They’re all going to laugh at you!
The day my students embarrassed me is also the day I became a better educator (and friend, and father, and husband… and I’m not kidding).
Bear with me and my ego for just a moment (the free lesson is linked at the bottom)…
My names is Charles Cooper. I have a Master’s Degree in American Studies from the University of Dallas. Classes I took included the 14th amendment, the federalist papers, the American Presidency, Platonic political thought, classical models of American political thought, and modern models of American political thought.
I thought this would be enough to “shock and awe” high school seniors. I thought bringing a depth of knowledge to the classroom would inspire my nascent adults to take up the flag of freedom and charge into adulthood as responsible citizens of this unique and singular nation.
I was wrong.
Early in the government phase of my teaching career I would look at a class dotted with bored faces. Kids who loved to engage me in conversation during lunch or in the hallways had lost that spark in my classroom. Something happened during certain lessons that sucked the life out of my students.
One day (and I did this a couple times before it really sunk into my thick skull), in a fairly frustrated manner I stopped my lecture, power point or otherwise “engaging lesson” on the Constitutional Convention and asked them what was wrong. Usually they said “nothing” or made up excuses because they liked me and I liked them. They saw that I was trying and didn’t want to hurt my feelings by revealing that I sucked as a teacher on certain days.
I asked the same set of questions throughout that day with no honest responses. I was starting to understand that MY depth of knowledge didn’t matter because I was boring.
Fast forward to 8th block…
Oh GOD! (gritting my teeth) 8th block. That group was always ready to leave. They were checked out because it was the end of the day. 8th block also had some interested characters that tended to “spice” up my mind as I planned lessons.
I wasn’t going to ask 8th block for feedback because, quite frankly, I didn’t respect their opinion. I didn’t want to hear their feedback because I knew what it would be. They were tired, usually getting into trouble, and distracted by their cell phones as they planned to meet this friend or that in the parking lot.
This particular day, 15 minutes into class student #1, the smart alec loud mouth, speaks…
1 says, “Do we get to rip you apart today? ”
Me: You mean give me feedback? No, we’re behind the other classes. We’ll do that later.
1: Why? You let the other classes. I can tell you what’s wrong. My friends have been talking about this today.
Me: Write it down and I’ll get to it.
1: You’re boring.
Me: Awesome… Please shut your face.
Student #2: Mr. Cooper, some of this stuff sucks. It really is boring. You’re cool, but on the things you really like… you get boring. Remember those games we played at the beginning of the semester? THAT was cool!
Class discusses the “cool” games without my approval.
Me: Ok, then be prepared to get super bored… cause I LOVE the Constitutional Convention. Sorry, some of this stuff is boring.
Student 3-12: slams face on desk.
Me: Sorry guys, life is about dealing with poop some times. When you guys come to appreciate what this country is about you’ll understand how miraculous the Constitutional Convention was! I’m not thrilled to come to school every day and I shouldn’t expect to be. Some important things aren’t fun.
Student 2 (also a knucked head and a hot head and he looked like he was in his mid 20s): I could do it. I could make this stuff not boring. (He then laughs as if to say “I’m better than you.”)
The exchange went on for a few more minutes and finally I went over to the whiteboard and wrote down the outline of a blank lesson plan template.
I looked at the class and said, “Then you do it. You write the best lesson ever and me and my master’s degree will sit over here and wait for you. You get this class period and only this class period. Instead of the discussion my other classes had, you get to show me a better lesson than what I have prepared for you.”
I wanted to show then how difficult it was to write an exciting lesson that would allow for Higher order thinking, Engagement, Authenticity, and meaningful uses of Technology. I had the relationship part if teaching down…they could do the rest.
Well… they did beat me at my own game.
Their lessons were better and I was dumbfounded. I was humbled. I was also a little pissed. But I recognized that they had bested me & I had asked for it.
And then it hit me…
For the first time in a while the entire structure of what it meant to be a teacher changed in my mind and my reaction??? At first I panicked and was a little upset. My role had been taken over by snotty teens. And then…like the sun rising in the east…
It was a RUSH! It was adrenaline! I was “baby birding” these students when they needed to be set free. I was an idiot.
My lesson on the Constitutional Convention consisted of notes, videos, conversations, and a combination of multiple choice quizzes and a multiple choice test. They went beyond my vision because I didn’t give them (my knuckle headed 8th block class) enough credit!
In retrospect, this is what happened:
1) They had a common goal (make a lesson concerning a particular topic)
2) They had a common purpose (or you’ll suffer through my bad lesson)
3) The power or the stage was shared (I would use their lesson if it included certain resources)
4) They were respected (in the end I did…promise…by valuing their input in my class)
5) Their learning happened as they created something (the lesson was the lesson)
6) They felt supported (after they started asking clarifying questions and after I saw them working and smiling together… I knew we had hit on something by accident… so I GUIDED them in their learning as they blazed the path)
7) They had a new audience (the best of their lessons would be used on other classes and other students…even the ones that weren’t served as lessons they created for themselves…ie. they learned as they created).
8) They changed me (the very next day we debriefed and shared the experience. I heard the excitement in my voice and I think they were, in turn, excited that a teacher listened to them)
My lesson, as stated above, was a series of videos, powerpoints, quizzes, etc.
Keep in mind that this was a few years ago before Google Forms and all that. If I were to do this today I would certainly update it…however, this lesson in its “Word” version represents a shift in my soul. Even though the tech has changed, I prefer to show this version, the original version, of the lesson as a testament to the day my students embarrassed me which was also the same day I became a better educator.
Finally, I had students share and present their lessons to take place of my lectures. Any gaps that were left untouched we covered together.
I consolidated their ideas and this is the lesson they came up with: The Constitutional Convention Infomercial. Obviously, I kept many of their lessons and showed them as exemplars the next semester.
Some of the infomercial videos I used