Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
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Thursday, February 1. 2007
I debated leaving this as just a comment response to Dan from my entry, but I think there are enough ideas in here to stand as its own entry...
Dan wrote in his comment:
First is, I'd actually encourage anyone to read about Erin Gruwell and her students because she would never claim that there's something "superheroic" about our job. In every interview I've seen with her, and as I read her book, she always talks about how much she's learned from her kids, and that this wasn't some superhuman effort, but rather what happened when she cares.
But that's really not what I wanted to address in this post. There are a few ideas that Dan brings up that I want to explore a bit... first is this comment:
We need to eschew terms like "artist" in describing our vocations...
A teacher isn't an artist, however, there's a hell of a lot of artistry that goes into teaching. Teaching is made up artistry, craftsmanship and social science (which explains why Marzano is so popular these days.) There is a lot about the craft of teaching that we can and do learn -- something like learning how to make strong transitions from question to question or topic to topic, something that you can and do get better at over time. There are many research-based strategies for teaching and curriculum development that really are almost scientific in their methodology -- there's a reason we use Understanding By Design as our curriculum development model at SLA, for instance. But then there are the moments when you get to see a master teacher ply their craft, and I'm sorry, but its artistic. Watching teachers who know how to listen, who know how to take a bunch of ideas and thoughts that are floating around a classroom and move an entire class somewhere deep and powerful and meaningful... that's artistry. I still think of great teaching as a jazz piece... yes, the lesson plan are the notes on the page, but the coolest stuff happens in those moments that take us away from that, the unexpected moment, the flash of a new idea, of understanding, of shared meaning... of transformation. I loved it when we came to ideas in classrooms that gave me a new lens for looking at the world... I do think some teachers talk about the art of teaching while neglecting the craft and science of it as well, and that's wrong. But it's just as wrong to think that the artistry isn't important as well.
Which brings me to my next point:
We need to avoid terminology like "passion" in describing the prerequisites of our job.
The hell we do.
We need passion. I want passionate teachers. I want teachers who love the stuff they teach, but who love the kids they teach even more. I want teachers who can't wait to get into the classroom. I want teachers who think powerfully and deeply about their unit plans. I want teachers who believe deeply in what we do, and who work hard to do it. I want teachers who care and who inspire kids to care.
And the thing is, Dan, you are one of those teachers. Let's be honest -- you spend weekends writing mini-theses on math assessment. You spend hours arguing education policy on blogs. And you question your methods and your ideas, and you ask people you've never met how to be a better teacher. If that's not showing a passion for your chosen career, I'm not sure what is.
Onto the next thing... (so much for the craft of smooth transitions...)
Even more specifically, no matter how plainly teachers feel these things, we need to stop calling our job "a calling." (You've called teaching "a calling" in one of your comments on my blog, so I am cognizant of where we stand on this one.)
Here, it's a personal thing, I suppose. Where I am right now, doing what I'm doing... this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm a teacher. Two hundred years ago, I think I probably would have been a rabbi... and for me, my teaching is wound up in two of the lessons I learned as learned about the history of Jewish culture. I view my teaching as part of the linage of a love of knowledge and wisdom and the belief in social justice, both of which are deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. Obviously, that particular motivation isn't for everyone, but it's part of where I draw my inspiration and strength. Is there room to talk about teaching this way, and also get bright, hard-working people who want a good, fulfilling job where they might just make a difference? I think so.
But I'll get even more mushy. I think classrooms are sacred places, not any sort of religious way, but in that those rooms ... our buildings... are the embodiment of the idea that we can learn and become wise and create meaning in our lives. Our classrooms -- in their ideal -- are places of learning and hope and progress. The thought of that geeks me out. The idea that I get to serve that ideal and strive to be worthy of it... what better way to spend a life?
Which brings me to what might be what I believe to be the most important part of this post (way to bury the lede again....) In the context of talking about artistry and passion, you wrote:
We need to... completely strip martyrdom from the discussion.
Here, I agree, but I also say that you never heard me suggest I was a martyr (nor, for that matter, do I think I'm a saint). I'm no one's martyr. I knew the pay scale when I signed up, and I had a decent idea that I was in for a fair amount of work, but more than that, here's the best part:
Twelve years in to my educational career, I love what I do. I love my life. I loved being a teacher in a classroom. I loved coaching girls basketball. I loved coaching Ultimate. I love figuring out new ways that technology could make a school better. I love that I'd learned enough that someone thought I was worth entrusting a dream to. I love building SLA. I love sharing that vision with anyone who will listen. Martyrdom? Hell no... save that for the folks working 9-5 in some corporate gig because they can't see themselves doing something else. I do what I do because it matters, and yes, I know that along the way I've changed a life or two. But my students have changed my life too. They have made my life richer than I could have ever imagined, and I'm a better person for knowing them.
Do I wish I had more money? Sure. But I've known plenty of people who make a lot more than me who don't enjoy themselves anywhere near as much as I do. Martyrdom? Not a chance.
Dan, we've got the greatest job in the world -- we teach.
One last thought... and it's a lesson someone had to teach me.
Dan, you're bright and multi-talented, you could do any number of jobs really well, and I know someone will soon offer you a job to leave teaching. They'll offer you more money and more societal prestige, and given that you still think about how you almost became a CPA, you'll probably be tempted. So I'm going to tell you something that my boss Steve told me the first time someone offered to triple my salary to leave teaching and go work for them (hey, it was the dot.com 90s in NYC, what can you do?) He said, "If you want to go do something else, go do it. The offers won't go away, but more importantly, you need to decide what you want from your life. If you want to be a teacher, teach. This is the life, this is the pay, and you've got to decide what you want. If this is what you want, do it, don't apologize for it, and don't spend your time second-guessing it."
I've never regretted my choice. It's an incredible, fulfilling, fun, artful, passionate life. Although, I do admit, I probably smell of coffee.
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Interesting points Chris.
Dan is clearly a bright individual. However, reading his comment and a recent post in defense of NCLB, it is clear that he brings a lot of behaviorism to his approach. So I find it of no surprise that he believes discussion of the teaching profession should be stripped of any value-laden terms like "calling" or "passion".
And the behaviorist approach may be great. Not for me though. I find it a mediocre way to go about education. I think it aims way too low and objectifies children. Perhaps I've been influenced too much by writers such as Alfie Kohn. Perhaps I should start reserving a corner of my whiteboard for "discipline" or use extra homework as a punishment to get students to behave how I think they should (as Dan does). However, I've spent the last several years of my teaching getting rid of such "classroom management" practices and I don't see myself ever going back.
Of course, there are plenty of teachers who feel the same but are stuck in classrooms with 30+ students in them. Fortunately for me, this is not my case. Such a situation must be rectified before we can expect teachers to drop their silly little ploys that manipulate children into behaving the way we think they should. If education is equally (or more) about self-knowledge and relationships, such practices are counterproductive.
I didn't say we should eliminate passion and artistry from teaching. We need passionate teachers. I'm pretty sure this job is more steady application of the scientific method -- why wasn't this effective? why did this work instead? -- than artistry, but, sure, you make a decent case for the latter.
My point is that we need to eliminate "passion" and "artistry" from the rhetoric of teaching -- particularly the rhetoric of teacher recruitment. Because, does anyone know what anyone means when any of us raises our eyebrows earnestly and says, "Man, you've gotta be passionate about this job."?
"Passion" and "calling," these words have come to mean all things to all teachers, shorthand for everything and nothing, and the easiest way to determine the legitimacy of these terms in your own practice is to imagine yourself a very well-paid teacher. Can you imagine teachers pulling down $60/hr and still trotting out lines like, "Keep the faith! Remember teaching is a noble calling!"?
It's out there as best as I can get it that how we currently frame our job description is going to send a lot of potentially great teachers packing before they've tasted the crack. The Teaching Cliche concerns me additionally because I think that if we as teachers could only reframe our job description, we'd slowly become better compensated -- both in terms of pay and respect -- neither of which would affect how well or how eagerly I do my job, just how well I could support a family (hypothetically) and how high I could hold my head among my graduating class of venture capitalists and engineers. (Please, with respect to that last bit, can we all suppress the hardline response: either get proud or get out. I can just feel that coming from *someone*. It ain't that.)
You've changed my mind somewhat, though. With the right articulation, with an appropriate word count, the right writer can reclaim some meaning for such empty words. Your post dipped anecdotal at the right times, rode inspiration to the last bus stop before Schmaltzville, and explained with appropriately grounded imagery why teaching is an art. Your post did some measure of justice to the "calling" and made realistically clear your "passion."
Perhaps some governing body can license these hackneyed terms out to teachers who demonstrate sufficient articulation. I'd recommend you and a few others. But when anybody can take a job with so much to recommend it like teaching and, with just a little laziness, make it seem so milquetoasty, then I worry. The result is a net negative for the job we both love.
p.s. Martyr? No. But, I am a saint. And I take my job as saint very seriously.
Of course, you're both right to some degree, and I'm not being intentionally unhelpful here. "Passionate Professionals" might be a term you could both support, I don't know.
Riffing on Dan's position, I think a sense of "professionalism" is lacking in the world of education. It isn't enough "just" to care and have passion, or to have that "artistic" touch (which I would argue owes a debt to emotional intelligence). And the public face / rhetoric should focus on the professional side.
That's what I love about the National Writing Project and its local sites. The baseline assumption is that teachers are professionals and therefore should act like professionals: they should practice what they teach; they should stay continually informed about research related to their work; they should write and publish; they should conduct their own research and approach teaching reflectively, etc. They should not only think of themselves as professionals, but treat teaching as a profession and demand professional treatment from others. (This isn't a plug for the project, but for that philosophy/approach).
On the other hand, professionalism without passion and genuine concern is lifeless, and students will likely fail to respond. We are helping students make sense of a discipline of knowledge and imparting related skills, but we are also inspiring a desire to learn, an understanding that you learn in order to act, and for many, you can't do that without first convincing the person you're teaching that you actually care about what happens to him/her in life. That's foundational. And BS is smelly and easy to detect.
(I'm wary to quote religious texts, but I'm reminded of: "the law without the spirit is dead." Both are necessary.)
You both seem to be fine examples of passionate professionals. As a student, parent, or colleague, I would care more about the "passionate." But our public face needs to better reflect the "professional."
Well said...it feels good to cut loose once in a while.
We have teachers that are excellent every day. They seem to overflow with enthusiasm, they somehow manage to connect with EVERY child, and have an endless supply of great ideas. And we all wish we could be more like them. I'm a great teacher, most days. I connect with my students and they like me, and learn from me, but I have my days when I wish I could have done better. And movies like Freedom Writers can make you feel a little melancholy, because we all want to be the best for our students, but at the end of the day we are humans, not saints.
As for the pay, it is never about how much money you make, it is the feeling you get while doing the job. My husband and I share a common philosophy about work: Life is too short to do a job you don't like. You spend 1/2 your waking hours working. I'm always proud to say that I'm a teacher, and if I'm really lucky, I will have had a positive influence on the majority of my students.
" 'We need to avoid terminology like "passion" in describing the prerequisites of our job.' "
"The hell we do."
One of the banes of my life right now is the 70% or so of the faculty at my school that lacks the passion to even show interest in things like blogs, wikis, podcasting, and world classroom collaboration and connection.
Ask them to read a chapter or two from Richardson's or Warlick's books to learn more? Hell no. They have "lives" and don't do "homework."
From what I've been able to see, for a great many teachers, that means watching TV at night, or feeding at restaurants and pubs. And the irony is, when I join them, I'm amazed at how little passion or artistry or wonder is in their nights. I hear the lyrics to "Is That All There Is?", and wish I were home enjoying young minds making meaning and doing amazing things on blogs and wikis. Or planning or blogging about ideas for the next thing myself.
Or Skyping with team-teachers 5,000 miles away about ideas and new experiments.
So I hope to Whatever that my principal and director, currently at hiring fairs for new teachers, are placing the word "passion" near the top of their list in interview questions. And then asking for evidence of it.
Do these values of artistry, passion, and calling feel more at home among liberal arts teachers than among science and math teachers? I don't think so. I look at Darren's calculus and see artistry galore.
But passion and artistry are two different things. Maybe passion is more at home with humanities types, since these subjects are closer to religion and metaphysics.
All I know is that I haven't watched TV since August, and have watched very few DVDs. By choice. The meaning-making going on as my students make meaning on their blogs and wikis has been much more interesting to "watch"--and interact with--than any competing beer, pizza, or TV network.
It's not a "calling," but it is a "passion." If it's not, please find another job and get out of the way.
I am enjoying this conversation. For me the issue is less whether we use words like "passion" or "art," but rather it's the question of sustainability. Can I do what I do -- which I love -- for the long haul? Only if I can find a way to make it not completely exhausting and overwhelming on a daily basis. (For the record, I am a technology coordinator in a Brooklyn public preK to 12 school full of 1100 very heterogenous kids.)
In the recent article in the New York Times magazine about what it takes to education urban kids, the author wrote admiringly about the KIPP schools, mentioning as an aside that KIPP teachers work 15-16 hours per day. That's not sustainable. That is part of what irritates me about Teach for American; it's one thing to throw yourself into being a savior to poor children for two years. It's another thing entirely to bring your skills and talents and EXPERIENCE to the task year after year, getting better at it as you go. If I am in this for the long haul, I can't work 16 hour days. After 20 years of teaching, I have a job with a lot of responsibility and a couple of kids and a marriage I want to sustain (and I'd like to sustain my sanity and health as well), so there's no way that I can live a sane life if I believe that teaching urban adolescents requires me to work 16 hour days. My students really don't need stressed out martyrs; they need teachers who know what they're doing and enjoy it.
When I read these articles and comments I am amazed at the depth an insight that is contained in them. One of my goals as a blogger is to improve my writing skills. If I keep reading these types of blogs and commenting, my writing should go nowhere but up ( I am crossing my fingers right now).
For some teaching is a passion, an art, and a calling. For others it is just a way to pay the bills.
As an administrator it is my job to make sure that "what's best for kids" is what is happening in that classroom. We all know who has it, the ones who as Dan says "work hard to make it look easy" , the ones who's classes are always full at lunch, who rarely have classroom management problems and whose students are learning at an amazing clip. We also know the teachers who are burnt out, overworked, send every student to the office and need to be somewhere else. These are teachers that need a change; sometimes that change is pressure from other teachers who are trying out new and exciting ventures, like WEB 2.0, sometimes it is from administration and sometimes from parents. One thing we all know is that the people teaching our children need to have passion and they need to have it the majority of the time.
Teaching was a calling for me. I knew in high school (SLV High, same as Dan ) that I wanted to be a PE teacher and when I got there I loved it. No greater job in the world. However after a while I wanted to impact more students and I moved into administration. I love that job as well. Digging deep to move students into a higher learning level. Great stuff.
Teaching is all of the things mentioned in Chris' post. Passion, art, a calling these are noble things for a teacher to proclaim.
For those who have lost these things I hope that you find them soon.
Oh, man ... seriously?
See there's what my comment is about and there's what you all would like my comment to be about and it's depressing to see the difference so consistently underscored around here.
One of the two theses is a complicated stance that required an hour of drafting and proofing in between lesson planning. A fourth grader could've banged the other one out over a caffeine jag.
A frontal assault on the first thesis would've required some forethought, intellectual engagement, and verbal deftness. The other point is utterly indefensible and, written as it was by a fourth grader, has been attacked and dismantled pretty easily. Way to go, team.
This particular intellectual gambit -- forsaking the point that is there for the one that is easier and more satisfying to kick around -- has become a tiresome and seemingly inevitable feature of blogging.
So since I've got hella lessons to plan tonight and commenting on other blogs is beginning to seem like a poor use of my limited time, I'll keep this brief:
In no way was I arguing that teachers should be less passionate or less artistic or less happy or less called to teaching than they are. That should've been blatantly obvious from my first sentence up there.
As such, I find Clay's endzone dance, with his last line spiking the ball on a point I never made, rubbing my face in turf I never claimed, to be really disappointing. Aggravating. Offensive. Cheap shot, Clay.
I'd reiterate my original point but that'd make the third time, counting the first comment here and in Chris' previous post and, apparently, I have beer to swill, Buffy reruns to watch.
Finally: damn, Eric. Thanks a mil (here and in hindsight of our last conversation) for doing right even by points you find intellectually disagreeable. That skill is in far rarer supply than I ever would've guessed when we first traded posts. Your example's giving me a little hope, keeping me in this blogging game for another day, and if we ever meet on the outside, first round's on me.
I tend to think that Eric's phrase -- "the passionate professional" may be the hybrid phrase we all are looking for. Makes sense to me.
Real quick, Dan--
1. The subject--object--of my rant was not you. Read. It's the uninspired, un-passionate "70%" who hold schools and classrooms back by being unwilling to even consider changing and the bit of extra effort that occasionally takes. It's the batch of applicants my school administrators are probably interviewing for next year as I type this. Re-read and I hope you agree this is not about you. It's about a mindset and attitude many teachers have--the "working retired"--that I expect we're all too familiar with.
2. But I'm sorry my writing wasn't clear enough to you to make you see that.
3. So no "rubbing [your] face in the turf" intended. It's not about you. It's about "passion." And wanting to work somewhere where that's the norm.
4. Final comment: To get analytical for a second, I think this whole can of worms comes from an unfortunate false disjunction in your writing choice to posit an opposition between "inspiration and uplift," on the one hand, and "realism" on the other. You repeat this "category error" later by opposing "saints" and "hard workers."
Clearly (to me at least), the two are not mutually exclusive. All too often they are not combined in one teacher, granted; but they are in some teachers. And those teachers with both are, to me, the "ideal"--which is also, to avoid false oppositions, occasionaly the "real" as well.
Again: I replied to this post more interested in the topic of passionate teaching, Dan. The controversy was a side-note. Read my comment again, and see if this explication doesn't change your reading. I wasn't attacking you. I was decrying a personality type.
Peace? Hope so. I'm bowing out of this one. But it's been interesting.
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
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