Thursday, February 15, 2018

Water is Taught by Thirst

(If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may recall my series from last Fall that I entitled "Learning to Teach Again." This post might be in a similar vein...)

I was visiting with my colleague, Abby, this morning. (I should note that she gave me permission to share this story.) This is her first year teaching in higher ed, and while she's an experienced educator, there are some new things to figure out. I remember that feeling so well--while I felt confident in my teaching ability...there are some things that are just a little different than teaching in K-12. One of my favorite differences is the fact that we can take time to think about our teaching practices, and collaborate, and--well, as Abby and I were doing this morning--talk about teaching. It's not that I never did this with my colleagues when I taught in K-12. I did. But it always took a little more arranging.

In our visiting this morning, we were reflecting on how it was for us way back at the beginning of our respective teaching careers. We were thinking together about how it is when you're getting started, and how daunting it is. While I felt well prepared in some ways, I felt woefully inadequate in others. ( I recently shared on this blog...I still feel the need to apologize to those former students of mine from way back when...)

In particular, we were thinking of how we started out feeling as if we were somehow "against" our students. least...that we felt like our students were against us. She shared how it took a few years to realize the difference it makes when we can convince our students that we are, in fact, for them. There are so many things that we can only learn by doing them.

The students I teach now sometimes express to me how they feel a little uncertain about stepping into their own classrooms. I always reassure them that they will be well-prepared to begin their work as professional educators--better than I was, I think! But they will be well-prepared to begin their work...they will learn a lot through the doing!

Abby and I parted ways to get to work on other things. There is always grading to be done; there is always planning for the next lesson.

But a little while later, Abby emailed me a poem. She had come across it while preparing for a lesson for one of her courses, and read it through new eyes in light of our conversation.

The poem is by Emily Dickinson, and it is entitled "Water, Is Taught By Thirst." Give it a read:
Water, is taught by thirst.
Land—by the Oceans passed.
Transport—by throe—
Peace—by its battles told—
Love, by Memorial Mold—
Birds, by the Snow. 

Image by Patrik Nygren [CC BY-SA 2.0]
And maybe teaching is that way too. We learn by doing, by experience, by making mistakes, by the antithesis of what we intended.

Maybe it's a good reminder of how far I've come...and how far I still have to go in my growth towards mastering this arcane art of teaching.

Maybe it's a reminder for my students recognize their false-starts, and missteps, and tentative tries in the classroom as the place where learning really happens--for them, and for their own students as well.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


It's Ash Wednesday.

The beginning of Lent.

A season of the church year in which we traditionally focus on the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.

And to help us focus...a tradition in the church has been to fast.

To give something up.

To sacrifice something we hold on to, as a means of recalling Christ's sacrifice for us.

I have fasted before, several times. And not always during Lent. There have been days that I have deliberately, prayerfully fasted--forgoing food, so that when the hunger pangs hit, I am driven to pray. The physical demand becomes a spiritual nudge.

It's an intentional spiritual discipline, fasting.

I've rarely fasted during Lent in a way that is truly "painful" for me--something that I would actually sacrifice.

There was one year, when I was a middle school teacher, that I decided to fast from caffeine during Lent. (Those who know me well will recognize the sacrifice this is for me, the perpetually-over-caffeinated...) It lasted about a week. I had a couple of very sweet 7th grade girls come up to me after class one day and say, "Mr. Mulder, we noticed that you aren't drinking coffee anymore...and we understand that there's a good reason for it...but, well...would you please start drinking coffee again? You're kinda grumpy all the time, and it's getting a little scary for us."

And so I broke my fast a few weeks early. For the kids, you know?

Image by waferboard. [CC BY 2.0]

But I'm thinking about fasting again today, because it's Ash Wednesday. I haven't committed to fasting this year for Lent. I have friends who are fasting of social media, or chocolate, or eating meat. But I haven't opted in to any of these this year.

And if I had, I probably wouldn't be broadcasting it in a blog post anyway.

But just now, I saw this tweet from one of my very favorite bands, @rendcollective:


Maybe I'll be fasting this year after all.

And I hope you'll join me.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Tentative Nature of Science

Yesterday in my methods of teaching science class, we took the whole class meeting to wrestle through the nature of science. By "nature of science," I mean trying to understand what makes How do scientists approach their work? What are the ground rules for doing science? What are the limits of science?

I love this shirt...and, yes...I've worn it to class... [CC BY-SA 2.0]

It's a fun challenge each time I teach this course to try and help the future teachers I serve shift their thinking. So many of them come into this course with strong, pre-conceived ideas about science as a discipline. I'm convinced that partly this is due to a broad cultural (mis)understanding of what science is and how it works...but I think part of it is something that we, teachers, have perpetuated.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Teaching Handwriting?

An experiment: I'm going to make a bold statement here, and I'd like you to notice your gut reaction to it, okay? You'll have to scroll down the page a bit to get to it, because I don't want you to read it immediately. Ready for this? All right, start scrolling...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Reasonable and Realistic Assignments

Hey there, teacher...

That assignment you gave your students much time will it take your students to complete?

I suspect you have an estimate in mind for how long you expect it will take a "typical" student to complete it. But I want to slow you down there a minute... Who is this "typical" student? Does s/he really exist? How many of your real-life students are actually represented by this "typical" student?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Apology to My Former Students and their Parents

Dear former middle school students (and their parents),

It's high time that I try to make things right with you all. There are quite a few things I did wrong, and I owe you an apology. Here goes...

I'm so sorry for the crappy busywork I assigned as homework--the word finds, crossword puzzles, "comprehension questions," fill-in-the-blank worksheets, and the like--that took up your time but had very little benefit for learning.

I'm sorry for the too-lengthy problem sets that I gave to everyone, regardless of need or ability.

I'm sorry for the head-scratching poorly-framed instructions on some assignments.

I'm sorry for the lack of context for things I expected students to read.

I'm sorry for the poor teaching I did--hopefully rarely, but I'm sure I did occasionally--and then gave the homework anyway, which meant you had to struggle alone (or together with parents?) on the work I assigned.

I'm sorry that I sometimes assigned things punitively, out of frustration for bad behavior of a few students in class as a way of trying to reassert control in the classroom.

I'm sorry that there were sometimes projects that required far too much parent intervention to actually do the work successfully.

I'm sorry for assigning work over breaks from school, which I didn't do often...but often enough that I need to mention it.

I'm sorry that I didn't always consider the gifts, talents, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of the students in the work I asked you to do.

I'm sorry for generally infringing on family time with low-quality, poorly-designed work that was one-size-fits-few.

I regret the times I wasted your time. I regret the times I caused strife between you. I truly regret the fact that I wasn't always aware of the impact of the things I asked--demanded!--of you outside of school hours.

This apology is probably too little, and too late, but it is honest, and heart-felt, and I hope you can forgive me.


Your teacher, who truly cared about you but was sometimes blind to the effects of his actions

Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]


If you are a former student (or a parent of a former student), please know that this is an honest piece of writing from my heart to you.

If you are a fellow-teacher reading this, I hope it might prompt reflection for you on your own homework practices.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ensuring Valuable Homework

This one popped up on Instagram for me this morning. Got me thinking, of course...

[Screenshot of my phone this morning...]
You really should follow Bored Teachers on Instagram.
I guess what got me is the fact that I actually really agree with this statement.