Teacher A: Tell me about your class.
Me: Well, I use mainly direct instruction and really focus on learning strategies to help students retain information.
I immediately feel judged. As teaching methods go, I increasingly find myself in the minority. I’m “old-school”. My desks are in rows. For the most part, I lecture. There’s almost always a google slides presentation. I am a dying breed of teacher. Most mainstream education reformers welcome the death. How could I possibly be preparing my students for the world of tomorrow? My student’s profession won’t require them to sit in rows and listen to lecture, so why is my teaching method so? I often hear this adage: “We’re preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist.” Well, if that’s true, how can you be so certain your instructional methods are correct and my direct instruction is ruining their future? As a side note, I’m currently crafting an article on why direct instruction is best for novice learners. But I digress…My class must be boring and stale…think Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher (Ben Stein) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. How could I possibly be reaching the youth of America adequately?
Now that you’ve been primed with images of Ben Stein, let me ask you about your prototype of the direct instruction teacher. I probably don’t fit the mold. I dare say I “get” my high school students…although, I don’t understand some of their slang terminology and I’ll never have a snapchat account. However, I quite successfully relate to them. I’m an energetic 33, somewhat athletic, and have been told multiple times that I’m a “cool” teacher…not sure how I feel about that one. I tell the corniest jokes in class that make them shake their head in shame, but they respect me for it. My students know about my wife and three children. I tell them about my weekend with my family and any funny stories that accurately depict the awesomeness of my 3 children. I hang my kid’s artwork from home all over my walls at school. I invest in a relationship with my students and they return the favor.
Unfortunately, I believe there’s an idea out there that direct instruction must be cold, boring, and ineffective. Can it be? Of course. A stereotype is a stereotype for a reason. But I guess what I’m saying is the teaching method doesn’t create either the environment of the classroom or the worth of the teacher. The personality of the teacher creates the environment, which then shapes the identity of the classroom. Although my AP Psychology class covers about 800 pages of a textbook in a semester in preparation for the exam, my class is known as being a light-hearted and interesting class. How could a mostly lecture-based class be either light-hearted or interesting? Now, certainly some of that has to do with the material…psychology is such an enthralling course. In fact, I think Intro to Psych or AP Psychology courses are the best school learning environment. But certainly some of the reason my AP Psychology course has grown in 5 years from 1 class of 25 students to now 5 classes of 35 students each has to do with me…right? While I am not an advocate for “make everything fun” teaching, (In fact, I think that style of teaching may be hindering our students.) there’s no reason to make the class overtly and purposefully vapid either.
Maybe we should find out more about a teacher’s class than their teaching method before we judge their worth. Teachers shouldn’t be completely defined by their methods. We bring so much more to the table than that.
Or maybe I should just trust the data, be more secure with my classroom, and less impacted by others’ judgement.