Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why so tense?

from What I Really Do Meme
It's inevitable. Whenever I work with student teachers, there comes a time when we have to talk about the tension they are experiencing between their ideal classroom and the reality of their placement. The discussion goes something like this...

Think of your vision of teaching (the ideal) and what is actually happing in your classroom (the reality) as two points. Now, stretch a rubber band between these points. Many of you will notice that the ideal and the reality are quite far apart resulting in tension between these two points of view.

The tension often results in one of two outcomes. New teachers quit (the rubber band breaks) because the distance between their ideal and the reality is so far apart. Or a new teacher abandons their ideal and snaps back to the reality (i.e. they teach as they were taught).

In order to deal with this tension, I have found it helpful to expand both my vision of the ideal and my perspective of the reality. This means that I maintain my core teaching philosophy while considering what might be negotiable.  I say to myself, "I would be willing to do x as long as I don't have to give up y." When it comes to the reality, I continue to be honest about my situation but I try to be aware of potential areas I might be able to build on. I remind myself, "If I concentrate only on what I dislike, then that's all I will see." As both expand, I look for areas where they overlap; this is where I find the subtle shifts that allow me to survive the situation while gradually subverting the current system.

Here are some examples of how I and other have attempted to make subtle shifts in our teaching.

So this is part of what I do as a supervisor of secondary math student teachers; I try to help them to be aware of what teaching is and what they want teaching to be. And then I try to support them in improving teaching, which is where the fun begins.


  1. Great post, David.

    Our superintendent uses a metaphor of the rubberband man with respect to change (not the first time I haven't been able to get The Spinners out of my head). In short, individually, teachers get snapped back to the status quo. Collectively, if one person is pulled back towards reality, the group is not. The group is also able to set pegs at a new reality. The old status quo gets left behind.

    Expanding my vision of the ideal (as its centre is moving more and more away from reality) is something I've been working on as of late. Rather than try to convince a teacher who sees his role as providing clear & concise explanations to let the kids do the math and learn *through* problem-solving is a tough sell. I'm looking for some common ground here. Maybe providing more (i.e., some) opportunities for students to communicate mathematically, etc.

    I'm still wrestling with this idea of subtle shifts, though. (Is it enough? Is it the only thing that is sustainable? etc.) This is the approach of teachers in Japan in TTG, right? I'm weighing this against teachers wanting to teach as they always have, but perhaps with a slightly different look.


  2. Chris,
    Thanks - it's a post I've been thinking about for awhile now. The "subtle shift" is my way of describing lesson study (yes, from The Teaching Gap) to U.S. teachers. Many are exhausted from the constant back-and-forth of education reform, which make incremental, measurable changes more palatable. Does that make sense?