Why The First Year Of Teaching Should Be Difficult Part 1

It is time we apply our pedagogy to ourselves.  Again I start with a brief conversation between myself and a first year educator:

Ms. Sims: "The seniors are tough, it's like they look right over me!  I don't know how to handle them, I feel like they'll yell back at me if I raise my voice.  This is hard.  Really, really, really, hard.  And hurtful, I want to be a good teacher and I'm hurt that I'm not.  Its just so hard.  It's like I'm not smart enough to do this."

We were only about three weeks into the school year and it seemed like she had already had her fill.

"But you work hard, keep your chin up and grind out the rest of this week."  I replied.

There it is, the "I'm not smart enough line" we constantly get from our students.

Ms. Sims had been successful her entire life; supportive family, no issue getting into college or graduate school, and was lucky enough to begin searching for an employment at a fairly opportune time.

This was her first "real" obstacle.    Her response isn't uncommon and almost expected.  Like a lot of our students, she fell back on familiar ground and perceived her intelligence as fixed.  She's struggling now and therefore she'll always struggle because she isn't smart enough.

The first year is difficult for many reasons.  The most important, however, is obvious: you are learning how to teach for the first time.  It is not difficult because first year teachers are not smart enough.

Meaningful learning is full of mistakes.

Meaningful learning is full of failure.

Meaningful learning is riffled with self doubt.

Meaningful learning is difficult.

And this is the way it should be.  

For help internalizing the struggle of first year teaching, I'd like to enlist the perspective of three VERY successful individuals: philosopher/psychologist William James, innovator/inventor Thomas Edison, and businessman/founder of Bridgewater Associates Ray Dalio.

Meaningful learning is full of mistakes: Dalio
Photo Credit

"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything.  I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."- John Wooden

Ray Dalio would agree with John Wooden.

As Ray says: "
"I learned that everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses and that one of the most important things that differentiates people is their approach to handling them. I learned that there is an incredible beauty to mistakes, because embedded in each mistake is a puzzle, and a gem that I could get if I solved it, i.e., a principle that I could use to reduce my mistakes in the future. I learned that each mistake was probably a reflection of something that I was (or others were) doing wrong, so if I could figure out what that was, I could learn how to be more effective. I learned that wrestling with my problems, mistakes, and weaknesses was the training that strengthened me. Also, I learned that it was the pain of this wrestling that made me and those around me appreciate our successes."
 Mistakes are an inevitable part of doing things.  Rather than deny that fact, confront it and transform a mistake into a learning tool.  Understanding how to fix something is deep learning.

Meaningful Learning is full of failure: Edison

"I have not failed.  I've just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."
Photo Credit

I observed Ms. Sims for a full length, 84 minute block of time.  I always ask the person I observed how they think the lesson went before I offer my thoughts.

(I always find that teachers are much more critical of themselves than an outside observer)

"It was terrible.  I don't feel good about it at all.  I don't even know why I tried the I, We, You thing.  That's for like, elementary kids."

"It wasn't as bad as you think.  And the lesson wasn't a failure.  If anything you learned that the I, We, You approach may not work for that group.  That, in itself, is an important finding."

Failure is only failure if you don't learn from it.  Failure is an important teacher.  Finding what doesn't work is just as important as finding what does.  Think of it as natural selection in the classroom.

Meaningful learning is riffled with self doubt: William James

We turn to William James for our issues with self esteem because he originally coined the phrase.  Further, he always has painfully pragmatic advice.
Photo Credit

James has an equation for self esteem:

self esteem= success/pretensions

A pretension is a goal.

According to James, you can increase the fraction (increase self esteem) by either decreasing the denominator or by increasing the numerator.  In other words, you can feel better about yourself by either having more successes or by reducing the number of goals.

I'd like to propose another way:  make the pretensions easier so you increase your rate of success.

When we feel competent in an area, we tend to be overconfident and set lofty goals.  This easily sets us up for failure as we become vulnerable.  Though we think the goals are obtainable, real life has different plans.

I propose (and proposed to Ms. Sims) that new teachers set reasonable goals.  Mentors need to guide their mentees in that direction.

By setting obtainable goals, the new teacher experiences success.  Success triggers feel-good feelings and combats the inevitable feelings of self-doubt.

Part 2 of this article examines three trends in education that we push onto our students and argues that we need to consider their implications for ourselves.  We'll look at Bjork's concept of desirable difficulties, Dweck's ideas concerning the growth mindset, and Duckworth's work on grit and persistence.

Hope to see you there.

Thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment