I’ve been married a little over two years, so surely there are more experienced spouses in the world, but as I made the bed this morning, I had a nice little thought. My marriage works, but probably not for everyone. Shows you how nuts I am, but this somehow got me thinking about school, of course.
Here’s what marriage has taught me about teaching.
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I was last out of bed, so it was my job to make it. That’s our deal – one of many that address small, but rather vital little things. We also have agreements about stuff like dishes, walking the dog, money, watching TV, and on and on – everything from how we spend our time to how we communicate.
Our relationship is central to my life. It’s the primary structure in which I thrive and grow and learn, so I’m extremely thankful that we’ve settled into patterns that keep it going. We certainly don’t have “the perfect marriage,” but these little deals and strategies work for us. We’re constantly engaged in a process of rethinking ways to make life better. If we stopped that process, I’m sure the marriage would be over.
And yet, I have no expectation at all that anyone else’s marriage needs to run like ours. What we have is highly idiosyncratic and certainly our own. If there is such a thing as “the perfect marriage,” I don’t think it’s one-size-fits-all.
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I feel the same way about school. What works for me and my students may not work for you and yours. What motivates this student often leaves that one flat, so I run into real trouble when I walk around the room and give the same explanation over and over (pseudo-teaching for sure).
And yet, the national education debate seems to be aiming straight at one-size-fits-all. Not a week goes by without someone pointing to Singapore or Finland, trying to figure out what they know that we don’t. “If only we did it like that,” we seem to think. In professional development teachers are pushed to establish “best practices,” as though good teaching were simply a matter of doing it right.
I checked out MSNBC’s two-hour special, making the grade just long enough for, “we’re here to figure out what works, 100% of the time.” I seriously doubt there’s anything at all that works all the time, for every student, and every teacher, in every community, let alone a scalable structure that will fix our system. It’s futile searches like this that keep ed-reform stuck in endless, pointless debate.
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There is no systematic and standardized solution to education for the same reason my wife and I can never stop adjusting our life patterns. The heart of the matter is growth, development, and sustenance, i.e. change. Nothing static can ever address this fully.
Though students and teachers can’t often choose each other in quite the same way, the central questions are equivalent; how can we make this better for both of us? Teachers and students need the freedom to respond in ways that are inventive and unique to the two of them.
Day one this year I might say something like, “I’m here to figure out what works for me and each of you, more of the time.”