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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You don't need another gadget to be a great teacher.



As I'm heading to SDE's PowerUP with Technology conference in Chicago, I'm pondering the two kinds of teachers. There are two kinds of teachers: paper and pavement. Paper teachers know all the things to do on paper, but when it comes to hitting the pavement with action, they come up short. They can't quite get how to deal with an unruly class or respond to a child who doesn't want to be there. The kind of teachers I like are pavement people.
If a teacher is only booksmart, it is tough to teach. These paper tigers
know all the words but can't quite find the words when facing a rebellious
teen or a misbehaving seventh grader.

Paper Tigers

Paper people can write perfect words. They can speak them too. Well versed, well phrased, and sometimes well-oiled, it all sounds great.

X marks the spot... or does it?

We can also allow paper to convince us that we are sorely amiss and cannot be a good teacher without "x." Advertising has as an objective to arouse an eager want. The easiest way to do that is to think that you are lacking something. There is something gravely amiss in you, your school, and your classroom that you can only have if you get "x." You are fatally flawed without "x" and cannot make it. Then, we're going to prove to you why "x" will solve your problem. You must have "x" and raise money and sacrifice everything to get it.

You can be fooled into thinking that if someone will just sign
that "x" on the bottom of a purchase order so you can have "x"
that you will be an ex-poor teachers. Good teachers can become greater
with an excellent use of technology, poor teachers will languish no matter
what "x" you give them. Be careful to remember that YOU are the greatest
asset your classroom has and that can't be found in something
that can be shipped from coast to coast.

On paper, they convince you that you must have something -- not necessarily that you must DO something but have something.

Then, the day comes, you buy "x" and you get it into your classroom. They send you the paper to understand how to use x, but that is just it -- it is paper, written by someone who has never used "x" and doesn't understand pedagogy of using anything in the classroom. It is all on paper. So, "x" gathers dust in the corner of your room, until you see it. As you are scanning the internet, you realize you have another problem that only "y" will solve.

"Y" -- really? WHY?

This is life and we need things to be able to teach. I'd really want a 1:1 ipad program in my school, but the fact is that until the teachers are ready to IMPLEMENT a 1:1 ipad and we have the infrastructure, it is a waste of money.

The fact is that 100% of the people won't be satisfied until 100% of the kids are in the top 1% of students. Our sheer method of measurement breeds discontent and dissatisfaction. Yes, we should always work to be more, but when I run, I don't measure myself against the speed of teenagers, but against myself to see if I'm improving consistently.

There is a big difference between pavement and paper.
What you do with what you have is more important than what you have.

Pavement Pounders

Pavement is what happens daily. It is what you do. The fact is that you could buy the shiniest, happiest "x" but in reality, the best thing you might could do is to spend time with each of your students daily. Or, to listen to them. Or, to customize the classroom. Or to put in a passion-based project where your students can explore and share their passions. Or, to look in the eyes of your students daily and call them by name.

It is about what you DO in the classroom more than what you HAVE. It always has been.

Teaching on the Pavement in Inner City Mumbai

I was in Mumbai, India with my students several years a go for a Flat Classroom mini-conference at ASB Unplugged and we were at a school for street children. They came here to learn english. The room was a recreation room that doubled as a school for a few hours a day and there were two large dry erase boards that the teachers took to two different parts of the room as the children sat on mats.

Teacher Suzie Nesticos and one of my students at the Akansha school in Mumbai.
Our next Flat Classroom conference is in Yokohama, Japan in March.

The lucky kids had small notepads, barely the size of their palms, and pencils literally chewed down to the nub. When they ran out of paper, they started over at the beginning of the notebook again trying to get every spare speck of that piece of paper so they could remember. They were being taught how to have jobs requiring good customer service skills, how to write letters, and how to speak English. Those students on that dirty floor in Mumbai with traffic just outside the window spewing pollution in through the open windows knew more English than many educated here in the US. And they had less. But they had one BIG important thing.

They had two highly motivated, hard working teachers. These teachers were pavement people because they had no books and had little, but they had their hearts and their determination to help these children whose only hope out of the slums was to learn what they were teaching. It was enough.

You are enough.

Beware of inferring that I'm saying we need bare-bones, dirty rec rooms to learn in. But if you don't have an engaged, hard working teacher at the helm, you might as well have that.

I just want you as the teacher to know that "x" or "y" or "z" or whatever the advertiser or magazine says you HAVE to have to be a great teacher is a lie. You have all you need to be a great teacher, right there inside of you.

It is about your DO and your WHO.

It is what you DO every day. It is WHO you are. It is your CHARACTER in doing the right thing when no one is looking. The best teachers teach like crazy whether admin is in the building or not. If you're there just for show and don't plan lessons the other days of the year (when not being reviewed), then get out of the profession of teaching.

This profession is for PROFESSIONALS. We teach all day every day and work very hard. We work to reach every student and have a calling higher than a contract on a piece of paper. We have a lot in common with those dedicated women in the rec room in Mumbai because we are here with all we have, to use everything we have to reach all students we have been assigned to teach.

You can't buy a fix for education with a Purchase Order

I'm just tired of the advertising mumbo-jumbo trying to "sell" solutions to "fixing" education. I've been teaching 11 years at a school with half the funding of most local schools and twice the results. It is because I and most of the other teachers here don't need someone to look over our shoulder to do our jobs. We work hard and excel anyway. We are pavement people.

Be the improvement

You probably are too, you just need encouragement to do the right thing even when no one is looking. You have people whining and complaining everywhere you turn, don't be one of them.


  • Be the kind of teacher that this world needs. 
  • Be excellent. 
  • Pound the pavement every day as you habitually work hard to be the best teacher these students have ever had.


As for me, I believe that as long as I have the living God as my daily guide, and I show up with all I have to reach every student, that my classroom will be blessed beyond my wildest dreams no matter what we don't have. They have me. That is enough.


- Written on my iPad using Blog Press by Vicki Davis, author, Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds

PhotoCredits Bigstock.com - photos not for reuse without relicensing from Bigstock - http://www.bigstockphoto.com
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