Thursday, September 5, 2013

Anything But Teaching

UF Keene-Flint Classroom Desks Windows

Recently I saw a blog post about how to "gamify" your classroom.

The suggestions ran from giving rewards for good answers to asking students to play learning games.

At first I thought: games aren't really gamification. The idea of gamification is to turn an entire activity into a game-like experience.

And for a moment I stopped there, where I often stop: this isn't really gamification; people don't understand the concept well.

But then I went a step further.

Actually, to gamify your classroom implies that the teacher should stop being a teacher and become instead a game desiger.

First of all, this suggests that becoming a game designer is the easiest thing in the world. Yet there are graduate programs in the subject, and many people fail to become game designers, and many games fail to find a wide audience, and all of these things suggest that designing games isn't even easy for game designers. So why, oh why, should teachers top being teachers and become half-baked game designers?

And yet this kind of appeal--stop teaching and start gamifying--is symptomatic of so much that is said about teaching. For some reason, we want teaching to be anything but teaching.

And no one says why.

What's wrong with teaching? Shouldn't teachers teach? Have we given up on teaching? On teachers teaching well? Do we no longer remember what teaching is or respect it? Have we lost the cultural memory of teaching?

Everywhere you turn in educational circles, teachers get this message: Forget about teaching––learn to do something else.

Become a test coach. There's no point in teaching, only helping your students pass a standardized test. You don't need to help students learn, only to pass the test. So forget about teaching: just become a test coach.

Become an expert in software. You need technology in the classroom. So go to this web site, and learn how to operate software. Learn how to build web sites. Learn how to teach your students to operate software and build web sites. Instead of teaching and learning, everybody should just use software and build web sites.

Become an iPad trainer. We'll buy all the students iPads. And then your job isn't to teach––it's just to help students use their iPads. The iPads apparently will do the teaching. The teacher's job is then just to wrangle the hardware and help the students use the apps.

Become an expert on learning theory, cognitive psychology, the science of the brain, theories of instruction. Then "just apply it." Because distilling large bodies of research and "applying" complex theories is just so easy. And there's apparently an infinite amount of time for teachers to spend with their noses in theories and research––since I suppose the software is grading the students' work on their iPads.

And now we have--

Become a game designer. Forget about teaching. Learn to design games disguised as courses and lessons.

Well, here's a wild suggestion.

Let's talk about teaching. Let's talk about what makes teaching good, what makes it effective and what makes it enjoyable, interesting, challenging and meaningful.

Let's have these conversations not only with teachers and experts but with our students as well. And with parents. And with those who work with us. And the whole community.

Let's identify elements of good teaching, elements of terrific teaching, elements of competent teaching. Let's talk about what doesn't work.

Let's help teachers improve on the good their doing and fix their real problems. Let's not replace the real challenges of teaching with an arbitrary but fashionable set of problems created by trying to ignore teaching.

Let's help teachers learn from other teachers––and from anyone who's a good role model.

Could it really be that easy? All these things sound so simple. But of course they're challenging. And they're already happening. Colleges have brown bag lunch sessions and all manner of events where teaching and learning are discussed.

But there are just as many presentations and in-service's at which obscure new methods are trotted out, and teachers are made to feel that they must master some incomprehensible new system or science in order just to do their jobs well.

I'm not saying there's no room for innovation or new ideas. I'm not saying theories and research have no part to play. I'm not saying technology plays no role. Or that it's not worth the time and effort to use the best and even the easiest tools that everyone enjoys using and incorporating those in a meaningful way in teaching and learning.

I'm just saying this.

We have some great teachers. They do their job very well. And even our just good-enough teachers know what they heck they're doing.

So please, can we try to avoid suggesting that teachers stop doing their jobs, what they know and what they're good at, and master something else.

Please let's have a little respect for teaching.

––Edward O'Neill


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome. It kind of came to me, and I realized: I think people are constantly saying this but without quite saying it. So I just put it out there.

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  3. Thank you, Phone Booster! It needed to be said!