Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bad Science and Swimming Underwater

Sometimes I feel like my classroom is a laboratory. But not in a good way. Not in a everything is organized and scientists are scientifically sciencing with detailed notes and data tables.

My lab is more like that room where people throw things at the wall. Sometimes it sticks. Sometimes it slowly oozes down. Sometimes it hits the fan.

I should be better about this. I should be more detail-oriented. There's a lot of times where I try something and in the back of my mind I know that somewhere on the internet someone has already tried this and they know a better way to do it. And yet, I don't look. I don't want it.

I trust my instincts deeply. I wrote my first book before discovering edutwitter, which means I had faith that the ideas in that first book, good or bad, were mine. I discovered them. I did the troubleshooting and the testing and the trial and error. My subjects were my students. We learned together, we fell together, we rose together, and we corrected together.

Social media has given me ideas but I rarely try to get details for those ideas. I'll take the inspiration but I don't want the work. This is a harder way to go about it. I'm not taking the harder way to be difficult or cool. I take it because then I trust the result. I know how I got to where I got and why I got there. With lessons, plans, ideas, projects, grading, whatever. The ideas are mine or my students'. 

Isn't this bad for my kids, though? Seriously, if there's a book out there that has a great way to teach x aren't I being a bad teacher by not seeking that book out and reading it? Why reinvent the wheel? 

Honestly, because I like reinventing the wheel. My wheels look different than your wheels. And on top of that, my wheels this year are different than my wheels last year. I think it's better for my students in the long run. I'm not advocating ignoring all research or brushing off anyone's ideas and knowledge. But I do want to take your skeleton and hang my own skin on it (that got macabre).

I'm sure this all relates back to my belief that teaching is more art than science. Because it's more art that means it's more about discovery. We're in it together, my kids and I. Together we make art. I'm the guiding hand, I have to be. That's my job. But when there's an easier way I don't always take it because art isn't a smooth process. It doesn't have to be hard, but it shouldn't be someone else's. 

Have faith in your bad ideas. Make them good ideas. Smooth them out. Don't go somewhere asking for permission or approval. Get it done. And if the idea is really that bad you have two choices- bury it in the backyard or put it back in the oven to cook longer.

When I was a lifeguard we used to train doing underwaters. It's exactly what it sounds like- you swim as far as you can underwater. There's two parts to being able to swim a long way like that. The first is skill- you should understand the best way for your body to cut through the water. The second is mindset- you have to decide to Go. You cannot question it. You accept that it'll hurt and you get past that. I learned this as a swimmer and a butterflier. I got faster when I decided to just go and not question. An underwater hurts eventually. Your body fights for air, your lungs burn, and the only way to keep swimming is to relax into the pain. And when you do you learn to trust your body because it'll go farther than the pain would have lead you to believe. 

I learned to trust myself in those laps with my heart pounding in my ears and my eyes focused squarely on the back line running the length of the pool. I trusted that I could do it. I could make it and make it farther than I had before. 

This is part of who I am as a teacher. It looks like confidence, but it's more properly defined as trust. I'm going to try a new thing, I don't know if it'll work, and that's bad science because it's new to me but probably but not new in general. But I'd rather trust myself to find the best way for my students than ask around too much. 

Bad science, but good art. Have faith in what you're creating. You still get to laugh maniacally.  

And I will allow that there's got to be a balance, and I know there are teachers out there who balance the science with the art much better than I do and I want to sit at their feet and learn from them. This is where I am now in my continuum. 


  1. Thank you for articulating teaching so well! I do this, too, and am constantly "standing" behind myself mentally, wondering if I am correct to have an outline of a class lesson, but to also be willing to go with the flow and to try new ideas! I'm trying to teach students how to do "Inquiry" and have been reading "Make Just One Change" by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. My first lesson was forging a new path as I taught it, but I came away from the lesson so happy and excited that I had tried it. Good clean fun, as the saying goes. :) Best!

    1. I've heard the Make One Change idea and I agree with it. It's a much less overwhelming way to edit and improve writing. Going with the flow makes the lessons so much more dynamic.