Monday, October 11, 2010

Twitter Book Club: Neil Postman (1996) The End of Education - Chapter 6

The Fallen Angel

"We could improve the quality of teaching overnight, as it were, if math teachers were assigned to teach (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

My fifth year of teaching I found myself without a contract. I had to struggle through the year by taking random substitute teaching jobs. One day I got the call to take a full-week job teaching math at a high school. I thought, great! I don't have to get up at 4am for the next five days to listen for sub calls. It was a challenging assignment. It was teaching both basic skills math and calculus classes in a first tier suburb whose cultural demographic had shifted dramatically within a generation. First, I was not a math teacher and second, I didn't have a lot of experience with inner-city or near-inner city students. And, of course, the kids did their best to derail me. I quickly found my place and my strategy for teaching both the basic skills students and the advanced math students. At the end of the week I was asked if I wouldn't mind subbing for another week. Of course I graciously accepted. End of the next week the same and so it continued for about a month until they finally just asked if I would be the long-term sub until they could find a suitable replacement.

I have to admit, I really enjoyed teaching outside my content area. I remembered just enough of my college calculus to stay one step ahead of the kids but I told them from the outset that I was rusty at this and it was their job to correct my mistakes. With the basic skills students I tried a similar approach letting them take turns teaching the class while I sat in the middle of the room to work on crowd control. They all seemed to appreciate this.

In one of my classes a group of girls sat in the back and seemed to smuggle other students in throughout the hour to do their hair. I quickly found out that they were running a make-shift hair salon in the back of the classroom. They were perplexed when I took interest in what they were doing. When I asked the administration about this behavior they only told me to stop it but didn't really care how nor did they really care that a certain percentage of the student body always seemed to be in the hallway and their for their own agendas. There was clearly a subculture living, breathing, and operating in the school. When I discovered this I started using the hair salon as a source of a lot of our math lessons. I would ask, "Hey Desiree! How much do you charge for a braid?" To which she would reply, "$5, why do you want your hair braided?"

"No, I just wonder if that is the right price. How do you know how much to charge people? Do you think you could make more money by adjusting the price slightly?"

"I don't know, I just started asking $5 and people started paying me for it."

Desiree was a student who had never mentioned a word to me before this. She was one who wouldn't even dignify my request for her to say "Here" when I did attendance. This question did seem to grab her attention and seemed to be the hook for her to caring about math. We spent much of the rest of the semester using our math curriculum to help Desiree make her hair styling business better and more profitable, helping Ramone learn how to make his tattoo business work, and what D.J. should charge for his new underground LP. No one ever complained about the stream of students from the hallway into our math class during 7th hour and no one ever checked up on us to see that Desiree wasn't making money doing braids in class.

I strongly support this notion of forcing all teachers to teach outside their content areas for at least a semester. I know my experience made me a better teacher. After one semester I found a long-term sub job teaching art and felt I had to leave to take it. Later that year I did sub again in this high school in other subjects. Whenever I did, students would always come to me to help them with their math homework.

"We can improve the quality of teaching and learning overnight by getting rid of all textbooks." Postmanless than a minute ago via Twittelator

RT @anderscj "We can improve the quality of teaching and learning overnight by getting rid of all textbooks." Postman #edchatless than a minute ago via web

RT @teachtechie: RT @anderscj: "We can improve the quality of teaching and learning overnight by getting rid of all textbooks."less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

The extent to which this one was retweeted is certainly a testament to how relevant it is. Aside from my four months as a math teacher I have never used a textbook to teach class. I did have a class set one year of textbooks but they were diverse and not a full set of the same kind. It was actually kind of nice having students use a diverse set of different textbooks on the same topic. The differences in what was presented, what was omitted, and what was contradictory was the source of many rich discussions.

"Textbooks, it seems to me, are enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

"Nothing would please me more than for one or several of you to ask for class time in which to present a (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

I took this approach once to teaching class. I was teaching Art Foundations to a class of 9th graders at an ALC. I told them that not everything I would tell them would be correct and it was up to them to sort it out and call me on when I was wrong. We had a few desktop computers in the room that I told them they could use anytime to fact check what I say. A few students took it upon themselves to do this each time we had any kind of class discussion or lecture. Worked real well. Whenever I tell other teachers, especially administrators, about this approach they usually cringe and question its practice. I don't know why. The students were always engaged and active in their learning when I used this method.

"though we may learn by doing, we learn far more by failing - by trial and error, by making mistakes, (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

"It is not sufficient to know the right answers. One must know the questions that produced them." Postmanless than a minute ago via Twittelator

"If Papert is right, then we do, indeed, have good reason for having students use computers. Of course, if (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator

"Because we are imperfect souls, our knowledge is imperfect. The history of learning is an adventure in (cont) than a minute ago via Twittelator


Mrs. Tenkely said...

Really enjoyed the story about Desiree and her hair salon in your math class. That is the difference between an average teacher and an excellent teacher. I wonder what Desiree is doing now.
I agree, teachers should teach out of their content areas, if for no other reason than to remember what it is like to be a learner. I was a 2nd grade teacher and ended up teaching technology...not my content area. I never left, I ended up loving it and the daily challenge of it.

Carl Anderson said...

I think Desiree (thats not her real name by the way) is running her own hair salon. At least that was the last I heard.