I use the term “Planet Reality” to signify our own experience with the world. Too often we are all guilty of believing that what is true for one is true for all (this is particularly true in education). I used to believe that what was true for one was true for all and it took me years to learn that it just isn’t so.
For example: Similar numbers do not signify similar experiences. Growing up in Chicago, when the temperature was 40º F in February it seemed as though spring had sprung. In Los Angeles, 40º F in February seems bitterly cold. Teaching a class of 40 college-bound high school seniors in an affluent area requires some different skill sets than teaching a class of 40 middle-school students in the inner city. I’m not saying one situation is better than the other. They both have challenges and rewards (some are the same in each). But there are also different realities because of the different experiences. These differences are what drive the controversies over educational reform and teacher evaluations.
Teaching was a mid life career change for me.
I worked as a substitute teacher while earning my credentials. During that time, and over the next 25 years, even after I was credentialed, tenured and then National Board Certified (NBC), I sat through hundreds of hours of classes, teacher trainings, in-services, seminars and colloquia. And, time after time, I found that what was being said as “training” or “support” just didn’t seem to relate to or help me with what I was experiencing in the classroom. I’m not saying it was all a waste of time. I’m saying that too much of it didn’t relate to my reality, because too much of it was aimed at the top student achievers (those who were working at or above grade level) and not enough was aimed at those who were struggling (put into classes for which they lacked the prerequisite skills to succeed). Too many tax dollars were spent on training that was no help and too often district policy and the pronouncements of political pundits was/is based on the false assumption that what is true for one is true for all. And ‘all’ is generally assumed to mean those who are slightly below, at, or above grade level.
Debunking that assumption (and others) is mainly what this web site and posts are about. Please remember, I love being a teacher and I love teaching. I’ll give you plenty of reason to love teaching too. But it isn’t all sweetness and light. This particular post is an overview and any claims I make will be dealt with (explored and/or proven) in later writings. This is just a taste.
I was told…
When I first started as a naive and relatively inexperienced teacher (I had taught music privately), I’d ask questions related to my current classroom experience. I was frequently told that I simply needed more training. After I earned my Masters of Education degree and achieved National Board Certification, if I asked a similar question, I was told I was being unrealistically negative or I was denigrating my students. Let me give you some real life examples of things that happened more than once.
I started to get the idea for Planet Reality at seminars with other math teachers, particularly National Board Certified (NBC) teachers. The NBC teachers were mostly teaching honors classes, while I, the only NBC math teacher in the district who worked at a Community Day School (CDS), taught the most at risk and unlucky students in the district. The other NBCs would share lessons about how their students were solving complex math puzzles and doing creative and involved projects. When I shared that I was constantly looking for new creative ways to help high school aged students who thought that 3,000 – 1,588 = 2,588 (because they didn’t know basic math) or that 35 ÷ 5 = 0.142857… (because they used a calculator – even after being told not to), the other NBCs would give me a look that said, “What planet are you from?” Welcome to Planet Reality!
Classroom management training always seemed to assume that every student you’d ever see would respect authority and you’d never be presented with a situation that had no good solutions.
For example: Your daughter is in my math class. Suddenly another girl jumps up calls your daughter a bitch and starts pounding on her, ripping out her hair and tearing off her blouse. Pandemonium erupts and the class forms a circle shouting, “Fight! Fight!” and worse. What do I do? Do I grab the girl who is doing the attacking?
What would you want me to do to protect your daughter?