'You Don't Need to Reinvent the Wheel'
Our administrators often tell us this when they're introducing the newest directives from our school district.
Sometimes when I hear that, I wonder if I'm the only one who prefers to reinvent the wheel. I see the need for a new kind of wheel every year—sometimes, a new type of wheel is needed two or three times in a year.
This year, our teachers were tasked with using a new online program for grading and attendance. This was also the first year of a 1-1 computer laptop program for our students. In addition to learning the nuances of the grading/attendance program, we wanted to learn how to use the laptops to their best advantage.
As the school year continued, faculty meetings were scheduled to introduce us to the characteristics and requirements of International Baccalaureate schools (IB)—to prepare for next year's initial candidacy with the IB program. We kept hearing about the new teacher evaluation system that our school had been selected to field-test, requiring additional details to be included in our weekly lesson plans and writing several drafts of our personal goals and learning plans.
... Seems like someone has already re-designed our "wheel," or at least gave us several new horses to pull the cart that our wheels move.
Glances at my new gradebook revealed more students not turning in assignments than I have ever experienced. Our counselors told us that incidents of attempted suicides more than doubled this year, explaining why I have at least four students who were absent from school for extended periods of time, requesting make-up work......but laptops aren't allowed where those students are hospitalized, requiring extra time for me to create pencil and paper activities that match the newly created online content that other students receive.
"Teachers know their work is changing, along with the world in which they perform it. As long as existing structures and cultures are left intact, responding to these complex and accelerating changes in isolation will only create more overload, intensification, guilt, uncertainty, cynicism, and burnout". —Andy Hargreaves, Changing Times, 1994
This year's "student" requires a different "wheel" than last year's student if I expect to keep him rolling.
I enjoy reinventing the wheel; I reinvent the wheel so that today's students succeed. Despite the image of a teacher using the same lesson plans from year to year, I can't even tell you what happened to last year's lesson plans. This year's student is motivated by completing projects; last year's student thrived on receiving badges for each accomplishment.
As this year ends, I have no idea what next year's student will need ... or not need.
Despite my administrator's well-intentioned comments, I continue reinventing the wheel. Due to increasing requirements on teachers each year, reinvention gets done at a much slower pace, despite that my students seem to change at an increasing pace.
The wheel of learning is what makes students' minds roll forward into new knowledge. Creating the right wheel is the teacher's job—please don't tell me not to do it.
Ernie Rambo, PhD, NBCT, teaches U.S. History at Johnson Jr. High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. An advocate for teacher leadership and hybrid teaching, Ernie also trains organizers of virtual communities with the Center for Teaching Quality. Ernie's most recent (and intriguing ) challenge has been redesigning her practice from a somewhat traditional classroom to a blended online classroom with her school's 1-1 laptop program.