Teaching with Passion (in spite of the echinoderms)

In a guest blogpost, a student compares her experience at a public school with her experience at a private school.  At the private school, the teacher pulls out all the stops with a beautiful, creative assignment in Classical Mythology. Compared to her English class at the public school, which focused on the taking of a test, the student obviously finds the former more compelling and ideal. Who wouldn’t? 

One teacher responded to the post with this comment:

“[Students] don't see that dedicated, engaged, passionate, eager-to-help teachers often hit a dead end and are forced to do what they know is not best for kids due to inane gov regs and requirements.”

I take issue with this statement, not because it doesn’t have a ring of truth to it, but because of the faulty correlation drawn. Teachers do hit dead ends, and sometimes, administration requires that they teach specifically to the test, which is in no way the best thing to do for students. Agreed.
But dead-ends and government regulations/requirements cannot squelch passion and dedication. They might suppress choices and to some degree, restrain originality, but they can’t disrupt my passion.  They won’t tarnish my dedication. I simply won’t let them.

Our school required us to teach a certain state test-based exercise every day. I don’t think they could have found more boring, less enticing reading passages. Two pages of hell per day. One of them, our infamous “Lifestyles of the Sea Cucumber” stood out, though.  

(For the record, I completely disagree with students being required to read something so out of context in an English class. It was just…jarring.) 

Our instructions were to have students: 1) read the passage and 2) answer the questions. Then, we were 3) to “go over” the answers. One inane, required assignment, coming up. If you’ve fallen asleep, wake up.

So, knowing that the passage was the most boring thing ever, and knowing that pretty much every test passage was going to be at least as boring if not more so, our class discussed strategies for reading boring passages BEFORE we tackled this one.

We talked about the voices in our heads. We talked about our favorite actors. We talked about having our favorite actors read this passage to us in our heads. Then, something wonderful happened.

One kid piped up, in this wonderful Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) accent:  “Crikey! Looka this beauty!” 

That’s all it took. Steve Irwin read the passage to us, in our heads.  I watched students giggle and chortle their way through the whole passage. I watched them gleefully answer the test questions. Then, we checked the answers. 

While they certainly didn’t get them all correct, they did quite well because they made it all the way through the darned thing. We enjoyed ourselves, learning a little bit about a sea creature, but learning more about how to read for comprehension, which was the goal. 

From then on, our strategy for reading any boring science-type passages was that they be read to us by the Steve Irwin in our heads. Students carried this strategy into the test, thanking me later for it.

When teachers hit that dead end, when we have to work through inane exercises, we must do all we can to retain the passion and dedication. It’s difficult but do-able.

Fight those political, regulation, government policy battles outside of the classroom with all you’ve got.
We need to end the inanity.   

However, while we wait for the system to catch up and catch on, inside the classroom, we must fight with creativity--the strongest weapon of passion and dedication. 



  1. I have to commend you, Mindy, for finding the fun in the mundane. I believe that teaching is like sex--if you're not laughing while you're doing it; you're not doing it right! On the other hand, I think you need to be a bit more understanding about the kinds of things that can crush the teacher spirit. I work as a consultant in a lovely school that is being closed down for "underperforming" (as if a school can perform). The entire staff-- overwhelmingly hard-working, talented and experienced teachers-- is being forced to re-apply for their jobs. In the meantime they must conform to every mandate that comes their way no matter how misguided (your reading passage example is mild compared to many of the things they are required to do). Last week one of the teachers I work with was giving a full period test. It was a well-constructed exam that hit almost every level of Bloom's T. The principal stopped in and asked to see the lesson plan. When the teacher said that the test was the plan, he was censured, called down for a disciplinary hearing during his prep(along with another teacher in the same department for the same reason) and told that this would surely affect his status as a possible rehire.
    Do you think those teachers were able to concentrate on preparing lively lessons? Do you think they were not hurt and humiliated by this counter-productive situation? Do you think this is an isolated occurance? For so many, these humiliations are unrelenting and if you cannot understand how this might lead someone to curl up into a ball and teach self-protectively, then it is because you have not had to face such a situation. I hope you never will.

  2. Hi, Joe!

    Thanks for reading and commenting! You're right that my situation was mild in comparison to what some educators must go through. I was only hoping to slide in an approach that might help them out. It's awful that teachers have to cope with issues such as the ones you bring up. I can definitely see why folks would teach self-protectively, given those circumstances! My friend tells me that sometimes I come across negatively towards teachers, and that certainly isn't my intent. I just want them to feel more empowered about the crap they have to take. A lemons, lemonade kind of thing.

    I also want them to maintain their integrity by fighting the political battles on the adult battleground, not in the class. That is, whatever hoopla we're dealing with, that we don't let it leak into the classroom. We can't. If we do, we lose because we perpetuate the problem.

    Also, I want to help them see themselves as separate from their lessons. I mean, the individual. and how the individual feels or is, is not the lesson. Not sure if that makes sense. One of my admin did pull me into the office to tell me, basically, that I was useless. That was interesting!

    Anyway, thank you for helping me see a different perspective on this point! The more we discuss, the more we learn! : )

  3. That was truly inspiring. Thank you.

  4. When administration requires a teacher "to teach a certain state test-based exercise every day" a little creativity on how that happens needs to come into play. I won't go into detail but with technology, grouping and some creativity this can be accomplished differently every day. Students could actually have fun when the teacher thinks outside the box.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Roger! Wouldn't you also agree that it helps alleviate that "oppressive" feeling? That is, by thinking outside the box, we not only help students, but we help ourselves! : )