How many teachers do you know that have been teaching for over 20 years and have been teaching the same book that entire 20 years? How many teachers do you encounter that say, "I've done this activity for years and its always worked"? How many times have you copied and pasted lesson plans from previous years?
I get it. Change is hard. Especially this year. But there are many reasons why we have to embrace it. It's okay to resist at first, but ultimately, we have to see the benefits.
This blog post also stems from a lot of what's going on in the world today. People want America to be back to the "way it was". They think America is getting worse and we need to go back to the old ways. For me, all of this talk encourages isolation and discourages acceptance of others and progress. America was born on racism, sexism, and a lot of other not so wonderful things. Due to progress, we've learned to grow from that. But we have a long way to go and people don't want to accept that. They want to keep things the way it was because it makes THEM feel comfy and cozy, while others are suffering.
So, I see this in teaching, too. Many teachers have been teaching the same way for years and years. They feel warm and snuggly in their teaching style and curriculum and don't want to budge because it's what makes them feel comfortable. We need to look at the bigger picture as teachers and meet the needs of all learners.
There are 5 major reasons why I feel we need to embrace change in our teaching.
You have different students every year.
Change = progress.
It's not 1960 (70/80/90) anymore.
Better, diverse books.
Life lessons for students!
1. You have different students every year.
Every year you get a new batch of kids. These are unique individual humans coming from rich backgrounds and have their own stories to tell. Their learning styles are all very different. We all know we are supposed to differentiate instruction, right? So this may mean changing what you've always done.
I've only been teaching for a little over a decade and the dynamic of students has changed drastically. I've also taught in two very different districts. My first district was primarily white, middle to upper middle class families with both parents in the picture. My second district has this, too, but as the years have progressed, I am finding a lot more diversity. I am getting students with divorced parents. I am getting students from two homes. I am getting students who are refugees. How can I possibly assume what worked for my students in 2008, in suburbia NJ, is going to work the same way it will now?
Not to mention, even IF I was still teaching in the predominantly white community, those students need to know there are different people other than them.
You should be using your students as inspiration for your lessons, not as recipients of scripted curriculum.
2. Change = Progress
Remember Blockbuster Video? If you don't know what it is (::gasp::), it was a store where one could rent videos to watch at home. You'd have a certain amount of days to watch and return the video.
Well does it exist anymore? No. Because we've progressed. Entertainment has evolved. Soon Netflix took over which, initially, sent DVDs in the mail. Well now THAT's not a thing anymore and it's all streaming.
Blockbuster is gone because it didn't adapt to the change. Netflix is succeeding due to going with what the people want.
Society progresses. People evolve. Human beings are changing everyday...heck in a thousand years maybe we will morph into some other type of human (Wayward Pines anyone?).
I used to use a die-cut machine to make bulletin board letters. Now people use Cricuts. Progress is a GOOD thing. And guess what? It does usually start with some hiccups, uncomfortable-ness, struggles, and frustration but once embraced, it's glorious.
When I started going digital it was so much work. I spent hours making digital materials. They looked horrible at first. But as I progressed, my students productivity has increased probably 3x greater than when I used notebooks, sticky notes, and yellow-lined paper. Plus, each year, I can change things up easily since it's digital.
Progress doesn't mean we eliminate what's worked in the past. Progress means building on and adapting what already works.
I still use sticky notes. I still use highlighters. I still make kids use scissors and glue...just not for everything.
3. It's not 1960 (70/80/90) anymore.
We have to move forward not backward. When I was in 7th grade in the late 90s, I remember having a ginormous trapper keeper in my ELA class. This thing was a beast. I actually remember some of the sections. We had a section for basically all things ELA...grammar, research, vocabulary, etc. On top of that, I had a binder for all of my other classes. Well, one day, I was walking through the halls, carrying both of my massive binders and I slipped. I slid across the floor like an awkward seal on a slip and slide. My binders went flying as did all of my materials.
Flash forward to me teaching. I did not want to do that to my kids. I did not want them to have so. much. stuff. When I first started teaching, technology wasn't really a thing. So, I simply had spots for my students to keep things in the classroom instead of lugging it around. This still wasn't great. Kids lost things...it was just too much.
Well, along came technology and my world was instantly changed. Students were able to organize materials in Google Drive, digital notebooks, etc. My life, and my students lives, became much more manageable.
I still hear teachers doing the huge binder thing. I don't understand this. Technology was made to make our lives easier, more manageable, increase productivity. We have the tools to make our students lives more successful, why would we not use them? Should we still use typewriters? No...I don't think anyone would.
We have to realize that we live in 2021. We shouldn't be using tools from decades ago. We can dabble with them sure, but we shouldn't rely on them.
And GASP that means less physical hand-writing. I know. I know! You don't want to hear that. But in all reality, how much of that is going to be used in the future? I am not saying to eliminate paper and pencil, so chill. I am also not saying to eliminate hand-writing, especially in the lower grades. I still have my students do certain activities on paper. There just needs to be a balance.
Just because things have worked one way for so many years doesn't mean it can't be better.
4. Better, diverse books
This is the biggest thing for me as an ELA teacher. I never understood why teachers taught the same text year after year. Like they are holding onto The Outsider's for dear life. Let's keep torturing kids with The Canterbury Tales.
Don't we want to create readers? Why are we forcing them to read books that were written before their parents were even born? Books they can't relate to?
On the same note, why are we forcing them to read ANY novel? This does not embrace change and progress. Students should be able to choose books that meet their needs and interests. We as teachers can use novels as mentor texts, but I am not a supporter of whole class novels as a means of instruction (read my blog post here). My post also explains how I make this happen in my classroom (guess what, because of progress, it's easier now...a.k.a. online books).
Every year there are amazing books being written. Use excerpts from the classics. Let kids read the classics as a choice. Use them as a mentor text. But don't force them to read them. They need to be exposed to lots of rich reading experiences.
5. Life lessons for students!
We are educators first, but students look to us for much more than learning how to read and write. For many students, they have a strong support system at home, but there are many who don't and it's important for us to be there to guide them in the right direction.
It's really hard to be that teacher. That teacher who tries to incorporate diverse texts. The teacher who goes against the norm. The teacher who shakes things up. You will get pushback. Other teachers may even push back against you. I remember having a meeting with the high school teachers in my district. I sat there in utter silence hearing how most of them taught. I felt like I was sitting in my 12th grade ELA class dozing off as I read Moby Dick. It didn't sound any different from when I was in high school! And it was unanimous! When I brought up that I did choice reading, etc., I was met with, "well, we don't do that".
Hopefully, students will see you as the teacher who had high expectations for them. They will see how you adapt to change and embrace what is happening in the world they are surrounded by. They will see that you respect them as humans and not just as receptacles.
You may be doing some amazing things already! This blog post is not meant to shame you. I think, at heart, we all think we are doing what's best for the kids. It really is a matter of introspection. We get so comfortable with what WE know. We think that decades of experience means we are experts and don't need to grow.
It's not deliberate (hopefully) when we are presenting material that is no longer culturally or developmentally appropriate. It's just not known...we just don't realize it. So, as humans and educators we should always reflect on what are doing instead of automatically getting defensive. Growth starts with acceptance.
So start small. Reflect on a unit you've done for years and go from there. Do your research. Reach out to other educators. Join Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc. to connect with others. (This is another thing that drives me cuckoo...teachers who resist social media. I mean, it's cool if you don't want to post yourself, because that's time consuming, but I feel like, especially as middle school teachers, we need to at least peruse it from time to time!).
You've got this! Also, we are all unique and have different teaching styles. So there is no ONE right way to teach; but there are certainly ways of teaching we need to get away from.
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