussion, debates, and simulations. These lessons will better help his students remember information from US History, while engaging his students and helping them grow as critical thinkers. I hope that I will help him have the courage to continue to move forward out of his comfort zone towards creating an environment that better helps his students learn.

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10 thoughts on “Good Teaching Takes Courage

  1. I agree totally with what you said about the first time you try something it is likely to fail.
    All too often we teachers get into the rut of taking the safe route and trust in what we know as opposed to taking chances. There is a point where taking chances is risky (and not having a back-up plan is always foolish), but I firmly believe that students appreciate a teacher who operates outside of his/her comfort zone. Students need teachers to be dynamic, even if it does not always fit their style. Any time a teacher gives up control to attempt a student-centered learning approach there is an inherent risk… yet a very real and positive upside that we teachers need to strive for.

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  2. First off I enojyed all three of the lessons presented. I do agree that all too often teachers get into the habit of just presenting information instead of pushing students to create meaning and relavance for themselves. Although lecturing can be useful teachers have to expand their teaching methods to acheive the ultimate goal of providing students with the tools necessary to succeed in life. Although it can be hard for teachers to step outside of their comfort zone, when they do often times the lessons are more comprehensive and entertaining for everyone involved. I do agree though that teachers need the support of the entire academic community, especially when dealing with controversial issues in history. Often times when teachers step out of the box for the first time they do not recieve the results they imagined and abandon that type of lesson. Once students understand what you expect from them and the typical classroom procedures i feel that out-of-the-box lessons should run more smoothly.

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  3. I do agree with you as well, teaching does take courage to try and teach something in a new way. I think that teachers should be rewarded for their creativity when they teach lessons in a different way rather then be criticized by the community.

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  4. I am an aspiring history teacher and i agree that teaching does take courage and that innovation is both essential to the classroom, yet many times stifled. Over the course of my high school career as a student,I generally preferred classes which were more discussion oriented rather than straight lecture. This format of class better prepares you for college where a higher level of interaction is often required.

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