Why This One Basic Teaching Principle is Holding Your Students Back

This post is actually a long time in coming and was inspired by the rising popularity of our 5 Teaching Habits That are Hurting Your Students post.  I was incredibly humbled, excited, and overwhelmed by the huge amount of support this post received.  It is still our most popular post today and seems to have helped a lot of classrooms.  One day, I was floating in the euphoria of all the “attagirls” and “kudos,” and I came across this from a gentleman on Twitter(now I’m paraphrasing here because I was so annoyed I deleted all his comments).  “You have totally the wrong idea and you’re completely missing the mark.  This post is useless.”  At least, that’s certainly how I felt.  I decided to write the guy off, but his words stayed with me.  I pondered them, and then pondered some more.  Then I realized he was a radicalist on one side of a much larger movement, which made me ponder even more.  After some time I realized something: my thinking was skewed.  My entire perspective of what education should be was encapsulated in this one foundational teaching principle: The teacher is meant to control the classroom.

Now, you may be wondering how I came to this conclusion, because maybe some of you feel you allow your students a great deal of freedom in the classroom.  The keyword in that sentence is “allow.”  You “allow” your students a great deal of freedom in your classroom.  Give this some thought for me; What if you didn’t see them as your students, or the classroom as your classroom?  What if you didn’t control whether or not students passed the test, but instead motivated students to want to learn? Please understand when I say “you” and “your,” I am immediately pointing the finger back at myself because I was in the EXACT same place you are now.  The post I got so much traffic on talked about how to “allow” students freedom within the teacher’s classroom construct.

Image courtesy of John Taylor Gatto’s blog

Fast forward a few months.  I was introduced to the philosophy of a man who put his job on the line teaching the way he felt was right.  His name is John Taylor Gatto, and his courage earned him the title New York State Teacher of the Year.  In his talks and literature he lays out the history of education and reveals that the structure we use today was historically designed to keep the masses in check by giving them countless facts to memorize and regurgitate…sound familiar?  He goes on to talk about the concept of “open source” learning and how bells and desks don’t facilitate a real education.  He states examples of extremely successful individuals like Diablo Cody and Danica Patrick who dropped out of school early to pursue their passions.  According to him, life is the classroom and everyone is a teacher.

Now, that’s all well and good from an idealistic perspective, but what can you do with that in your classroom right now?  Rather than a teacher-controlled classroom, strive for a teacher-led classroom.  Not everyone can be a teacher because not everyone has that unique gift that allows them to relate to someone, and help them understand something.  This is your most powerful tool as an educator and will make the most difference in your students’ lives.  Aristotle had Socrates, the Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi, and your students have you.  Some students have natural born drive.  They have the intrinsic motivation to move toward a goal with dogged persistence.  Other students are easily distracted or completely lack drive.  Your greatest goal as a teacher is to propel the self-motivated, and motivate the unmotivated.  That is what your students will remember whether they graduate with a 4.0 GPA or drop out of high school.  What you teach them is how to learn.

Yes this is different, and sometimes that’s good.  All of us want our students to learn, and that’s what this is all about.  If you agree with this line of thinking, definitely SUBSCRIBE to our newsletter at the top right side.  There are going to be more posts about how this philosophy looks when applied in your classrooms!

Thanks so much and have an awesome day,

Pam and Brittany

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