Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reinvent the Damn Wheel


It's the first day of school and kids arrive tomorrow. I just found a note on which I quoted one of our administrators saying, "let's not reinvent the wheel if we don't have to." It's my least favorite phrase in all of education.

The idea is that we should stick with what works. There is enough to think and worry about in this field, so if we've got something good, that's what we should use and re-use. As with so many things about education, it sounds good until we think about it.

It's fine to use something again if it works, but we don't get to re-use the same kids. Every teacher has had this experience: a perfect lesson from last year falls apart this year. We're left wondering what the hell happened?

A new group of kids happened. A year passed. We have different ideas now. The lesson got stale. We taught it on Thursday instead of Tuesday. And so on.

The wheel needed to be reinvented.

The wheel is a bad metaphor in schools. It's a near-perfect thing. It's not like we could replace it with any other shape. It's a circle or nothing. But school takes all sorts of different shapes.

Besides, the wheel is reinvented constanatly. We need all sorts of wheels for all sorts of things. The people riding in the Tour de France don't do it on wagon wheels.

Worse than anything else, "Let's not reinvent the wheel," sounds lazy and that's the last thing image schools need to project. Teaching is one of the top ten scorned professions. It's best not to sound like bums.

I say, reinvent the damn wheel every day. Most teachers I know do just that. We meet new kids, get to know them, and shape lessons and learning to suit them. There's all this talk of the standardizing as though every kid needs the same wheel. Teachers know better. Every kid needs a wheel invented just for who they are. Every class has to have all the wheels balanced and, even so, things fly apart from time to time.

I don't know who I'll have in class tomorrow. I'll have to meet each of them, shake hands, listen, and talk with them. We will write together to see how it goes. I'll chisel a block of stone. Smooth the corners. Knock out a round hole for the axle. Sooner or later, I'll have to set that wheel aside and make a new one. Teaching is all about reinvention.

Screw the old wheel. Reinvent. If nothing else, it's a way to model learning.

Write on.