For a long time

For a long time, I taught my students in a way that I thought was effective.

During the last couple of years, I’ve now discovered that I was all wrong. I actually made this revelation two years ago while “flipping” my classroom.

Student learning is best when it comes from complex, indefinite situations and then, after contemplation, taken to broader ideas and concrete generalizations. When learning begins, students should be confused and perplexed, or at least unsure about what is going to happen during a lesson. The problem comes first and the solution/generalization later. I think this really stems from how we, as humans, learn on an everyday basis.

Let’s say I’m confronted with a problem, like back pain. When my back starts to hurt, I immediately begin thinking about why. I’ll probably ask myself many questions and if I injured myself during that dunk I had over Lebron James. Or was it Carmelo? Either way, I’ll try various solutions like adjusting my sleep patterns, changing my exercise routine (no dunks), and using my knees more instead of my back – all to try and alleviate the pain. Let’s say that I struggle for a while and nothing seems to work.

Over time, I begin to realize a pattern. I notice that every day I wear my old, worn out sneakers, my back hurts at the end of the day. And on days when I don’t wear them, I feel fine. So I conclude that my sneakers are the problem (and not my dunking). They seemed to have caused my joints misalign causing a chain reaction to my back. I toss them and get a new pair and my back pain goes away. Also, I learned that moving forward I should replace my sneakers more than once every 7 years.

That was a weird example, but whatever. It still sort of frames how “normal” learning happens.

When confronted with a problem we use our inherit problem solving abilities to find solutions. It’s natural to be perplexed initially and to later understand. In no way is someone going to come along and immediately present a solution for my back pain. Similarly, neither should I, as a teacher, initially provide clear theorems or concepts to students as solutions to problems I will soon give them on an exam. In a math class, we should have them identifying problems and use problem solving abilities to find solutions and generalize ideas. This doesn’t necessary mean real-world problems, just critical thinking situations overall.

I didn’t approach teaching and learning in my classroom like this for a long time. Sometimes now, even though I value the approach, it’s still hard to for a bunch of reasons. But now I try to do everything I can to teach discovery-based, problem-based lessons.

Oh, and I DID dunk on Lebron. Once. Then I woke up.


Change at the top


Today, about one week from the first day of school, I learned that my principal is leaving our school. He came into at our school six years ago as an assistant principal. After a couple years he was promoted to principal. Now he will be promoted to a superintendent position in the New York City Department of Education. He will no longer be my supervisor.

I couldn’t be happier. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking.

Many teachers despise, or at least dislike, their administrators. Administrators are stereotyped by teachers as being overreaching, bossy and dominant. No matter where you work, it can be hard to ‘get along’ with the person who is in charge. I mean, essentially, they have to tell you what to do. They do this by making clear their expectations and goals for the company/organization. Often times conflict arises here for obvious reasons. The same things apply to the teacher-principal relationship.

In that regard, my experiences with my now-former principal has been utterly atypical.

I’m happy because I realized today that during the past six years I have experienced immense growth, both personally and professionally. This is due in large part to my now-former principal. In some unbelievable way, he always pushed my professional career to another level. It was like magic. I don’t know how this guy did it. I swear, just when I thought I could give no more as a teacher, he constantly found a way to maximize my strengths which then allowed me to dig deeper. And there was never any pressure. It was all about development; being a better teacher, better collaborator, better role model for our students. He inspired me to see things differently, be imaginative, and never be satisfied. His tireless drive, constant need for improvement, keen leadership, and overarching transparency will have an everlasting effect on my career. I’ve learned so much. He came through for me in ways that he will never know.

I got certified as a teacher long ago. But I feel like I truly became a teacher under his guidance. I cannot be the only teacher that feels this way. I guess this is part of the reason why he’s being promoted to superintendent.

I will surely miss not having a daily, working relationship with him. But I’m incredibly fortunate that I’ve had one during the last six years. For without it, I am confident I wouldn’t be who I am today.