I’ve heard it said that, as teachers, we teach how we were taught.
Over the years, I’ve seen how true that really is and at times find great comfort in that. I had so many teachers growing up that showed me how to be compassionate, were energetic, pushed me in my thinking and genuinely cared about me. I like to think that I teach like that and hold on to that during the difficult days.
But, despite all the learning experiences that I remember going through growing up and despite all the teacher workshops, conferences, and edcamps I’ve been to, lectures and textbooks still permeate my own classroom, like all the classrooms I’ve been in before it. I know times are changing; my students now have their own iPad with the whole world waiting to be discovered right on their desk! So, why is a worn-out textbook still such a huge part of my classroom? WHY?! Because we teach how we were taught. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s what I know.
But if I’m being completely honest, I don’t WANT to teach like that anymore. The field of education is changing and I want to change with it. I have access to so many unique opportunities, teachers, experts, resources, and classrooms that my teachers never did. My kids deserve a different kind education from me and that’s what Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller reminded me that I wanted to give them.
I was actually reminded on the first page. No, scratch that – the very first sentence. It might have been the most powerful sentence in the whole book for me and flooded me with emotions:
“I had never seen students run for the door so fast.”
Seriously, I don’t know what it is about picturing that scenario that makes me want to scream, cry, and barricade my classroom door, but it knocks me over. After all the late nights staying up to give feedback on all those pieces of writing, after all the weekends spent missing out on family time to lesson plan, after hours and hours after school searching the internet for new ideas, it still happens. Countless times throughout the year, and even multiple times a day as each hour bell rings, this scenario is played out right before my very own eyes – kids dying to run for the door.
I want this to stop.
But, I’m not going to stop this from happening if I keep doing what I’ve always done. I realize that not every student will enjoy every activity, game, or experiment that we do, but they sure aren’t going to EVER stick around to read the last section of the lesson in the textbook. I have to stop using the textbook as a crutch, as the main source of information for my students, and as one of the most prevalent staples of my classes if I ever want them to stop running for the door.
It’s scary. It’s frightening. It’s downright going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’m not an expert in any of my content areas. I, myself, have relied on the textbooks to get most, if not all, of the content for my courses because I didn’t know half of it when I started. (Give me a break. It’s been a little difficult to experience ancient civilizations in my small-town life in Kansas.) To be honest, I am really afraid of how much down time there will be in my classes if it’s not filled with so much reading of the text and I’m not sure I’ll know exactly how to fill it.
But, that’s where Miller speaks to those fears again on page 12:
“Let me challenge you to catch the vision and take the first step. Jump in, even if you don’t know exactly how it will turn out!”
All summer long I’ve been hit with new songs and stories about being brave and having courage. (My favorite has been the bridge of You Make Me Brave by Amanda Cook & Bethel Music and this battle cry has been on repeat for the past few weeks.) I even filled the pulpit at church one Sunday this summer when the pastor was on vacation and I gave a sermon…to a congregation…of adults! (If you’re one of those teachers like me, you only spew out great conversation and ideas with children and mutter absolute nonsense around other adults.)
It was scary. It was frightening. It was downright one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
AND I DID IT.
Like that song, this book was no exception. It kept hitting me, page after page, with words of encouragement to just BE BRAVE. Why is this such a hard thing to do as an educator? I want my students to be brave enough to try new things, to reach out to others in need, to get out of an abusive relationship, to leave a job they’re not happy in, or to travel somewhere they’ve never been. To just be brave during every situation they find themselves in for their whole lives.
So, this year, I will try be brave. I will try to be okay with not knowing everything or how everything will work out. I will try to learn from any mistakes or failures that arise.
I will try to…
There were obviously some other important takeaways from my reading that I had:
- I have a responsibility to share in order to get change. If I want my colleagues to join me or collaborate with me in a new way, I have to share what’s happening in my classroom with my colleagues, district, community and PLN. Why am I not sharing the great stuff that does happen in my classroom, in my planning, and during my reflections on my professional blog to get feedback or more ideas?
- My students and I have access to people all around the WORLD. Why have I not been getting these authors, scientists, or everyday citizens living in ancient historical places into my classroom or at least trying to write, email, or tweet them to get a response?
- My students love to see themselves. They take millions of selfies a day for a reason. Why am I not plastering them and their learning all over the school website, newsletter, or yearbook?
Miller really does give some great advice, lots of encouragement, and MANY other helpful ideas for ditching the textbook and embracing technology, but also for giving our students “an education beyond their wildest dreams.” And, beyond MY wildest dreams.
I strongly encourage you to read Ditch That Textbook, or even take a look at the #DitchBook hashtag, and to think about the kind of education your students might be missing.
I also encourage you to BE BRAVE with me this year and try something new; if for nothing else than to just see what magic might happen in your very own classroom.
I am thrilled about the possibilities that await mine this upcoming school year. I am excited, and beyond giddy, about my upcoming attempts to get to hear my students beg to finish what we’re doing in class and to stop running for the door. When it happens, you can bet I’ll be the one running for the door to tell people about it.
And, so that one day, if any of my students become teachers, they’ll know they’re doing what’s best for their students and be confident enough to teach the way they were taught.