Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Teacher? Or Technician?

I recently presented a webinar on teaching hands-on science in K-4 classrooms. It was developed especially for Christian teachers teaching in faith-based, non-public schools, so it was advertised as, "Teaching Hands-On Science with Christian Perspectives in Grades K-4." (Isn't that a wonderfully loaded title?) Over 100 teachers and administrators attended--I was gratified that so many people are interested in this topic, because it is near and dear to my heart as a former science teacher and current science methods instructor.

Overall, the webinar went quite well. I worried that I was "lecturing" too much, but I also gave a bunch of suggestions for hands-on activities (with photos to illustrate!), so my hope was that this would balance out all the philosophical talk.

After the presentation and the Q&A time was over, the facilitator asked the participants to complete a short survey in response, and he told me he would send me the feedback. I was glad to hear this--I always am interested in what connected with an audience and what I can rethink for next time.

As I looked through the comments yesterday, I noticed that they basically fell into three categories.

The first category is what I call the "Rah-rah-rah!" category. Basically, they thought everything was AMAZING and WONDERFUL and SO HELPFUL!!! Which--while it's nice to hear, don't get me wrong--isn't really very helpful overall. I guess it means they got out of it what they were expecting.

The second category is what I call the "Yes, but..." category. Comments here were thoughtful in critique and strongly connected to the content of the presentation, which is definitely beneficial for me. I really appreciated critique like, "You could have been clearer in connecting what you said about a biblical perspective of the child to why we would use hands-on activities," or "You could have shortened the section on your philosophy of teaching science and given us more practical ideas!" These comments are helpful feedback, because they are specific and actionable--if I was going to give another webinar on a similar topic, these help me refine my thinking and would make for a stronger presentation next time around.

And then...the third category, which I call the "You didn't give me what I want!" category. The responses here were generally of the "it was fine but not what I was looking for" variety. Not really helpful, and kind of negative in tone. This category frustrates me; I know I can't be all things to all people, and any presentation I give won't meet the needs and wants of every teacher. I tried to communicate in the description of the webinar what would be shared; if you came knowing what was going to be presented and didn't get what you wanted out of it, am I to blame?

One example comment from this third category was this: "You showed us fun activities to do with kids, but you didn't tell us what standards they would meet!"

I won't argue with that. It's true. I'd like to say that I didn't connect these activities to standards because I don't know what state or province each of these teachers is working in or which body of standards they are using (there many, and different states and provinces have wildly different standards for content in science.) Honestly, that idea didn't leap immediately to mind, because I expect that teachers will always be on the lookout for great ideas that they might be able to adapt and use in their teaching practice!

I suppose I could have said in my description of the webinar: "Warning! This presentation is not standards-based and I will not be giving you any information about how to connect the ideas in this presentation to your own school context."

I'm sorry, that sounds pretty nasty, doesn't it?

But I have noticed a real trend among teachers over the past decade or so. It seems to me that many teachers have begun to think of themselves as technicians. That is, they approach teaching from a very technical mindset.  The sense I have from many teachers is that they think...

  • "I must follow the curriculum guide. Without it, I won't know what I need to teach."
  • "Without a list of grade-level expectations, I won't know what's developmentally appropriate."
  • "Without a scripted lesson, I won't know what to say!"
  • "If I don't have documented objectives given to me, I won't know what standards I'm meeting."
  • "I won't know what activities I should choose to help my students learn if it isn't spelled out in my teacher's manual. Where would I find learning activities anyway?"
  • "If I don't have a test bank to draw from, what questions will I use to assess my students' learning?"
I'm feeling pretty old-school here as I write this...but isn't that what teaching is all about? Understanding your students unique needs, understanding the goals of the curriculum for that grade level and content area, and tailoring your teaching to help your unique students learn the specified content? Using assessment strategies to find out what students know, understand, and are able to to do to better inform your teaching along the way? Selecting learning activities that will be a good match for the goals and objectives of the curriculum?

C'mon teacher...are you a teacher? Or a technician?


  1. I just recently started reading your blog Dave and it is awesome! You bring up so many of the same topics that I used to be passionate about until Dordt striped all excitement of teaching away for me (sorry, but true). Wish I would have had you as a prof...I would have been very encouraged. It is sad how teachers have turned to their manuals and can't think outside the script! So many could be so much better!! Thanks for your thoughts, I look forward to catching up on the blogs I missed! -cindy gulker

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Cindy! I'm always grateful to hear from the folks who read the thoughts I'm playing around with. :-)

  2. I find this sad. One of my greatest joys in teaching is "creating" engaging and meaningful lesson plans! I am always looking for creative ways to teach and assess. Now that I've developed a hybrid SBG my assessments have changed and improved greatly and they are always original. The standards and benchmarks should guide our practice but to be the most effective we must teach!

    1. Preach it! I'm right with you on the SBG front, Joy. (As you know...) :-) I'm in full agreement that standards have a place, but they shouldn't--and in fact *can't*--replace a thoughtful, invested, passionate teacher!