Teach Like a Pirate: T is for Transformation

The transformation chapter was actually a rather interesting read. As I read it, I realized that there were many teachers I know of who would rail against some of the concepts presented in this chapter. In fact, this quote at the beginning stuck out:

“For many students, school is filled with monotony, drudgery, and soul-killing suckiness.”

As for myself, I was thrown back into some of my favorite lessons that I taught my 4th grade students. I remembered my best one on the Stamp Act. The idea for the lesson was not my own, but my execution was so flawless that I had my students buying into the lesson. The premise was this: The principal would suddenly enter the room and tell the students about a new “Stamp Act” just approved by the Board of Education. Students would pay a nickel for every piece of paper they used or turned in. The profits would pay for the middle school students’ field trips. As the students spoke up in outrage, the principal ignored them, told them to quiet down, finished her spiel, and walked out.

I was left to deal with the aftermath. Students were asking questions and they were angered. They demanded to be able to write letters of protest to the BOE, which happened to be the next part of the lesson anyway so I fed into it. After they had finished their letters, I explained the connection to history, and we were off and running with the American Revolution. I was lucky enough that day to have the sense to turn on my audio recorder on my cell phone at the time, so I have the chance to relive the magic of that lesson over and over again.

I was always looking for ways to teach my students while entertaining at the same time. If I was having fun while teaching, they were having fun while learning. I didn’t have lessons like this every day; often it sometimes was a snippet or a joke or something crazy, like banging on a desk or tossing a chair to the floor… I think back then I was on the right track to beginning.

Now that I work with a different crowd, I’ve fallen off track a bit. I need to find ways to make the sessions I do with teachers and staff as engaging as those lessons once were. I do work with students from time to time, and often it’s one of the few times that I can work with them, so why not hook them when I do?

Burgess poses these two questions in this chapter:

1. If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?

Back in 4th grade? I’m sure some students would definitely have been there and the room wouldn’t have been empty. Giving PD now? Yes. I’m sure I would. Part of the reason is these adults already don’t have to be there. Some just come for the points for licensure, not the content necessarily. Work is definitely needed here.

2. Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?

Again, I think I have at least one from 4th grade I could have sold tickets for. Now? No. Again, work needs done here.

It’s time for me to begin reframing what I do with my staff members. I need to start thinking and working through things in my own head. I do agree with the points that Burgess makes about reframing: Students already have other things competing for their attention. Telling them to just grin and bear it and get through the material so they can do better on their state exams or pass the class isn’t good enough. They’re learning to get through the short-term, not learning to learn. And it’s not interesting. Sorry, but as adults we don’t like things that can’t hold our interest. If you check your phone or computer or are doing something on either, then you’re just like a student experiencing disconnect.

I freely admit that I am not doing something to make my material insatiable. I need to make changes. Time to begin changing my way of thinking, brainstorming, and making notes when ideas hit! (And yes, I found a note taking app for my phone!)

Check out my other reflections on Teach Like a Pirate

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