Sunday, February 8, 2009

Never work harder than your students, Cha. 1

Start where your students are

This chapter takes a look at some of the disconnect between a teacher's values and students' values. Let's face it--sometimes it feels like you're speaking an entire different language from your teacher. (Well, in my case, I am. But that's not the point.) Jackson uses the metaphor of "currency" to describe this difference. "Suppose," she says, "youadvertise that your house is for sale and I come take a look. [...] I dig into my pocket, pull out a few shiny beads, some seachells, and a couple of wood carvings, place them on the table, and ask for the keys" (31-2). She suggests that this is like the frustrated teacher and the unmotivated student. The teacher doesn't know why the student doesn't value the "currency" of the classroom. The student feels like she's trying her best, but the teacher just doesn't appreciate her effort. Jackon's metaphor for this is that the two parties aren't trading in the same currency.

She recommends that teachers understand what they value (what currencies they're accepting), what their students value (what currencies they're spending), and the disconnect between the two. Find ways to show students how to use their values in school (use their currencies to acquire school currency) and to code switch based on situation (acquire and spend multiple currencies). As a final point, she suggests creating community as a valuable way to help students see the value in school.

It seems like a good metaphor for the eternal disconnect between teachers and students. I value learning inerently; it's a huge part of why I became a teacher. I think that people should know as much as possible, and that they should be able to think as well as possible. So it always comes as something of a shock to me when students say, "Why should I know this?" My response is usually, "Why wouldn't you want to?" Of course, that argument doesn't work with students. It's not enough, nor should it be. In Jackson's language, we're not spending the same currency. I've spent a great deal of time in the last year striving to create community in the school, at the expense of creating it in my classroom. My frustration level has grown in the last couple of weeks, as I can only assume the frustration of my students has. Now might be an excellent time to re-examine my currencies and those of my students, and to work on creating meaningful community in my classroom to help ease these frustrations.

In a meta-analysis of the book, I like the way Jackson has her chapters structured. She outlines the scenario and describes what less-expert teachers might do. She then presents her principle, breaks it down into do-able steps and how to implement them. She occasionally adds in a "Yes, but..." box, to address probable concerns from experienced-but-not-yet-expert teachers. It's a good way of getting a huge amount of information out in an organized fashion. Also, she illustrates this with a lot of personal stories from her extensive experience. So, good on her! I'm enjoying it so far; wish I had more time to study it than once a week.

1 comment:

Ray said...

I started this a week and a half ago and have lost my train of thought and where I was headed but felt you deserved some type of comment. Thanks for informing us of your reading and thoughts. Anyhow here are my thoughts I had saved to a file about your blog from chapter 1.

I am not sure I follow the currency theory but I do get the idea of having different values. When I was coaching basketball we would spend an enormous amount of time on this subject with the student-athletes. As a coach I always wondered why the kids didn't want to win as badly as I did. Winning to me was important and how can you not have a passion for something that you are practicing for 2 hours five days a week. The answer was that these kids had many other reasons for playing; wanted to have fun (ironically this is the main reason kids play sport), be a part of a team, mom or dad told them they had to, it is what everyone does, it is expected (the norm), and a few other reasons. Because I didn't understand their reasons for playing I didn't understand why they didn't put the effort in to becoming the best at the sport. We had different values. For example, if a parent buys a car for a child, the child will often times takes less care of the vehicle and races around with it because they didn't have to work for it. On the other hand if a kids has to get a job in order to get a car they tend to take better care of it and seem to create a value for the meaning of work. If a teacher has a passion for their discipline or content area and have paid large sums of money to earn the knowledge they then have a different value for the subject. Students don’t have the investment and therefore don’t carry the currency. I guess the trick is how do we get them to invest and create the value.