Sunday, September 7, 2014

To Teach: The Journey, in Comics

William Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner have created an interesting and thought provoking graphic novel, To Teach: The Journey in Comics. I found the first half of this book to be an easy, quick read. This isn't to say that the content was easy, or able to quickly be put into practice though. Although the book was light and airy (probably due to the fact that it's a graphic novel), it also poses some great questions and challenges to the classroom teacher. I found that several quotes and phrases within the text really resonated with me and for the purposes of organization and order, I  am going to break this blog post into sections according to those quotes and phrases.

Here are some of my favorites:

"In fact, it is often the myths themselves the young teacher must fight against"... (pg.3)

I find that over and over again, each year of teaching is truly a fight against the "myths that bind us," as Linda Christensen would say. Where I teach, there is a large divide amongst teachers as far as what makes for "good" teaching. To some people, good teaching looks like a classroom that is tightly controlled and intimidated to the point that no one dares to step out of line. The teacher is all knowing, their purpose is to deposit content knowledge into the blank brains of the children sitting in front of them. To some, good teaching comes in the form of questions, and well organized groupings where students are asked to be responsible for their own learning. These classes tend to work in more room for movement and activity and flexibility. Although the second scenario sounds like it is more conducive to learning, there is more room for disruption and off-task behavior.

As a (relatively) new teacher, I see myself caught in the middle. I want students to be on task, rather than socializing. I know that socialization is a large component of education, its one of the most important things kids learn in school, but I feel that it can take over the classroom and distract students from learning anything relevant to the content. As much as I have tried to hand over control in the past, I feel like it's not something I'm willing to give over completely. I want to create a learning environment that is conducive to all learners, to encourage curiosity and questioning. I want my classroom to feel alive and active, but think that I still have a lot of work to do in learning to be the teacher that I  am meant to be.

"Focusing on what I can't do diminishes hope"... (pg.20) 

I liked this quote because one goal I have for this year is to try to remain positive and optimistic, to see opportunity where others see a road block. I want students to know that there is hope for them, hope for their future. I want to go into the classroom each day and build kids up, to make them feel like they can be successful. I don't want to choose the easy road that is paved with complaints and bitterness. This is why I like the two following phrases, I feel that they perfectly describe what I want to do more of and what I want to do less of...

"Calm clarity"... (pg.23) 

I have a bad habit of getting really wrapped up in getting things done. I want each class to go smoothly,  to end in a perfect spot. I like structure. I like routine. I like having a plan and sticking with it. These are all practices that have made me a successful, fully functioning adult. However, ALL of these things are nearly impossible to accomplish when you are really trying to get kids to learn. Teaching is sloppy. It's inconsistent and different every day. Although I'm never usually at the point where I'm externally upset or out of control in front of students, I often experience an internal feeling of chaos. As the school year starts off, I want to practice calm clarity. I want to meditate on the fact that things don't always go as planned, and that's OK. 

"Sloppy thinking"... (pg. 27)

I loved this phrase because I think this is something we all practice too frequently. We let our thoughts run wild, without trying to intentionally control or self monitor them. Buddhists refer to the opposite of this as a "well disciplined mind." I think that the difference between stagnation and progress is a well disciplined mind. It is human nature to want to categorize and compartmentalize, but when we do this as teachers we really limit ourselves. The brain automatically files our experiences away, but it is up to us to really neaten up our thoughts, to reflect and re-organize. I do a lot of sloppy thinking because I'm busy and trying to get as much done as possible at once. I am only just starting to realize that for such a long time I have limited myself and my own thinking by operating off of initial impressions and judgements.

"It was fun, wasn't it? And educational!"...(pg.66)  

Although there were many other quotes that stood out to me, this is the last one I will discuss. This quote actually annoys me. I really, really want my students to love learning and to love the "fun" activities we do in class. However, there are times when learning isn't fun. I firmly believe that students must have a foundation of knowledge and some basic skill sets, before being able to participate in more in-depth and engaging activities. Does it make sense to organize a debate or write a skit or a play about a topic before doing a little pre-learning? I've always struggled with this. I don't believe that everything in school needs to be fun. Maybe it's just the word fun that annoys me. I think students need to be engaged and active. I think that students need to feel accepted and feel that they are a part of something. I just don't think that our goal as educators should be to constantly make things fun.


  1. Brittany,

    I am so excited to see that you've adopted a different mindset for this school year of not letting the occasionally oppressive environment that you've described both in person and in this blog get you down! I also can't think of a better book than this one to get you into a positive mindset! I can't wait to see how you decide to encourage more active learning (kids teaching kids, even) among your middle schoolers. I sometimes feel like your eighth graders parallel some of my high school freshmen and sophomores in Spanish 1; I'm looking forward to learning from you and listening to your revelations and suggestions as this semester progresses!!! See you on Wednesday!

  2. Thanks, Amy! Trying to keep it positive :) I just have to remember that a negative attitude is the easy way out...

  3. "Focusing on what I can't do diminishes hope"... (pg.20)

    I too love this quote. How many staff meeting have I been to where an innovative idea was floated out by someone only to be shot down because of all of the supposed reasons why it wouldn't work. Rarely do people rally behind something espousing why it would work because that would require risk and result in change. BOO to risk and change! Well Boo to that!! Ayers, states "At risk is not a satisfactory self-identifier. ..." I think it is a perfectly adequate identifier, but not for the children that it is meant to identify. It is a fine identifier for our society and world if we continue to abide by the neighsayers and stop our children from exploring their talents while we focus on making them really good at sitting in their seats and learning the standardized curricula.


  4. Thanks, Gabe. I think that this school year we all need to hold onto the word "hope." It gets really rough when you are living through the daily grind, day in and day out. I had some awesome moments with a few kids at school today, and instead of coming home and telling my husband about the negative things that happened, I chose to repeat the positive. Risk and change are definitely scary words in my vocabulary, but I think they are incredibly valuable and an important piece of the conversation. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  5. Brittany,
    Funny that you and I picked the same quote! After the year that you had last year and some of the same issues are still there this year, I think that it is great that you have such a positive outlook for your students. I can relate with you about coming home and husband has heard plenty over the years. Not about the kids but the work conditions and climate of the school. I made a promise to myself to be more aware of staying in the positive this year. There are many things that I cannot change so why waste my energy on that? I am really looking forward to this school year.

  6. Before I looked at the book, I made assumptions that I would have difficulty with it and it was quite the opposite. It allowed me to think about what he was saying and it provided me with the pause I needed to think deeper about what the author was trying to convey. I would say now that I actually enjoyed reading but I am not sure how I am going to like creating one on my own.

    As for the concepts, I am also a structured person who likes order. However, I strongly believe in active learning and as long as you set the learning and behavior expectations ahead of time. As we look more deeply into how students learn, we can create an environment that will meet the students needs. As Ayers stated in his book, we need to spend more time learning about the student and how he/she learns so we can develop strategies for them.

    I would admit that it is very hard to be positive and optimistic when behaviors are allowed to get out of control. The most important thing is that students are ready to learn. If they are not, we must understand why they are not so we can develop strategies to meet their needs.