I’m a Horribly Inefficient Teacher

I’m a horribly inefficient teacher. Honestly. I look around at what other teachers do, and I’m amazed at their productivity and efficiency. They get so much more done than me. It makes me embarrassed at just how inefficient I am as a teacher. I hate to have to admit it but it takes me literally hours to plan courseware, projects and assessments.

I’d be a whole lot better if I just resisted the temptation to reinvent everything each year. Can you believe that I’ve been teaching now for over 25 years and I still haven’t really latched onto the idea that I could simply teach the same thing, in the same way, using the same resources that I used the year before. I see so many other do that, and it makes perfect sense. I mean, you’d think that sort of efficiency should be obvious to any reasonably intelligent person, right? Why am I so thick?

For example, I spent many hours today designing a new project for one of my classes. I thought my idea for this project was a really good one, but I’d never done it before so it meant creating a whole new bunch of digital resources, thinking through all the new workflows and how they might be implemented, pondering the best way to assess the work that the students would do, and just generally wasting a whole lot of time trying to come up with something that, let’s face it, is untried and untested. It would have been so much simpler just to reuse the same old projects that I’ve used previously. If I was really smart, I wouldn’t just use them once… no, I would be making sure I reused those same projects over and over for several years… that would be the be truly efficient and smart thing to do. Think of how much time I would save! I’ve seen people teach the same thing in the same way for 20 years! I’m just in awe of that kind of efficiency!

I think my problem is that I keep imagining that there must be better ways to teach, better ways to help my students learn, better ways to make connections between the content I need to teach and the interests and motivations of this year’s group of students. I foolishly let myself get distracted by all the new things that happen in the world from year to year, and I allow my mind to wander aimlessly into new and untested territory; trying new tools, new approaches and new content. Its so damn wasteful. There are just too many shiny objects out there, that’s my problem. I should learn to focus and not keep reinventing the wheel.

But I’m too old to change now. Unfortunately, I think I’m just destined to remain a horribly inefficient teacher.

Be Better

I want our schools to be better.

I believe that the biggest improvement we can make to our schools is to be fussier about who we allow to teach in them.

I look forward to the day where the teaching profession is non-unionised, and underperforming teachers who have lost the passion and spark that our students so deserve are able to be relieved of their duty.

I hope we find ways to identify those teachers who cannot teach, or have lost interest in doing it well, or who see what they do as a paycheck rather than a calling, and find ways to respectfully but firmly move them on, as they have no place in today’s classrooms.

I want to be a part of a teaching profession where you need to reinvent yourself every year, where having interests and skills outside “the system” make you better at what you do, and where we don’t confuse “20 years of experience” with “1 year of experience, repeated 20 times”.

I want an educational system where students experience the joy of learning from teachers who are still themselves joyful about learning.

I want my own children to be taught by passionate, caring teachers who lose sleep at night wondering how to be better at what they do. And I want to be one of those teachers for other people’s children.

I think we owe these things to the next generation.

Lessons from the Yamanote Line

Last weekend, I was in Yokohama doing some workshops with Kim Cofino for various groups of teachers in the Tokyo/Yokohama area, including the current COETAIL cohort. It was a heap of fun, and I’ll write more about that later.

On Monday, I spent the day running PD for staff of Yokohama International School, and I was asked to do a short presentation to get things started. The brief was just to present “something inspirational”, whatever that meant. To be honest, my mind was drawing a complete blank and was quite lost for an idea. I went back to the hotel room on Sunday night – my last night before returning home to Australia – and started working on my presentation. I was really quite stuck for an idea, but I was also keen to get it done so I could go out exploring some of the Japanese sights on my last night there.

I got to the point where if I stayed in the hotel room working I knew I wouldn’t see anything so I just decided to go out exploring anyway and hopefully something would come to me before tomorrow morning.

This slideshow is what I came up with. As I stood there at a Japanese railway ticket machine with absolutely no idea how to use it, unable to read the instructions, feeling quite anxious about heading off to explore a strange city I didn’t understand, it occurred to me that this is what all learners must feel like as they launch into unknown territory. I reasoned that I would be talking to many teachers the next day who perhaps felt equally anxious and unsure about exploring the world of technology. Maybe there were lessons I could learn from my night out on the trains of Tokyo that might serve as a useful metaphor for my talk the next morning.

I took a collection of photos from my travels on my iPhone, and then used Keynote on my phone to put this slideshow together whilst on the train. By the time I got back to the hotel (an adventure in itself!) the slideshow was 95% done. I did end up importing it to my Mac to add the finishing touches, but it was essentially produced almost entirely on the iPhone.

I don’t claim it’s a perfect metaphor, but hopefully there are a few lessons in here that might be useful to anyone moving into a world where they feel strange and uncomfortable.