Some Inspiration from J Cole

And, dog, you know how come

Labels are archaic, formulaic with they outcomes

They don’t know, they just study the charts

Me, I studied the shows, the fans, study they hearts

J Cole, “Let Nas Down”

It’s incredibly easy for teachers to get caught up in student performance, in outcomes. This year, with the return of state exams, it’s even easier. Student performance is once again at the fore and so many of us are feeling the pressure to help our students earn a satisfactory mark.

I know next to nothing about the music industry, but as a growing J Cole fan, I can see a parallel between his take on the music industry in the above lyrics and my stance on teaching. Most schools, similar to music labels, obsess over the best possible outcomes. Schools and districts muted their chart-watching for the last two years, but it’s back. Students are once again being turned into abstract concepts, numbers organized meticulously by standard and test. How much can we make off of this artist? By when? How many students can I get to pass? By when? These are all questions rooted in the same premise that outcomes should be positioned ahead of the humans they’re designed to measure. If I align myself with such ideals, the hearts and minds of my students become secondary in my work. They are a means to an end.

J Cole is emphasizing the need to move beyond data and outcomes and focus on people and process. Similarly, instead of getting wrapped up in grades and student performance and achievement levels, I should carefully study my students — meet with them, listen to them, learn who they are. Like Cole, who “studied the shows” — a place where he engages with his fans — I find it invaluable to research my interactions with students. This means recording my lessons and the discussions with students and playing them back to help me discover my pedagogical strengths and weaknesses.

If I can do these things, or at least aim to do these things, my practice will prioritize those I serve. When that happens, the outcomes take care of themselves. As my students and I begin our arduous march towards the Regents and test-prep reigns supreme, I’ll do good to remember this.


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