Their Levers Are Destined to Fail

How do you get educators to do things differently? That is the question anybody with an idea about how to improve any aspect of education must consider.  

Such a question derives from dubious assumptions. First, you have to believe that things need changing, an assumption that probably says more about you than about what’s happening in schools. Second, you have to believe your idea will actually work on a large scale, an assumption that reveals your hubris and something teachers who have been doing the hard work for at least a few years find unlikely.

Their suspicion means that teachers won’t try your idea on their own, so you must force them to. In order to force someone to do something they’d rather not do, you must offer rewards or threaten sanctions  Rewards usually cost money, and you didn’t get to be rich enough to force your ideas on others by giving that away. Punishments must be severe enough to compel action.

It’s no secret that the success of any rollout or implementation is more dependent on teacher buy-in than almost any other factor. When initiatives fail, it’s the reluctance or incompetence of the teachers asked to implement it that’s blamed, not the idea itself. And it doesn’t matter what the reform is. You could be trying to get your teachers to use the textbook you purchased, to stress learning goals to their students, or to develop and use performance scales. You might even be trying to help them. I’m in conversation with someone at the Department of Education who wants to focus on educator empowerment. We’re brainstorming ways to educate teachers on how they can protect their wellbeing and fight for better work cultures. But we face an uphill battle because no matter the initiative, recent history proves it’s hard to get teachers to change and even harder to get true buy-in. 

First, there is the issue of time. When are teachers going to get the training? When will they be given an opportunity to look over the materials? The U.S. requires its teachers spend more time in front of their students than any other developed nation. That leaves very little time for everything else. Because they have too much to do and not enough time to do it, any new idea will meet immediate resistance. 

Second, and more importantly, there’s the issue of motivation. Why should teachers do this new thing? To be as cynical as possible (since any new initiative will have to deal with cynical teachers who have been through this a time or two before), what’s in it for me? I’m offered the opportunity to take an online class, or receive some coaching, or use my PD hours the way I want to and the first thing I’m going to ask (if I’m being cynical) is why should I?

Because it’s not as if this new thing comes without costs. There will be a time commitment and a learning curve. It will take effort. If I’m working with others or receiving some coaching, there’s some risk. There’s usually additional work involved and I’ve already got plenty, thank you. And there’s no evidence that it will work. In fact, based on my considerable experience, the evidence suggests that it will fail and be replaced by something new within a couple of years.

So why do any of it? 

Enter the levers.

Reformers (and I don’t use the term pejoratively here, but just to describe people who are trying to change the way teachers do things) love levers.

Which says something about how they view teachers. As Peter Greene writes,

A lever is a tool that one uses to force movement. There’s nothing collaborative about a lever. And you don’t apply a lever from inside the area you want to affect– you stand outside the box and bear down. If something breaks and snaps loose, it will go flying away from you.

As a metaphor, levers leave a little something to be desired.

But questionable metaphors are not the only problem with levers. The real problem for reformers is that their levers are destined to fail. 

Their Favorite Levers

 

Teacher evaluation

The thinking, I suppose, went something like this: Our test scores suck, which means our teachers must suck. To improve both, we’ll get rid of the duds. In order to identify the dead weight and make this appear at least a little bit objective, we’ll have to rate them. You know, with checklists and numbers and other sorts of data-y things. We’ll make it complicated so it’s harder to question. Anyway, the ones with the lowest ratings will be shoved out the door. The others, seeing those teachers summarily dismissed, will fall into line. Bill Gates, the champion of stack ranking at Microsoft, led this effort to the tune of a half-billion (with a b) dollars. Gates assumed that a practice that worked (except it didn’t) in the sphere where he had the most familiarity would work elsewhere. His efforts failed. In hindsight, it’s not hard to see why.  

Most teachers quickly figured out that they only needed a good enough evaluation to return next year and that the odds of that happening were very high. With a teacher shortage, they could take their chances and not sign up for extra work just to earn extra points on their evaluations. History has proven that’s almost always a safe bet. If there’s one enduring lesson from the Gates experiment, it’s that billionaires and state governments may bark, but principals who have to do the actual firing won’t bite. Even at the height of the teacher evaluation craze, very few teachers received the lowest possible rating and even fewer were fired. 

Reformers hoped that the fear of losing our jobs would make us easier to control. They hoped to provide administrators with the leverage they needed to force compliance so that if they wanted to implement any of the fine initiatives being fed to them by reformers, they’d be able to raise an eyebrow, point at their tablets, and get teachers to bend the knee. When that didn’t work, merit pay was trotted out. The thinking: If we can’t threaten them into compliance, let’s try bribery!  That didn’t work, either. Most of the bribes weren’t large enough, and they were attempting to bribe people who knowingly sacrificed the opportunity to make more money when they chose education in the first place. If we cared about 500 bucks that much, we wouldn’t be teachers.

Badges (or mini-credentials)

So if teacher evaluations and merit pay won’t work, what will? How can reformers and the administrators who’ve signed on to their reforms get teachers to attend training or choose their own professional development or attend a three-day workshop that they don’t really want to attend? The latest solution seems to be digital badges. 

Digital badges are mini-credentials that teachers can earn when they display competencies with new skills or acquire new knowledge. Proponents point to their personalized nature and gamification as reasons teachers find badges better than traditional professional development. When used this way, teachers may indeed find digital badges more motivating. Used as levers to move teachers to action, however, they suffer from the same problem as other methods.

Digital badges are essentially résumé builders. As such, they only appeal to ambitious social climbers who are always looking for the next rung on the ladder.  As levers to get teachers to change, they’ll work on very few and those who do chase them will soon be out of the classroom, on to bigger and brighter things. Teachers who are content to finish their careers in the classroom have no use for them. These types of Scooby Snacks only motivate the already motivated, who would show up for whatever you’re offering anyway if they think it will help them move closer to their next job.  

Extra pay

Just kidding. This isn’t a favorite lever. Normally, if you want somebody to do disagreeable work, you pay them. Some teachers would likely trade autonomy for money. But as the response to nationwide teacher shortages demonstrates, education reformers, most of whom are right of center and proud supporters of our capitalist system, suddenly forget how the free market works when it comes to education. Few of them suggest paying teachers more as a way to attract them to the field. Instead, they look for alternatives, be they Teach For America temps,  long-term subs, or computer programs. Although many want to model America’s schools after America’s businesses, they don’t want to use the lever nearly all businesses use.

Appeals to Professionalism (Guilt)

When all else fails, reformers and the administrators who do their bidding can call on an old friend, guilt. Of all the levers, this one is most effective, at least in the short-term. “Do what’s best for kids,” teachers are told, and what’s best for kids is almost always what people who don’t teach kids think is best for kids. You’ll be reminded that you’re a professional, with the unspoken implication that professionals would never shirk their responsibilities, one of which is constant improvement. You’ve heard all the lines. They’ve probably even worked on you. And no matter how many times we’ve been burned, some of us keep coming back.

It’s manipulation, pure and simple, and it’s a lever that ultimately fails because it never achieves genuine buy-in. Guilted into doing something, some teachers will do it, but they’ll be resentful and unenthusiastic, hardly the mindset those with the idea had in mind when they imagined their brainchild in an actual classroom. Other teachers will exercise their teacher’s veto: they’ll pledge to do the thing and then go back to their classrooms and do what they know works. Compliance, however achieved, is a poor substitute for buy-in.

 

Those Damn Cynics

The only lever left might be to get rid of the cynics so the levers face less resistance. But this is a fundamental attribution error. Cynics don’t become teachers; cynical teachers are created by the situations they find themselves in. And being poked and prodded with levers is one of the causes of the cynicism reformers continually butt up against.

Cynics don't become teachers; cynical teachers are created by the situations they find themselves in. And being poked and prodded with levers is one of the causes of the cynicism reformers continually butt up against. Click To Tweet

It’s a vicious cycle. Reformers hope for docile acquiescence but are instead faced with skepticism and obstinance. To move the doubters, they pull out their crowbars, none of which work. Teachers, convinced that the reformers’ ideas are bad since they needed to be jabbed by levers in order to even try them and because every previous initiative met the same resistance and inevitably failed, have their cynicism confirmed. They become even less likely to change. It does no good to get rid of the cynics because there aren’t enough idealists to replace them, and if you keep sticking levers into them, those idealists will be cynics soon enough.

The Lever That’s Not a Lever

The only lever that will work is the one no reformer wants to use. If you want me to try your new idea, then offer me more freedom and create something useful. Say to me, “We’d like you to try this. We think it’s pretty nifty, and we want to see if it works. We’re so high on this idea that we’re sure if you try it you’ll never go back to teaching how you did. But we’ll trust you to make that decision because we know you want what’s best for your students. We also know that if you try this new thing and it works, you’ll tell other teachers and they’ll start using it. Everybody will win.”

This is how Flipgrid, Pear Deck, Google Classroom, Prodigy, and countless other products ended up being used in thousands of classrooms. Teachers didn’t need to be coerced into using any of them. None of them needed levers. They spread because they worked. 

Of course, allowing teachers to choose is not really a lever at all. That’s trust and treating teachers like professionals. And if reformers did that, well, teachers might decide the ideas they’re being pitched suck. They might not try them at all. And there’s no possible way that teachers, the people who do this teaching thing for a living, can possibly know more about what works than the people who hold the levers.

 

Peter Greene wrote about the unfortunate use of levers as a metaphor for education policy here and like everything he writes, it’s on the nose and fun to read.

How to Create an Inclusive Classroom for Students with Disabilities

A guest post by Frankie Wallace

 

Inclusive classrooms are becoming far more common in today’s public schools, meaning there are a greater number of students with disabilities who receive their education in general education classrooms.

In fact, The National Center for Education Statistics notes that the number of students with disabilities who spend most of their day in the general education classroom has jumped from 33 percent in 1990 to 62 percent in 2014.

Transitioning these students into an inclusive general education classroom can be challenging, however, and it’s far from being an overnight process. Transitioning students with disabilities requires thoughtful planning, as well as additional teacher training, resources, and personnel.

It’s also important to remember that you not only have to provide support for the child with disabilities, but also for their peers. After all, if that child has never experienced an inclusive classroom, it’s likely that their peers are unfamiliar with that environment as well. Students may be curious about the situation, or harbor misconceptions about students with disabilities.

There are things that teachers, administrators, and parents can do to help facilitate smooth transitions for students with disabilities to help cultivate an inclusive environment in the classroom.

Establish Principles That Apply To All Students

When helping students with disabilities transition to a general education classroom, it’s important to establish general concepts about students with and without special needs. This can be done through discussions, books, films, or having special guests come into your classroom. In general, you’ll want your students to understand that regardless of ability:

  • All students want to belong and be included.
  • Everyone is different.
  • Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some students learn in different ways. These differences do not determine their value as human beings.

Let Each Student Share Things About Themselves and Dispel Any Myths

It may be worthwhile to give each student the opportunity to talk about themselves, including things that they’re good at or things that they’re passionate about. Allow others to ask questions about each other, within reasonable standards.

This also gives teachers the opportunity to dispel any myths and misunderstandings that may arise. Here, it’s important that you highlight that some disabilities are more visible, while others are not; physical disabilities do not determine a person’s level of intelligence; and that people with disabilities are people first.

Adapt Disability Awareness into Your Lessons

According to Pew Research, there are over 40 million individuals living with disabilities in the United States, meaning that 12.6 of the population has some kind of disability. It’s very likely that someone they know experiences difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition, walking, mental health, or a physical disability.

Whether it’s a person who uses cochlear implants to hear, a person who uses a wheelchair to get around, or a person who has a harder time processing speech, it’s important for students to know that we will all live with, shop with, work with, and be socially connected to a person with a disability at some point in our lives.

There are specific lesson plans already available that can help to aid students in their understanding of disabilities, allowing them to be more empathetic of students and peers who have different abilities than they do moving forward.  

Maintain a Positive Classroom Community

It’s important to promote and maintain a positive classroom community throughout the year. Encourage respect between peers, use of appropriate language, and positive social skills. It’s also important in general classrooms to be aware of bullying in all its forms, in person or online, and to put a stop to it in an empathetic way that doesn’t make the problem worse. Remember that civil rights laws protect students with disabilities against harassment, and schools that fail to respond appropriately to harassment can be subject to investigation by the Office for Civil Rights.

It may be important to regularly gather feedback from your students that specifically asks about their experience in the classroom.

Address Your Own Unconscious Bias

Recent studies have shown that while people can be consciously committed to egalitarianism and aim to behave without bias or prejudice, many still maintain an unconscious bias. Even though many believe that they see and treat people equally, these hidden biases can influence our perceptions and actions.

If people are aware of these hidden biases, they can better monitor and work to ameliorate these unconscious attitudes before they’re expressed through behavior.

As inclusive general classrooms become more normalized, it’s important that parents, students, and teachers work to make students with disabilities feel at ease and included in these new environments.

Associative Chains: The Best Way to Store Knowledge

The following is a guest post by Zack Hargrove on the topic of associative chains, a technique you can introduce to your students as a way of retaining important information.

Associative Chains: The Best Way to Store Knowledge

To make sense of the complexity of the universe, the human brain has always looked for ways to simplify.  In the modern era, the gigantic amount of available information gives people opportunities to find out more and more about the world. The key to learning and understanding any discipline or phenomenon is the ability to memorize the required knowledge. And the most effective way of doing it is by using the associative chains technique.

How it works

We tend to think in patterns. Our experience has given us a great amount of material that can serve as a foundation for memorizing any type of information. Association chains basically help us find similarities between new pieces of information and those already in our memories. The best way of explaining how it works is by showing some examples. For that reason, I will divide them into two main topics: words and numbers.

Words

1. Names

For some people, it is harder to remember names than formulas. However, forgetting names may lead to worsening relationships. That’s why we should know how to remember them.

My name is Zack Hargrove. Let’s break it down.

∙ Chain #1. You need to remember someone named Zack. If I had to remember my own name, I would associate it with Zack de la Rocha, the vocalist from Rage Against The Machine.

∙ Chain #2. Surnames are usually harder to remember. I would divide Hargrove into two parts. “Har” is for Harvard University. “Grove” is for the street from GTA San Andreas video game.

Result: I am Zack from Rage Against The Machine who decided to go to Harvard all the way from Grove St. The same algorithm can be applied to any other name.

2. Unfamiliar Words or Phrases

Let’s say you’ve begun to study the Spanish language, and you’re having a problem memorizing the phrase “Mucho gusto” (nice to meet you). Sure, you can repeat this phrase over and over in order to remember it. But you can alternatively spend a minute creating the proper associative chain which will help you memorize it instantly.

It all starts with breaking down the phrase (“Mucho gusto”) into several parts, creating a chain that makes sense to you, and linking it to another chain. Let each chain be a paragraph. One way:

∙ Chain #1. One of my favorite shows is Breaking Bad. I am always very excited to watch it, so during pretty much every episode my eyes stay round just like the letter “O”. Mucho gusto – both words end with the letter ”o.”

∙ Chain #2. The word “Mucho” sounds pretty similar to the English word “much”. The only difference is that I have to add the letter “o” at the end.

∙ Chain #3. The name of one of the characters is “Gustavo”. I have to remove the last three letters and replace them with “o”.

The associative chain is complete. I picture myself seeing too much of Gustavo, and feeling surprised about it, so that my eyes become as round as the letter “O”.

The same principle can be used to memorize  unfamiliar word(s). For instance, say you have to remember the word “embedding”. It is the process of putting social media content on a web page. The root word rhymes with the phrase “in bed”. Thus, it is extremely easy to remember it, imagining yourself putting social media content to bed for sleep.

Numbers

It will be very easy and interesting for sports fans. Many people who are interested in sports (especially the ones that involve teamwork) see many athletes in jerseys, with a specific number on their backs. The bigger sports fan you are, the more likely you’ll remember the names of the players. And this is crucial for remembering numbers. If the die-hard basketball fan has to memorize numbers like “23103241” – he will be very likely to remember it. Why? Because he would only have to choose the players whose numbers fit in this sequence. This is how you might build the associative chain in this case:

∙ 23 – Michael Jordan. Arguably the best player in the history of basketball.
∙ 10 – B.J. Armstrong. Teammate of Jordan, who will assist him.
∙ 32 – Shaquille O’Neal. One of, if not the most, powerful centers in the history of the game;
∙ 41 – Dirk Nowitzki. Unlike Shaquille, a master of free-throw and 3-point shooting.

The same method will help you memorize dates, phone numbers, or debit card PINs.

The technique of associative chains is something that requires practice. The weirder and the longer the description of your chains may sound, the more likely it is to appear in your head when you need to remember it. The process of “imaginative comparative thinking” is fun, interesting, and most importantly, productive. It develops the ability not only to think outside of the box, but it also helps you exercise your “creative muscle” and memorize the necessary information.

Author Bio:

Zack Hargrove is an editor-in-chief at cheapwritingservice.com. One of his missions is to share ideas on how to sustain your curiosity on its highest level. He enjoys writing about most things, but especially science and music.

The Best Parent-Teacher Conference Advice

I don’t remember much from the year I spent as a student teacher. It was in a fifth-grade classroom. The kids were mostly well behaved. When I took over lead teaching, I had the idea that I would run a classroom where students didn’t need to raise their hands. My mentor teacher looked at me askance, but to her credit allowed me to fail on my own. Most of the time, I was trying to keep my head above water. I learned most by failing, but there were a few things my mentor teacher did that I took with me to my first job. Some of the most enduring lessons were on how to conduct parent-teacher conferences. After 18 years in the classroom and an estimated 450 conferences, here are my five best pieces of advice:

Let the Parent Go First

Here’s how my mentor teacher put it before the very first parent walked in on our first night of conferences: “Always start by asking the parent if they have anything they’d like to talk about.” Most parents will come in and be content to hear what you have to say. But there will usually be a couple who have a burning issue they’ve been waiting to address with you. If you start in with your prepared remarks, or student artifacts, or the progress report, these parents will not be listening. They’ll be thinking about what they want to say, just like you do when you’re pissed off in a staff meeting and can’t wait to vent while your principal blathers on about something you care not a whit about.

If a parent walks in with student work in her hand, you can bet that’s what she wants to talk about. Start your conference with these words: “Hi, thanks for coming! Now, before I get into what I’m going to say, is there anything you’d like to discuss?” Then shut up and listen.

Show That You Understand Their Kid

You spend seven hours every day with your students. Their parents spend less. More than wanting to know how their child is doing in school (they usually know) and whether or not they behave during class (they have a pretty good idea about that, too), parents want to know if you get their kid. They want to know if you respect their child enough to get to know them and accept them for their differences. They want to know if you see the children in front of you as individuals.

Say at least one non-judgmental thing that shows you understand each child.  Even if your observation is a less-than-desirable characteristic, the fact that you’ve noticed their kid is important to parents.

Be Honest 

A former colleague interviewed for a teaching job with another district but didn’t get it, even though she thought it went well. During the call where she learned she wasn’t getting the job, she asked what she could have done differently. She was told she was a “model candidate” and received no constructive feedback. She asked what she could do to improve and was basically told nothing.

People crave feedback. We don’t mind being told hard truths if it will help us get what we want. Parents want their children to succeed, and to do so they need to know what their children can do to make that happen. Telling parents that their child “lacks motivation” when in reality they don’t do any work in the room at all is a disservice. Reporting that a child creates a lot of “interpersonal conflict” is hiding behind jargon. Just say they don’t play well with others and that in most of the cases, you’ve observed their child to be the instigator.

Don’t be a jerk, but do be honest.

If Jimmy doesn’t focus on his work and gets little done in class, say so. If Susan acts without thinking and her impulsivity regularly interferes with others’ learning, let the parents know. If Quentin is reading behind grade level and you’ve witnessed him on many occasions doing everything he can to avoid reading, explain to his mom and dad that he’s not going to improve unless he actually reads.

Parents can’t help their kids get better if they don’t know what to work on and you’re in the best position to know what they need to work on, so tell them.

Describe, Don’t Diagnose

Teachers aren’t doctors and shouldn’t pretend they are. We don’t know the causes of what we’re seeing and even if we’ve seen it ten times before, we should stay in our lane. If pushed by parents — I sometimes have parents who come right out and ask if I think their child has ADHD–stick to what you have observed.

“He has a very hard time focusing. He rarely finishes assignments. Yesterday, he completed the first three problems in three minutes, but then completed only one more over the next fifteen minutes.”

“He doesn’t get work done and he bothers others during work time.”

“Whenever he doesn’t get his way, he throws a fit. Other students have noticed and they avoid him.”

Telling parents what you’ve seen puts you in the position of simply being a reporter. If pressed, stick to that role. You can even add, “I’m just telling you that this is what I’ve witnessed in the classroom.”

Let There Be No Surprises

A good way to have a disastrous conference night is to never tell parents anything until they’re sitting right in front of you and then unload all the bad news at once. They feel ambushed, and you come across as unprofessional. You have all the knowledge, you’ve kept it to yourself, and then you’ve sprung it on an unsuspecting victim in a public place where they can’t just get up and storm out without looking like horrible parents. Save yourself a lot of trouble by letting the parents know, at the earliest date, about any problems their child is having at school. If a parent is surprised at any point during the conference, then you haven’t been communicating enough. If you’ve dropped the ball in this regard (and I have), admit it.

Say: “I’m sorry. I should have called,” or  “I should have sent home more student work.” Ask them how frequently they would like to be updated going forward. Then promise to do better.

A good conference is about the teacher first listening to any concerns the parents may have and then communicating the information parents need to know so they can help their children succeed. Do the above, and your conferences will be productive.

 

Why Some Lessons Are Lame

I’ve had two recent experiences that put into perspective just how absurdly high we set the bar for teachers. That bar is set by many people, from legislators to parents to administrators to fellow educators. Those who study teaching tell us what we need to do to be effective. School districts turn those suggestions into elements on our formal evaluations. Thought leaders take the ball and run with it,  penning books on how to be better in the classroom. They then take to Twitter to spread their message further.

Dave Burgess (he’s the pirate guy) tells teachers to preheat the grill, by which he means to light a fire under your students at the start of your lessons to get them interested.

Matt Miller wants us to ditch textbooks. Textbooks are boring!

Alice Keeler despises worksheets.

George Couros wants teachers constantly innovating.

Teachers should strive to improve, and it’s often too easy to do what we’ve always done. We should look at our practices introspectively, read others’ ideas, watch others in action, and see if there might be better ways to reach students.

But we should also recognize that we have limitations, and those limitations mean that sometimes our lessons are lame.

A few weeks ago I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. I saw Michael Jackson’s glove, Jimi Hendrix’s couch, an Elvis jumpsuit, and many more rock artifacts. What interested me most, however, were the sheets of paper displayed throughout the museum on which artists had scribbled some of the most recognizable lyrics of our time. Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” Jon Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” to name a few.

Songs we’ve heard hundreds of times, jotted down on hotel stationery or in spiral notebooks no different than the kind my third-graders doodle in. It got me thinking about the work musicians do and how it compares to what we ask of teachers. Both are performers. Both stand in front of a group of people and communicate. Today, both are expected to entertain. The musician, before going on tour, will rehearse. He’ll perform the same songs over and over again until he can play them without thinking. Then he’ll spend any number of months moving from city to city singing the same old songs, the ones he wrote on napkins and notebook paper years ago.

A teacher will probably not rehearse. There’s no time to, really. Unlike the rock star, a teacher has to compose different lessons for every day. While the musician’s audience changes nightly, the teacher’s remains the same. So no matter how good that lesson on photosynthesis is (and it’s a chart topper, baby!), you only get to roll it out once per year. The artist can spend 30 minutes jotting down some lyrics that might be played for 30 years. A teacher is expected to carefully plan lessons that are done in 30 minutes and might never be played again. The musician, if he’s giving the crowd a great show, might play for three hours. Teachers work seven. A rock star who spends 25 years singing the same songs over and over again to different groups of people, only introducing a new hit every few years for the first ten, is considered a legend. A teacher who spends 25 years teaching different lessons every day, coming up with new material for 180 days each year, won’t ever be known outside a small circle of people.

And what about each of those lessons? We’re told they’re supposed to be good. All of them. No textbooks. No worksheets. No filler. No crappy B-sides.

Last week I read the book Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo. Gallo studied the most popular TED Talks, interviewed many of the lecturers, and came up with sound advice for delivering a memorable speech. Teachers who lecture can learn a lot from it. Unfortunately, one thing they will learn is that giving a great talk is time-consuming. Really time-consuming.

Gallo shares this story:

I received a call from a business leader who is recognized as a pioneer in her industry. She had been invited to give a TED talk and asked if I could give her some tips. “Well, you have plenty of time to practice,’ I said after giving her some suggestions on how to craft a compelling story. “Spend the next two months working on the story and the slide design and then three months rehearsing.’

“Three months?’ she asked after a long pause.

“Yes. Three months. You’ll be giving the presentation every day. Ninety times sounds about right,’ I said. “It’s a short presentation. Just get up about 15 minutes earlier and practice.’

“Ninety? Isn’t that a lot?’

“Well, Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor rehearsed her TED talk 200 times. It’s been viewed 15 million times and Oprah invited her to be a guest on her show. Dr. Jill’s TED talk transformed her career.’

Amanda Palmer worked on her talk, “The Art of Asking,” for thousands of hours over four months. She wrote on her blog, “I slaved over the talk, writing and writing and re-writing and timing and re-timing and tweaking and trying to fit the perfect sets of information into 12 short minutes.”

Teachers give multiple 12-minute talks (and longer) each day, and unlike rock stars, they don’t get to reuse them very often. Expecting them all to be excellent is unrealistic. So is expecting them all to be good.

Or even average.

That’s why some lessons are lame. To avoid lameness takes considerable time and effort, and those things are in short supply for everyone, but especially for teachers. In 2013, the Teaching and Learning International Survey found that while Norwegian teachers spend 15 hours per week in front of their students, U.S. teachers spend 27 hours each week on instructional time, giving American teachers far fewer hours for planning and rehearsing.  [Source]

So if you want to know why I gave your kid a worksheet, this is why. If you wonder why textbook companies still sell a lot of textbooks and teachers still actually use them in spite of being told how lame they are, this is why. If you’re annoyed that your kid watched a Magic School Bus video for science class today, this is why.

Lame lessons are a reflection of reality. They are nothing more than the result of a teacher committing time and energy to develop good lessons in some other subject or for some other day. Lame lessons are what you get when teachers have to churn out hundreds of different lesson plans each year with little time to prepare them.

Let’s stop expecting our teachers to be better than people who can carve out the time they need to be great. Let’s stop expecting the impossible. After all, the Beatles had a lot of hits, but they also had a lot of duds. Even the best teachers are occasionally lame.

_______________

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