Sunday, June 22, 2008

George Garrett, Maxwell Perkins, and (Open Until Filled)

In the June 13th Chronicle Review Madison Smartt Bell of Goucher College writes a touching rememberance of literary figure George Garrett, who was a mentor to her and passed away last month at 78 years old. A similar column last year in the Careers section introduced me to famed editor Maxwell Perkins, who shaped the writings of a generation.

It made me wonder—who fills that role in the world of teaching?

One of the long-time traits of teachers, and one that persists today to the detriment of the students, is that teachers, in general, are loners when it comes to the classroom. If you don’t believe that, consider this collection of teaching platitudes:

The first year is the toughest, because for the first time it’s just you and them. Sink or swim—if you’re meant to teach, you’ll be successful. Later on in your career you’ll know what you’re doing better than any principal or consultant will, so stick with what works for you. Be especially careful not to buy into the fads that they’ll try to shove at you, because they always go away eventually. Do your job in your room, and the rest of the world will take care of itself.
You, you, you, you, you, with the occasional “they” and “them” thrown in to add a measure of hostility to the proceedings. I think that we’ve made some progress towards breaking down this model via ideas like Professional Learning Communities, and there’s an excellent chance that within a generation collaboration will be the norm instead of the exception.

It’s a question, then, of whom current teachers learn the craft from. In my career there hasn’t been any one person who I would call my guide; my teaching style is my own, developed through trial and error, and through observation of what’s worked for others around me. In that sense, then, I’m a bit of a hodgepodge of traits and styles from all over, which is a direct counterpart to the old academe saw of, “Ah! You’re Professor Smith’s student, so you believe this!”

Who has shaped you the most in your career as a teacher? Is it a fellow teacher, your principal, a professor, a parent? I leave off the kids intentionally, because they are ultimately the ones who drive the instruction, and it’s your knowledge base that decides how you respond to their needs.

When it comes to teaching, who was your teacher?

(For what it's worth, this is the 700th post I've made to I Thought a Think. Thanks for being along for the ride!)

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