Follow then fail

I haven't posted for 25 days. Yes, the holidays played a decent part of that hiatus, but it's also been the result of the binge of artifacts I had students create just before winter break. In short, I was so excited to break away from the traditional teaching style that I probably stretched myself too thin.

I previously taught at a small high school in Michigan. If you were in 10th grade at Whitmore Lake High School, you had Mr. Wildeboer for Earth & Physical Science. I was the only teacher who taught Earth/Physical Science since it was introduced in 2002¹ (my first year). This situation meant that I was solely responsible for the content of that class. I developed all of its lessons, projects, labs, and activities myself.

I was given the freedom to experiment, create projects, swap out exams for cumulative projects, cut back on breadth and focus on depth, and do pretty much whatever I felt would be best for the students. Freedom to do what I personally saw as best was the advantage of being a "lonely" teacher. The disadvantage was that I never really had anyone to work through ideas and struggles with. Sure, I could talk to other teachers who could provide valuable feedback, but it's something different entirely to collaborate closely with another teacher while developing lessons or other curricular materials.

This year there are three other teachers who have the same classes I do. When I was hired, I was quite excited at the prospect of being able to collaborate with other teachers. I knew that might mean I wouldn't have the same degree of freedom as I had enjoyed previously, but I figured I could live with the trade. I didn't start the year working with the other teachers very well (several old posts explain why), but that was more the fault of Central Office than anything. As time when on however, I found we weren't working together as closely as I would've liked. At lunches and meetings we'd talk about what we were currently on, where we were going next, and what supplies we each needed. Unfortunately, that was about it. We shared a little back and forth, but I wasn't thrilled with the worksheets being sent my way. I would take some time to tweak them, then use my own presentations (which were shared, though I don't have reliable intel that they were ever used outside my room).

I tried to replicate what the other teachers were doing as best as I could while only making design and other minor changes to improve the quality (IMHO) of what I was setting down in front of students. This was frustrating. In hindsight it seems foolish.  I provided what I consider sub-par curriculum materials to my students because I wanted to stay at the exact pace of the other teachers. I did this even though we really weren't collaborating with each other, and looking back, I realize that I was really replicating was teaching style². No wonder I was frustrated. What I was doing was trying to do was suppress the style I had developed over several years of practice, research, and experimentation. It was foolish of me, and I now regret it.

Coming soon: What happened when I decided to stop worrying about keeping up...


¹ Interestingly enough, due to changes in the state curriculum, the school decided to switch up the science curriculum starting the year after I left. The class I taught was replaced with something different- meaning the class started and ended with my tenure.

² I don't mean to suggest here that the other teachers were ineffective. I have a certain reperatoire of activities and projects that have proven to be effective and mesh well with my personality. I'm happier when I teach within my personality, and happy teaching leads to happier students.


Image Credits:

Power Law of Participation by Ross Mayfield
Streeter Seidell, Comedian by Zach Klein