Sunday, August 16, 2015

On Choosing Experts

 I'm not a fan of most education books. As a genre I find the writing to be dry and hard to get through. This is a generalization. If you're reading this and you wrote an education book I'm obviously not talking about your book. Your book I love. I'll still read some of the drier books because I like good ideas, I like well researched points, and I like learning. More recently the decision to read or not to read is swayed because I know many education authors now. On the whole though I'd rather be reading Pratchett (which has also made me a better teacher).

I have some Teacher Guilt because of this. I do read teaching books. I am interested in being in the know and learning more. But not having kept completely up to date on the latest education writing (or even some of the older books, to be honest) means that I'm sometimes at a disadvantage in teacher conversations. I'll be making a point based on observation and experience, trial and error, and someone will chime in with, "Actually, Author McWriterpants says this about this topic." Then comes the mic drop. (Note- stop dropping mics. It's not good for them. Respect your tools.)

Here is where I become torn. I Google said Author McWriterpants to check the quote. Not because I'm trying to catch the other person in a lie, but because if it's a good point I want more context than 140 characters can convey. If I respect the person I'm talking to (good odds) and they are trying to share information with me I want to know what that information is.

But I also check out if Author McWriterpants is a teacher. How long? How long ago? If Author McWriterpants has never been Teacher McEducatorpants it adds layers to my thinking about the data.
I'm not suggesting a non-teacher can't say valuable things about teaching. We should be listening to researchers, parents, and students. Sometimes even superintendents have valuable things to say about teaching*. I am saying experience counts. It matters to me if the theories you're writing about are more than just theories. If they come from experience in front of real live children. Practice matters more than ideas.

This is a weird push and pull for most teachers because we are academics. We believe in research and experts. We respect the work that goes into writing papers and books, citing sources, following up on hypotheses. But at the same time we're wary of outsiders telling us our business. We've been burned before. We're still on fire.

My instinctual reaction, and I think the instinctual reaction of many teachers, when being told what to do is, "How does this work in your class?" That is not as confrontational as it might sound. "No really, how did it work? What would you change? How can I steal this?" We want concrete things we can move to our own rooms.

If the answer is, "I'm not a teacher," that doesn't immediately make Author McWriterpants sound like, "Blah blah blah, don't listen to my face anymore." But it throws the theories and ideas into relief. I do question more deeply how the ideas and theories would look in a real classroom. I assume it won't be as clean as the writing always makes it sound. Often education writing takes a hard line and anyone who's ever been in front of more than one child knows what works once might not work twice. Hard line is not the way to approach anything about teaching.**

The magic words, "researched-based" are great. But I prefer to paraphrase the Philosopher Kix- "Kid tested, teacher approved."***


**except taking away recess. Don't do that.

***ideally there's a balance between the two. (thanks, Megan for reminding me)


  1. Doug,

    Some excellent thoughts here, and more than a few made me laugh out loud ("your book I love" and "we're still on fire").

    As one who is beginning to think a little more critically of screens and technology in schools, I appreciate your willingness to say, "Hold on a second - does this really work for all, or just for you?"

    In many ways, we as educators need to scrutinize the ideas and philosophies being handed/pushed on us. As you said, we can and should be learning from everyone. As a reader of many business and leadership books outside education, I seek the ideas and theories of many to make a choice on my own practice.

    Good stuff, Doug. I look forward to reading more!

  2. Your art is a weight, not which ties down, but, instead, lightens your expert soul to shine all the more brilliant and all the more bright. Like a band of mosquitoes, drawn to your light, we’ll nip at your heels, bite from your flesh, hungry and wanton, we’ll drink from your blood…blindly we’ll follow into your fire, insatiably crazed, we’ll dance and not tire. …Or, ya’ know, something like that:D