professornana (professornana) wrote,
professornana
professornana

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C is for Control and C is for Confidence

The time has come to teach College Girl how to drive. So yesterday she climbed behind the wheel. We went through the checklist: adjust mirrors, turning on car, brake versus gas pedals, seatbelts. And then she had her first lesson. To be sure, it was brief. She circled a parking lot (with very little traffic in it) about half a dozen times and then parked the car (kind of). All the while, I was talking to her about what she needed to keep in mind about turning and braking and accelerating. After she was done, we drove on (me behind the wheel) and talked about the lesson and how she felt about it. That discussion, of course, centered on confidence and control. As I drove home in the rain, we talked about what needed to be done given the weather circumstances that might be different from other occasions. We talked about what future lessons might involve. The bottom line of this first lesson and its success is this: I had to give up some of my control (of the car) and she had to develop confidence in her skills for this all to work, for her to move forward toward the goal of a license.

Because I had some control over the conditions (and there is another "C"), I was setting CG up for success. The worst she could have done was run over a curb (and I have done that often enough, still do sometimes). But then I had to relinquish control of the vehicle over to CG (and, no, I did not press hard on the pretend brake on my side of the car even once) and let her build some confidence. As I look at what is transpiring in classrooms, what I see is lots of external control (from CCSS, for instance) and very little confidence building. Here is what is important: standards handed down by folks outside of the entire arena. Here is what should be taught (and how long before it becomes how and when it should be taught?). The control has been wrested from us. And how about confidence? For the first time in a long while, I am seeing veteran teachers without self-confidence. They are asking questions about text choices and strategies, areas where they had hitherto shown a great deal of confidence.

For me, control is something of such paramount importance I am not certain I can be rational about it all. For years as a middle school teacher, I enjoyed total control over curricular decisions. My principal trusted me to work with my classes effectively. If I had not been successful, he would have intervened. Of this, I have no doubt. At the university I am also allowed the intellectual freedom to select texts and strategies and approaches. Though I have control, I try always to let go of the control once I have set the course in motion. I hope I am what Paul Hankins calls the "lead learner" in the room.

But now, the controller seems to be someone far removed from the classroom, and this worries me, disturbs me. I am not the only one thinking about these things. Please take some time and go read Paul Hankins' take on CCSS and pancakes here: http://paulwhankins.edublogs.org/2012/07/24/its-flatter-and-it-still-has-two-sides/

I hope that cooler heads will prevail in the CCSS movement. I hope administrators at all levels will not make this a lockstep program. I hope PD will not center on rigor and leveling and the like (but that is what I am seeing, sadly). I hope that this coming school year is not fraught with a lack of confidence. Rather, I hope teachers will continue to do what they have been quietly doing for so long: love the kids and do the best they can by them. I love the book THE THREE QUESTIONS by Jon Muth (http://www.amazon.com/Three-Questions-Based-story-Tolstoy/dp/0439199964/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343165172&sr=8-1&keywords=the+three+questions+jon+j+muth). Those questions and the answers given by the turtle are emblematic of what we should be doing. What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?
Tags: books, ccss, confidence, control, driving, teaching
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