Why Teachers Need a Shot of Uncomfortable

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If expert advice makes you uncomfortableBrilliant or Insane is a blog that champions education and praises teachers. We vilify high stakes testing and the Common Core–teachers’ worst enemies, and we lead the no-grades movement, which will change everything. We push buttons, because this inspires thought. Sometimes, we make you uncomfortable, and we believe that’s important, too.

I recently made a lot of people uncomfortable with this tweet:

While most of the Twitter gurus loved the notion, many teachers cried foul. It’s clear that a comment that questions teacher methods made many educators uncomfortable.

While I’ll admit that the tweet was meant to spark debate, I stand by the statement and submit this for those who may be outraged:

If expert advice makes you uncomfortable, it’s quite possible that you are doing something wrong.

Teachers often need a shot of uncomfortable to push them toward greatness. Traditional education is easy and comfortable, and in this case, comfort is a very dangerous thing.

So, here at Brilliant or Insane, we will make you uncomfortable. It’s okay. You can wince, frown, furrow your eyebrows or even gasp. The key is to get comfortable with your discomfort.

5 shots of uncomfortable for you to ponder


1-Teachers turn students into cheaters

Students are not born cheaters. They cheat because they are conditioned by a broken system that says they must get “good grades” in order to succeed in life. Parents threaten unimaginable consequences for “bad grades” or bribe kids for high marks. If grades don’t inspire cheating, bad assignments do. Someone told me that students plagiarize research because they find it to be too difficult. Granted, some students are lazy, but this is because they see little value in the work and they don’t want to put effort into something they think will receive a “bad grade.”

2-Blaming administrators is a bad excuse

Do you make statements like this: “I’d love to stop assigning homework or stop grading, but my principal won’t let me.” Teachers who respond to expert advice with, “I’d like to but. . .” are stuck in their Lazyboy and too frightened to make the kinds of change that truly impact kids. When you enter your classroom, you make the decisions. Your principal wants homework? Fine, assign it but make it optional. Even better, let the students decide what to do outside of class. Admin says you must put a grade in the online grade book every week. No problem. Have your students grade themselves. But won’t they all give themselves A’s? Well, no, but what if they do? A, B, C, D, F. They all say the same thing–absolutely nothing about  learning.

3-Worksheets and work books make students hate learning

If you just winced, consider the quote pictured above. Why do I know this to be true? Because I used worksheets and work books for more than a decade, and I knew my students weren’t learning, and they routinely told me that they hated the activities. Sure, I could manipulate them into passing multiple choice tests, suggesting that they had learned, but what good does this serve?

4-School is not the real world

Stop arguing that summative assessment, control, homework and deadlines prepare kids for the real world. You don’t believe school is the real world, so why pawn that hogwash off on students? In the real world, I’m not told I have to  sit in the corner if I chew gum. In the real world, I’m not admonished for wearing a hoodie. In the real world, no one tells me to answer 50 misleading multiple choice questions. In the real world, I’ve never been banished from a room for whispering to a friend or for passing a note. I’ve never had a job that puts an endless stream of fill-in-the-blank worksheets on my desk. Classrooms are crucibles; they are not the real world.

5-Students’ personal issues are far more important than your class

I used tell students that my class was the most important one they had. Back then, I was a bad teacher, too blinded by naiveté to see the major issues my students had outside of school that interfered with learning in school and in my class. Students are hungry. Many are abused. Some have drug addicts or felons for parents. A few slept on the street last night and only came to school for a free lunch and a warm classroom. If any of this is right, and you know it is, do you really want to tell these kids you are preparing them for the real world? Do you really want to distribute that worksheet that asks them to name the capitol of Iceland? Are you certain you want to tell these kids that the most important thing in their lives is a state-mandated achievement test?

Many loyal B or I readers will share this post and applaud its honesty and implications. Of course, they understand the value of being uncomfortable. They are the game changers.

Others will scoff, harrumph and maybe even call me a few names. And they’ll most likely do it from their Lazyboys.

They don’t like shots, and they can’t stand being uncomfortable.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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