Tag Archives: teaching
How will large language models/artificial intelligence change K-12 education? Maybe the better question is will large language modes/artificial intelligence change K-12 education? Through teaching, research, and writing, I spent most of my academic career trying to make high schools more democratic, more international, more personal, and more relevant and purposeful.
I’m sad to report that I failed bigly. The fact of the matter is, except for all the surreptitious texting under desks, the typical high school today functions remarkably similar to the way Cypress (California) High School did when I graduated in 1980. What other institution in American life can you say that about?
Lesson learned. K-12 education is incredibly resistant to change. Like YouTube, surely ChatGPX-like devices will have some effect, but probably not enough to fundamentally alter the teacher-student relationship. One education scholar uses an ocean metaphor to explain the futility of education reform. Schedule tweaks, new curriculum initiatives, education technologies, all create changes on the surface of the ocean just as high winds do. Descend to the ocean floor however, meaning the teacher-student relationship in the classroom, and the water’s darkness, chemistry, and animal life are completely unaffected by the tumult on the surface. The teacher still mostly talks and the students listen.
Despite it being so obvious, it wasn’t easy to admit my my failure, you know, professional identity and ego and all. But the consolation is a quiet confidence that I have made a positive difference in a lot of individual teacher’s lives. Despite not having dented their work environment, I have made meaningful contributions to their professional success. I’ve failed, but I’m not a failure.
And even though I’ve admitted defeat and let go of my teacher education identity, I am still helping individual teachers on occasion, just fewer of them. Yesterday, for example, one of my first year writers from Fall 2021, a prospective teacher, wrote me seeking advice. Here’s how she started her missive:
“I hope all is well! I am reaching out to you because I need some advice. I figured you would be an excellent person to reach out to because you are part of the education faculty and have taught abroad and done things I want to do with my life. I also think you won’t sugarcoat things and you will tell me the truth.”
I liked that she didn’t think I’d “sugarcoat things”. So, in that spirit of keeping it real, I predict high schools in 43 years, make that 2066, will still look and feel pretty damn similar. Given my protein bar consumption, it’s unlikely I’ll live long enough to see if my prediction comes true. I hope it does not.
Postscript: Not an “institution”, but same idea.
Put A Fork In It
The semester is a wrap. My parting words to my students.
“The very end of my first class as a brand new professor at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC ended in a humorous manner. I spoke for about ten minutes, doing my best to tie together all the course’s loose ends. I was pulling out my egghead professor vocab and thought everyone was listening closely. After I finished, Josh raised his hand. ‘Oh great,’ I thought, ‘Josh is going to thank me for the brilliant summary and the course more generally.’ Instead, he said, ‘Dude, you have a pierced ear!’ Then the discussion devolved into why I had never came to class with an earring. Lesson learned, keep the end-of-semester spiel very, very brief.
Price writes that ‘the more we train ourselves to notice delights—the everyday beauties and kindnesses and amusing absurdities, the things that make us laugh or that we feel grateful for—we will feel more positive.’ She goes on to suggest we say ‘delight’ out loud whenever we experience anything that sparks joy. I’m trying to adapt this practice. This morning, on my drive in through the Nisqually Delta, I saw a huge flock of birds flying in ‘V’ formation. I said ‘delight’ to myself. Then I immediately thought of this class and what I wanted to say to you now that we’re at the finishing line.
And here it is. Delight.
It’s been a complete and total delight to get to know each of you individually and collectively. I hope the rest of Year 1 goes well and that we cross paths again sometime in the future.”
The Academically Disengaged
We need more Bill Waltons, the former college and professional basketball legend whose playing days were cut short by numerous injuries and related surgeries.
“My injuries piled up,” Walton explains. “Bad back, broken bones, ankle and foot problems, broken hands and wrists, knee injuries, and broken noses.” By his count, Walton had 38 orthopedic surgeries to mend his various injuries.
Currently, Walton is a wonderfully idiosyncratic basketball analyst whose “glass of life” is constantly overflowing. The list of things he appreciates is exceedingly long. His positivity is contagious. His commentary is 45% basketball and 45% philosophical, interdisciplinary ramblings. The remaining 10% of the time he’s busting his partner’s chops. Their faux exasperation with each other can’t hide their chemistry and mutual affection. It just works.
Midway through yesterday’s UCLA-Oregon game (Bruins off the Duck schneid), Walton said something that instantly clarified my thinking about my teaching this fall. He said, “You can’t learn what you don’t want to know.” Turns out, after a little sleuthing, he was quoting Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who in one of their songs wrote, “You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t wanna to know.” Shame on Walton, one of the greatest passing bigs of all time, for not crediting Garcia.
Much is being written about the growing academic achievement gender gap. Here is my Reader’s Digest point of view on it based upon my “on the ground” experience. A third of my students are male. At least half of them are excellent, by which I mean they think deeply about what they read, participate actively in class discussions, and write better and better over the course of the semester as a result of working at it. They’re sensitive, caring, and socially conscious. A privilege to work with.
The other subset doesn’t read, participates sporadically in ways that do not deepen our discussions, and pay little to no attention to their peers. They’re way more interested in their phones than what we’re reading and thinking through.
“Well Ron,” the K-12 teachers are probably saying, “your job is to get them interested.” I don’t want to ever become some of my colleagues whose answer to this dilemma is for the Admissions Office to just admit “better” students. My K-12 friends are right, but so is Walton, I mean Garcia, no matter how much magic my engaged students and I can muster, “You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t wanna to know.”
Compared to my female students, a disproportionate number of my male students don’t like to read and lack curiosity about themselves and others. While still a minority of males, this disengaged subset seems most interested in two things. A diploma and a job. Rightly or wrongly convinced of the need for a diploma for improved job prospects, they are resigned to playing the game of school for four years. At a large cost.
These students would benefit immensely from a gap year or two. Especially if we had a respected National Service program that they could opt into.
Absent that, some of the apathetic will do just enough to graduate relatively unchanged. And for many others, their apathy will get the best of them, and all they will have to show for their limited effort is years of debt.
Teaching My Ass Off
Just because I’m oldy and moldy, some might think I should call it a career. But the passion for the classroom still burns bright. I woke up at 2:30a.m. with these thoughts rattling around. Don’t call it a lecture, that’s demeaning. It was more of a homily/sermon.
- all we’re doing is practicing “thoughtful inquiry”and learning to have “true fun” with ideas— playfulness, connection, flow
- the cutting and pasting of ideas/approaches to life from other especially thoughtful people
- social infrastructure . . . we are products of our environments, you are the company you keep
- how closely have you read the key content, how closely have you listened to your classmates’ ideas, how much time/energy have you invested in examining your inner life?
- epiphany—a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
How closely has the student-writer read the key content?
- there are no references to any of the author’s key concepts . . . the paper could’ve been written completely independent of the reading—35%
- the student-writer briefly touches upon the author’s key concepts—55%
- there are repeated, thoughtful references to the author’s main idea(s), the student-writer’s thinking is changed— a little or a lot—as a result of their careful consideration of the author’s main ideas; the student-writer’s ideas are nuanced and demonstrate an appreciation for complexity—10%
Monday Required Reading
School starts tomorrow, so time to buckle down. Plus, Scottie loves assigned reading.
- I want one.
- Turns out, it’s really hard to scare a seal. Bonus trivia, the Byrnes clan is celebrating the fact that eldest daught lives 5 miles from the Ballard Locks as of today.
- Effective altruism has gone mainstream.
- The six forces that fuel friendship.
- How does it feel to be a teacher right now?
- Guilty as charged.
Teacher Job Satisfaction Hits an All-Time Low
A profession in crisis. The first graphic is mind blowing.
My Total Lack of Self-Awareness
The Good Wife and I are in marriage counseling, not because our relationship is bad, but because we want it to be better.
I deserve no credit for this, the GalPal has taken all the initiative. And therein lies one of the challenges. I think we should be able to improve things on our own if we carefully consider the different dynamics of the alternating peaks and valleys of our partnership. And then accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. You know, easy-peasy, just use more of our brain power.
Now I know that assumption is terribly flawed. We can’t think our way to a better relationship, it’s much more about heart, and dare I say, feelings. If it has anything to do with intelligence, it’s solely emotional intelligence.
Our counselor diagnosed our main problem quickly in a way that resonated with both of us. Most of the time, when we try to resolve conflicts, one or both of us are too angry, or emotionally “flooded” or “unregulated” to show genuine care for one another and have a constructive conversation. We ignore the flooding at our own peril, proceeding to get more and more angry, and ultimately, saying hurtful things we inevitably regret.
One epiphany came when our counselor asked each of us to describe the physiological changes we experience during the initial stages of a challenging conversation. The GoodWife aced that quiz describing in some detail several physiological changes. The weekend warrior athlete who constantly assesses how his body is or isn’t functioning while swimming, running, and cycling, couldn’t describe a single physiological change; earning a donut hole on the quiz.
The point of physiological self-awareness is to make sure we only enter into challenging conversations when each of us is regulated, meaning sufficiently calm to engage in a kind and caring manner.
I wasn’t as embarrassed by my total lack of physiological self-awareness as one might think, more intrigued. How can that be? Why the hell is that? That realization has me now trying to get into some kind of touch with my physiological married self. To quote Bill Murray, “Baby steps.”
I think the answer to “how can that be” and “why is that” is two-fold. I had two great parents, three older siblings who I tried to watch and learn from, and an overall positive childhood, but there was no intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning more generally going on in our house. Ever.
Nor was there any intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning going at any of the K-12 schools I attended. Extra-curricular activities included. Sunday School and church youth groups included.
So it’s not entirely surprising that I failed the quiz.
By this point, my older sissy has stopped reading, thinking to herself, “Ron, it’s not all about you.”
It’s too bad she checked out because I know my experience is that of damn near every male growing up in these (dis)United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We talk about “food deserts” in poor communities, but what about “emotional deserts” in every community, irrespective of economics?
What would emotionally intelligent parenting for both boys and girls look like? What do emotionally intelligent parents know and what are they doing that’s different?
How can educators, coaches, art and music leaders, youth pastors, anyone in youth leadership positions begin fostering emotional intelligence?
How can parents better partner with other adults in their children’s lives to help their sons and daughters develop some semblance of emotional and physiological self-awareness?
We need more attention and better reporting on these things. Meaning engaging and accessible stories that will educate and inspire ordinary people who only know what they’ve experienced. Stories that spark imagination, challenge the status quo, and foster new and better ways of relating to one another.
How To Make A Positive Difference
A fall semester postscript.
When evaluating their progress at the end of the semester, my first year writing students say the same thing over and over. “In high school, all we ever did was literary analysis. Intro. Three body paragraphs with supporting details. A conclusion. I learned the formula, but it was mind numbing.”
Why are secondary teachers stuck in literary analysis mode? Is it as simple as teaching to Advanced Placement tests? If so, maybe we should risk the ire of parents determined to pass their privilege on and ditch Advanced Placement altogether.
Why not ask students to occasionally write about themselves in the context of big questions? To be introspective. To dare to be personal. To be philosophical. It takes some of my students longer than others to pivot to first person “I”, but eventually everyone sees value in it. Some experience an immediate awakening. For example, in one final paper a student wrote, “I don’t think I truly understood myself until this class because I never contemplated my biggest motivators. Why doesn’t my mom love me? Why do I feel so insignificant? Am I enough?”
K-12 teachers might reply that they’re not therapists so why venture into personal rabbit holes. I’m advocating for public, group-based community; not private, individual therapy.
Another student explained the difference especially well:
“Even on the days with the best attendance, our classroom does not exceed twenty people. This has allowed us to know each other on a deeper level than that of just classmates. I feel as though each person in class is now someone I can call my friend. Through group discussions, the sharing of intimate parts of our lives, and just laughing together in general, we have discovered all the similarities each of us share. As a group, we have formed our own sort of community, filled with people of all different majors and parts of the country. I can confidently say that I have learned just as much from talking to my classmates as I have from the assigned class readings.
Despite the different reasons for each student being placed into Writing 101, we are each leaving the class with one commonality. We formed a special little community built on finding our footing in a new place, trust, and compassion. . . . We made connections that could last a lifetime and learned lessons from one another that changed our perspectives.”
Since classmates don’t assign grades, students are socialized to pay attention exclusively to their teachers. Watch for yourself, in the vast majority of classrooms, students completely tune out one another.
Dig this paradox. My teaching is most consequential when I fade into the background and get my students to listen to, and learn from, one another.
Part Of The Circle
One-on-one conferences with my first year writers are a wrap. At the end of our convos I asked what most contributed to their learning and what if anything I should tweak going forward.
We ended up liking each other, so the feedback was almost universally positive. One recurring theme was, “We sat in a circle and you were part of the circle.”
When the classroom architecture makes it possible, it’s pretty simple isn’t it? Ditch rows. Ditch hierarchy. Ask challenging questions. Listen. And whenever possible, laugh.