Last week, I came across this phenomenal video on my Twitter:
First, I thought, “That’s rather funny and clever.”
Then I thought, “Man, what a bunch of goose stepping morons.”
Then, I started thinking about teaching because that’s what I do. And what I thought – forgive me – is that we’ve got some goose stepping teachers walking around and they should probably knock it off.
We watch a video like the above and shake our heads. We chuckle a little over how goofy the soldiers look, even without the Bee Gees. Because the goose step is strongly associated with the Nazis, North Korea, and other dictatorial regimes, we see it as backwards, a symbol of blind obedience. George Orwell captured most westerners’ opinion of the goose step when he wrote that it was only used in countries where the population was too scared to laugh at its military.
But here’s the thing about those goose stepping soldiers: Some of them, maybe even most of them, are thinking about how much they’re killing the thing. Pick a soldier out of the above video clip and this is probably pretty close to what’s going through his or her head:
Look at me, crushing this march. Nobody goose steps like I do. Watch me swing my legs. Perfectly straight! Not like Chan-woo over there. Man, I feel good! I’m goosing the hell out of this step!
Which goes to show you that people have an amazing capacity to feel proud of themselves even where they’re doing stupid things.
And that brings me to teaching.
We do a lot of stupid things. Things that have little to do with helping students learn and become better people. And a lot of us are damn proud of these things.
We spend an hour on a bulletin board to impress other adults who happen to pop in or walk by our room. We’re proud of our work – as proud as a goose stepping Nazi – but that bulletin board isn’t going to make much of a difference, and we just spent 60 minutes on it.
We’re proud of our fancy newsletters with their decorative borders, perfectly arranged text boxes, adorable clipart, and copious information for parents. Look at us, establishing a consistent home-school connection! Nevermind that half the newsletters never get seen, another quarter of them don’t get read, and most of the information can be shared in an email that would take five minutes to write.
I’m guilty too. I feel all proud of myself when students are working quietly when the principal pops in. I’m strutting like a peacock when my straight line of third graders go
marching walking down the hall in complete silence. Student compliance warms my heart far more than it should. I once nailed a lesson on rhombuses and felt great about it.
Until I remembered that knowing the characteristics of a rhombus is about as useful as knowing how to goose step.
The lesson is this, and it’s one I hope at least a few of those North Korean soldiers realize:
Some things are worth doing well and feeling proud about. These things include:
- Taking the time to build relationships with students who will do better because of those relationships.
- Teaching engaging lessons where students learn things.
- Providing quick and targeted feedback that helps students improve.
- Showing patience, tolerance, and grace in front of your class when a kid loses his shit.
But other things are just goose stepping your way past the reviewing stand with a silly look on your face.
Some things are worth doing well and feeling proud about. But other things are just goose stepping your way past the reviewing stand with a silly look on your face.
Figure out the difference and spend more time on the stuff that matters. If you don’t, someone might just take a video of you marching down the hall with your silent, obedient class and add a Bruno Mars song to it.*
* If you know of such a video or can make one, please share.