What subjects have you been teaching? What types of students do you have?
I’ve been teaching TESOL, both certificate and graduate students but recently moved back to Canada and now teach at the Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University – core courses to aspiring B.Ed. students. Also do a lot of online work and spend lots of time building EnglishCentral where I’m the Director of Education. Presently busy setting up an online School of TEFL.
Can you provide a link to a site where we can see something about what you do or the center where you work?
http://eflclassroom.com/david is my personal site with links to all my other “doings”. Also, see my Google profile (every teachers should have one!). I have a large LinkedIn professional development group and my LinkedIn profile is a good place to see what I’ve been up to.
How have your past experiences prepared you for teaching? How did you become interested in education?
I “fell” into education. Was a steelworker and fell off a building and had to start a new career. There was a teacher’s college in my town and as I recovered, I went to school.
I’ve always been a self learner, curious type. Spent hours in libraries, “the headquarters of civilization”. To me, teaching is just an extension of my normal curiosity about the world.
Started teaching overseas for lack of jobs in Canada (1990). Then, went to many other countries, got an M.Ed. and also started teacher training and developing curriculum. Now, very much at the forefront in the field of educational technology and work with many sites/teachers to develop the use of technology in language classrooms.
Who was your most influential teacher and why?
By far – Mr. Worth. H.S. math teacher who taught me that you have to “keep it simple” and give students success. Further, he cared about students and was positive/energetic. Always outside his class cheer leading. His influence led me into my whole notion of education as a humanistic endeavor. He recently passed away and see my post about him HERE.
What writers/thinkers have influenced you as a teacher?
Oh so many! I really must say that A.S. Neill really started me down the path of of viewing the student as being ill done by, by our school systems. That led into unschooling/deschooling – Illych, Postman, Gatto. Nel Noddings rates high and is one of many “humanists” that have influenced my classroom behavior. I’m now a very big advocate of the Sudbury school model and self-directed learning.
As far as language goes – I’m a fan of Vygotsky and think “Thought and Language” the bible of our profession. George Lakoff is an updated hero, especially regarding the role metaphor and thought play in learning and language. Carl Rogers and Eliot Eisner are two thinkers I’ve read over and over – I came upon them late but alas, it is never too late. In technology, really have to say I’m very impressed with the work of Sugata Mitra and how he’s communicating the new self directed learning paradigm which is changing education.
What is your educational philosophy?
That would require a very long answer. Go here to see it! I’m very much quite a mish mash. I’m a traditionalist/essentialist but on the other hand espouse critical pedagogy.
In short – it is to instill the hunger of something outside ourselves. To participate in mutual creation. A vocation not a career. It’s all about helping to create happy individuals.
What is the most challenging aspect of teaching for you?
I think the most challenging aspect of teaching is keeping up with everything. There is so much that comes at a teacher, so much change. Especially in my area of technology but also just in terms of the day to day of a classroom. There are a thousand things to do and teaching is the art of deciding which are important and prioritizing things.
Recent studies have shown that teachers like air traffic controllers, make thousands of decisions every day. It ain’t easy but you got to get good at it or suffer the consequences!
What kind of relationship do you have with your students?
I think each teacher will have a different relationship with students. It depends on their teaching style and personality. Also, that of the student.
Myself, I have come around to doing a lot of class team building activities to create a learning community. This is essential. I try my best to set up the right environment so I the teacher can disappear and see / allow the students to grow.
What is the secret to instilling interest in knowledge?
Hunger, creating hunger.
Truly it is that simple and it is a lesson I learned too late in life.
Every student is learning at all times. No one stops learning. Learning is part of our evolutionary skill set. But for our students to learn “the right” things – we have to instill hunger in them.
How? This can be done in many ways. Most importantly, make the subject “speak” through the teacher’s passion. The student will believe it “important”. I learned to love reading by watching my teachers read on their own. I thought – this reading thing must be so interesting, look at how interested my teachers are!
Watch Sugata Mitra’s lively talk. He shows how hungry children get for knowledge when you create the right, the proper organic conditions for their learning.
This “instilling” or planting of a seed – really is the true job of a teacher. Or we risk the response of Richard Brautigan’s student.
The Memoirs of Jessie James
I remember all those thousands of hours
I spent in grade school watching the clock
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jessie James
for all the time they stole from me.
What is your philosophy on homework and grading?
I’m not a big fan of Alfie Kohn but he does have the right take on homework being rather useless and just, “get it done”. It lacks intrinsic motivation and while I wouldn’t cross out all homework, I think it should be done selectively, depending on the student’s motivation, time and skills.
Homework should be sneaky. Meaning, “do exercises 3,4 and 5” won’t cut it. We have to make the homework something that applies to real life and the student’s world. Interviews, video recording, surveys, questions that can be answered “in the world”.
Grading. Well, I think this is something ever teacher struggles with. Philosophically and practically. We should treat every child/student as an individual but we should also have some “standard” for the learning. How to balance these two opposing ideals?
I think we have to use a lot more self-grading. Also, more forms of alternative assessments which grade “in situ” and are much more indicative of the process of learning. Much better at telling the students exactly what they need to do to master the curriculum. Assessment/grading shouldn’t be a wall but a means of describing to the student how they can get better, what they have to learn more / do more to achieve the “standard”.
If grading means a big letter stamped on a piece of paper or a number scratched over a student’s work – I’m all for its elimination.
My own evaluation page has some great thoughts and readings on evaluation!
Is it possible to teach creativity? how?
I think creativity is there at all times. So we don’t have to teach it but rather, let it flourish and grow. The problem though (as outlined in Ken Robinson’s iconic talk/lecture – http://bit.ly/hlx7XB ), we as teachers kill creativity.
Picasso said it best. He said that the aim of life wasn’t to grow out of childhood but to remain as a child. Meaning that childhood has a lot of good things that we shouldn’t “throw away” or “kill” by becoming adults.
Teachers need to get students creating through their own intelligence and less by rote and design. Give them projects, teach everything through a story (truly shown to lead to results and creativity – our brain is hard wired for this). Allow students the independence they need to arrive at the knowledge in their own way/fashion.
This means our teaching should be MUCH more inductive and discovery based. I love the new focus on question based curriculum – really effective for promoting thinking skills and inquiry. We need to allow our students to reach the answer in their own way – not just give them the answer. That’s inductiveness in a nutshell. Sandbox learning doesn’t stop after kindergarten!
How do you establish authority? What do you do when a discipline problem arises?
I know it sounds trite but authority is no longer “l’etat c’est moi”, it is earned not given.
A teacher should have a clear and transparent set of rules and consequences and should also be held accountable too (works both ways!).
A teacher should always think of the underlying motivations and cause of any behavior in the classroom. In a sense, like a colleague Andrew Finch always espoused – the teacher is truly a psychologist.
When discipline problems arise, the teacher should have a clear plan or procedure in place. Note the problem / problems and occurrences to have documentation and to see patterns. Don’t confront students – use time out areas or take the student away from the group. Again, find out the root cause. Either by talking to the student or investigating (asking other teachers / parents). Often, students are simply wanting attention. Giving them control and responsibility in the classroom is something I have found works wonders!
I’m at heart anti-authoritarian. Each to his/her own, by their own means. However, in a group/classroom situation, there has to be accommodation to others and it is the teacher’s role to facilitate that negotiation.
What issues in education are of greatest concern to you?
The issues I see as crucial, over the next few decades are:
1. What must a student learn? The question of curriculum in a rapidly changing world where new kinds of jobs are constantly materializing. Have we outgrown standard education?
2. How do you measure “knowledge”? We need more open forms of schooling and allowing “authority” to assess and grant certificates more liberally. The traditional schooling model is breaking down.
3. Copyright. Technology is challenging the notion that one has ownership of ideas. How will we allow teachers to use “the whole world” as a resource. Allow students to remix, reuse, reinterpret. Education needs a pass when it comes to copyright and use in the classroom for educational purposes. Governments should oblige.
4. The “business” of education. More and more, education is being “farmed out” and we are destroying the integrity of our education. Degrees are becoming commodities and bought/sold – not something reflecting levels of competence, achievement and understanding. How to battle this? What is the proper balance so that education remains accessible and at a low cost? What’s worth fighting for?
5. Technology. The use of online learning, synchronous learning is eroding the old traditional 4 walls definition of schooling. How will authority, policy, governments change to embrace this fact? What does this new learning paradigm entail and mean for society? Will the internet become “free” so all can take advantage or will we “toll” these roads/highways that are vital to our civilization’s flourishing?
Would it be a good thing if teachers had economic incentives based on student performance?
No, I don’t think so. Seems like it should be a “no brainer” but it really is difficult to quantify what exactly “learning” is. If I’ve learned anything as a teacher over the years, it is that learning happens in strange and beautiful ways. Often what we are teaching is just a spark for learning to happen elsewhere. Should we limit learning and put it on a one way street?
I think of all those not so “schooled” like Edison or Farnsworth (who invented the TV). They learned but they didn’t do it in a straight, paint by the numbers fashion that standardized curriculum proposes.
I think the calls for basing teacher evaluation and salary on student performance is a hold over (or continuation) of the factory and assembly line school system first developed over 150 years ago. We have to go somewhere else….
Hey, but what about giving students financial incentives for their achievement? That might more truly reflect how our society works and prepare them for “life”.
Besides more financial resources, what do today’s schools lack?
I think today’s schools lack one BIG thing – support for teachers.
Teachers need to be valued. They need time for professional development. They need to feel important (however sentimental that sounds).
Schools lack ideas too. Very few are really opening up to the idea that learning can happen outside the walls of a school. Also, schools should open up and allow themselves to not be islands but part of a community. Schools should invite old people into the classrooms, on a daily basis (and given the demographics of the world – a great idea).
Schools need to promote student critical thought and harness the energy of students. At present, too often, they suck that energy away.
Schools also need technology. Simple technology – meaning not just expenditure to have the new gadgets but technological training for teachers and full wireless access to all students/classes. Projectors, computers and screens in all classes and let the games begin!
And undoubtedly, schools lack internal validity and motivation. When students “want”, they do learn. This doesn’t happen in schools often enough.
What are your professional goals? Where do you want to be in five years?
I’m presently changing my focus.
I’ve taught teachers for a long time but in a traditional classroom setting. However, I’ve always promoted the power and possibility of online learning and technology. So, I’m now venturing online and will soon have a School of TEFL – an online school, offering accredited courses in both TEFL and technology and teacher development. http://schooloftefl.com
In 5 years, I’d like to have developed the school to the point where I’d have secure enough income from teaching online to be able to go to the developing world and open my own schools. Haiti or El Salvador. Open a school and help children on the ground. So my business endeavors are all geared to this and being able to spend my later years helping others in more challenged educational environments. In a nutshell – to make a difference.
What qualities would you need to see in someone before advising him/her to go into teaching?
This is a hard one to give a definitive answer to. It is all about “commitment” and I encourage all new teachers to really think about what their own philosophy of education is and find out just how committed they are to education. It ain’t no cakewalk!
It is a hard thing to advise because so often, it isn’t that we need a certain type of teacher. We need many kinds of teachers, with many different personalities. However, it is difficult to match teachers with schools/classrooms. We need to do a much better job matching students with teachers. Why should they all just go from grade to grade en mass without a thought about their match with the teacher?
However, there are some definitive qualities I’d like to see in a teacher……
planning/organizational skills, curious and passionate, flexible and social learner, empathy and able to see themselves in their students shoes.
These blog posts of mine – outlines some of these ideas.