It’s not about me.
I should have kept that in mind when I ordered my son what I thought was going to be the highlight of the holiday giving season. I’d had one when I was a kid and loved it. That was a long time ago.
It’s a trap we sometimes fall into in education: imagining that students will love something because we did. Sometimes it pays off: I loved Jack London when I was young and my students seemed to dig his writing too. Sometimes it doesn’t: it took me two years to realize that I simply needed to stop trying to teach The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Simply stop. The kids hated it.
Occasionally it happens in disciplines other than English. I’ve had history teachers talk with me about how they’ve changed their practice to better reach kids, providing more choice to students and opportunities for them to engage in meaningful ways, wrestling with primary texts. It’s not that these teachers wouldn’t have loved to do those things when they were in school, but many were never given the chance, and it takes a risk, a suspension of disbelief, to change what they’ve known.
This year, with a move to an integrated math approach, math teachers at my school have had many opportunities to move beyond the tried and (sometimes) true ways of approaching curriculum, and the results have been positive.
It can be a struggle to give up an established way of doing things, but (sometimes) that’s just what kids need to learn both material and approaches that will help them prepare for the world that they’ll face. It can be that way for technology too. Loving our birch bark canoe doesn’t mean that the kids don’t need a hydrofoil.
I saw a quotation from Douglas Adams’ book A Salmon of Doubt:
“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
How true this can be (said the guy who still listens to CDs).
I’ve seen some great educators older than thirty-five who have overcome this Adamsism by focusing on the question: “What do I want my students to be able to do?” and taking that question to colleagues, administrators, and ToSAs (teachers on special assignment). We are at our best when we connect with others and share collective wisdom (which can erase individual fears).
As educators it is important that we are mindful of how and what we teach. That thoughtful reflection is something I should have thought about before I ordered what turned out to be an itchy gift for my six year old son.
It can be a challenge to see beyond our own experience, but we benefit kids when we push ourselves to do just that. A little discomfort with the unexpected nature of what we’re doing is as important as an acknowledgement that what was perfect for us might not be exactly what our students need today.
Our intentions may be golden, and our motivations honorable, but the results, if we stick to a text, or technology, or a methodology that we loved, might just fit like a coonskin cap.