I am a bad teacher. If I were audited by a series of educational inquisitors, then I would certainly fall with the witches and Socrates. I do not believe in “best practices”, nor do I consider much of what is taught in educational programs to prepare anyone for the classroom beyond rudimentary parlour tricks to give the perception to others that one is in control of her students’ learning destiny. I firmly believe that teaching happens not through planning nor teacher preparation, but rather through the art of making human connections with the imagination. If I can spin a wondrous tale and weave a compelling narrative that can hook a student’s imagination, then I can share with him the questions he needs to ask. I have no answers to give. I am an iconoclast; I am a charlatan.
If I do not believe in best practice, then what do I believe in?: best play. In my time as an educator, the past 14 years, I have found that the major difference between mediocre teaching and great education relates to whether the educator is willing to risk it all in order to get the point across to his students. Am I willing to look strange by licking moldy coffee off a desktop, to be less than the Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Am I willing to abandon my previously held beliefs so as to explore new possibilities and the new paradigms of each new class I am given the honour to educate? I am. I do not need to practice for my students, I need to play for my students, and I need to play like my hair is on fire and like nothing else matters more than the hour I spend with their class each and every day. I play hard, and I play for keeps.
I practice what I t(pr)each. If I expound upon the virtues of travel, if I exclaim that true love is worth risking loss for, and if I shout that Shakespeare can teach us everything we will ever need to know about human nature (except, as mentioned by a former student, how to build a canoe), then I mean it. I am willing to show my geeky enthusiasm for reading Shakespeare in a circle and using weird voices to make the experience fun(ny). I am eager to travel the globe and share tales of adventure when boys ask about my trips to India, Cambodia, Peru or Japan. I am willing to admit that life is not always easy; I am willing to show my scars because I have earned them, and so will the best of my students by the time they find themselves at the age of forty.
I am not willing to be shown to be a fool by colleagues who believe that a good mark book and lesson plan will match a good question and a better brain. I would rather read the great Russian novels than educational theory books filled with jargon so as to allow poor teachers create a sideshow gig wherein they can travel with their common-sense wares from sleepy conference to sleepy workshop. Backwards design, growth-mindsets, differentiation, inclusion, mind-mapping, brain theory and Bloom’s taxonomy…all wonderful ideas, seldom help a teacher connect with his audience in the trenches. Do you really believe that my perfectly designed differentiated assignment featuring three detailed rubrics, exemplars and optional tasks will assist a student who was kept awake all night because his parents were fighting on their way to a divorce? Do you believe that what is taught in a positive coaching workshop will inspire a student who identifies with a LGBT lifestyle but is being secretly bullied by the footbasebasketball teams? Really? Really…
Education is a battlefield where there is much to be won and lost. I will never be nominated for a teaching award handed out by my professional organization. I will never become the educational guru who promotes his theories by sharing best practices through a series of simple hand-outs. I am the man who works towards developing into a better man every single school year. I am an educator who knows all of the theories, but puts them aside when the time comes to actually teach. I am in this profession for the right reasons, and when my time comes to drink hemlock, then I will at least have made a difference beyond a few dusty pieces of paper I added to the teaching binders that none of us should ever look at if we want to connect with the only place that matters in education: the hopes of minds who crave enlightenment and the attention of a mentor.