Why I want no one to say of me, “What is his secret?”
by Mr. Sheehy
A couple weeks back I set forth a plan for teachers to observe other teachers – a plan I will enact when I am king – and today I found a perfect example of why I need such a thing. A math teacher in our school was featured in on the front page of our local paper (online version not available) and lauded for his tremendous influence upon students. He is amazing, and year after year at a special event our top students choose him as the teacher who has influenced and inspired them the most.
Looking over the article, a few of my fellow English teachers commented how wonderful the article was and how amazing his influence on students has been. Then we admitted that none of us had any solid idea what he did that was so inspirational. This teacher is retiring this year and has taught in our building for 25 years (I think I have the numbers correct) – how have none of us been exposed to his skill?
At the end of the year, he retires, taking with him a wealth of tacit knowledge regarding teaching, our school, and our students. What a shame so many of us are unaware of his methods – methods we may as well call his secrets, since we don’t know them.
That we would be able to ask one another, “What’s his secret?” is a tragedy, if you ask me. That he or I or any teacher’s methods are secret or mysterious in any manner means we as a school are not using the knowledge base we possess in our community of practice. And I will admit here to the world – I could use some of that knowledge. My school isn’t exactly in the top of the class in terms of NCLB report cards. While I have never been one to tell others my grades, I will admit that we’ve never earned the good school discount on our driver’s insurance. We could use all the tips and tacit knowledge there is to offer, especially regarding our particular community and group of students.
To that end, I continue to plug away at the knowledge sharing wiki my department is building. This afternoon I spent my entire planning block (plus some) redesigning a handout that hasn’t worked that well. It’s a guide to inserting quotations into an essay, and it was fine the first time students used it, which was back in September when they wrote their first essay responding to a work of literature. When I taught it then it accompanied a separate presentation and explanation (Power Point), which means I made sense of it for students so they wouldn’t have to read all of it.
But I had wanted them to be able to reuse it later as a reference and building block for when I throw the MLA research paper formatting in their faces, which happens to be now. In that way, it failed – students have balked at all the writing and never actually re-read the content when doing the review exercises I’ve created for them. I can understand their hesitancy, and I therefore attempted to revive it with charts and arrows and purposeful visual stimuli.
Maybe it will work, and maybe it won’t, but I’ve made it available to my colleagues through the wiki, and through that page we can work through its success, failure, and even make it better.
Or maybe no one else will look at it, but at least an opportunity is there in case anyone wanted to know any of my “secrets.” The idea is that when I go wherever I go next, whenever I go there, no one will say of me, “I wonder what his secret was?”
Well, they might say that, but the answer should be, “Why don’t you go to the wiki and find out?”
Thanks for reading.
What a good point you make about Mr. West! I think part of the secret to being a good teacher is some intangible thing unique to the person, but teaching is definitely a talent and one which others could benefit from by observing and learning from such a person. I appreciate everything you share with me and all of us,and I believe that anything passed on among those of us helping these kids learn how to learn only makes everyone better.