Dan Lukiv The Master Teacher

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9.1
Chapter 9.2
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
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You Have Learned to Think

What do you do, as a teacher, a math teacher, in this case, after you've completely blown a lesson, after you've thoughtlessly humiliated a student, after you've angered the rest of the students in your class, even losing credibility in their eyes, after you've attracted powerful criticism from parents, and after you've received no help or support at all from your principal?

What do you do? For now, you "drop" back in time, remembering that you had admirable motives. You wanted to "diminish [fierce] individual competitiveness" (Wassermann, 1993, p. 171) in an environment of "[hardened] parental expectations [that] were excessive" and that, you were sure, helped explain why your "students were troubled...[You were] quick to recognize that their feelings of insecurity were at the root of their cruel aggressiveness to each other" (Ibid., p. 170). You "wondered if arranging the class into cooperative learning groups on advanced algebra problems would diminish individual competitiveness,...and give students a chance to work with Fred [a shy boy (a 'minority kid[ ]' and a 'foreign student[ ]' [Ibid., p. 172], as a parent would later call him) from Korea]" (Ibid., p. 171). You hoped "the bridge between the two cultures could be crossed naturally." You "dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, [you] could help [your] students find their humanity" (Ibid.). Your motives were noble!

But the cooperative learning groups-lesson went bad. "All the groups had been assembled [without your input. Such had been your (naive?) choice]...Fred Kim [the foreigner] stuck out like a sore thumb. Not only had he not been invited to join any of the groups, he had been explicitly rejected when he had taken the initiative by approaching one of the groups" (Ibid.).

Then the lesson went to worse. You reprimanded them indignantly. They insulted Fred. "Nobody likes him, and he smells bad" (Ibid., p. 172). "[You, as they had,] began talking about Fred as if he weren't there, while he listened quietly and took everything in" (Ibid.). You, like an authoritarian from Victorian England, argued. You lost your credibility before them and you humiliated Fred.

The incident is now part of your past, but it certainly hasn't left your mind. What are you going to do? Are you going to apologize to Fred Kim for "talking about [him] as if he weren't there," and for pushing your cooperative learning groups-plan (now there's the pun!) to such a degree that racial prejudice took a bite out of Fred's dignity? Doing so might help him not grow a skin of bitterness to shield him from his thoughtless classmates, and doing so might help him see that at least someone in Marine View High School,1 you, feels concern for his welfare.

Are you going to apologize to the class for forcing a learning environment on them that they weren't prepared to accept? Now there's the test of your humility. Such an admission--even given your correct insight that excessive competition and demeaning racism were making your students less than they could be--provides "human" conduct, exemplary conduct, that might actually encourage "hardened" students to reevaluate their stone-like attitudes. Or such an admission might simply encourage them to return to their customary, teacher-directed, drunkenly competitive education with their usual "arrogance" (Ibid., p. 170).

At any rate, assume the class is back to Marine View High-normal. You, Fred, and the rest are back to "business." You might want to post your student's scores after their next math exam (assuming you don't generally post such an expose, you could make an exception here). Then enjoy basking in how impressed the students are by Fred's mark, which will likely outshine most of his classmates' ("his math skills [are] excellent" [Ibid., p. 170]). You might tempt them, then, by asking:

"Would any students like to form co-operative learning groups? If you would, and if you wouldn't mind that I make up the groups, please tell me at the end of this class, or the next." You might want to elaborate on what good benefits some students have seen from working in groups.

If you get everybody's name, you're in business to start cooperative learning groups. If you get enough names for one group, or more, then make such a group, or groups, and consider running the rest of the class as usual (teacher-directed, lecture-style).2 That might require some interesting planning, but you can do that, can't you? You can do that because you have learned to think through your actions rather than simply digging in your heels to get your own way. Certainly you've learned the value of planning ahead to deal with anticipated problems.3

Now that you have learned to deal with such problems, which means you have learned to avoid drawing unnecessary, mean-spirited criticism from students, you might enjoy some related fruits of labor beyond classroom peace. You might find your contented students won't complain about you to their parents, and therefore, those parents won't complain about you to your principal. You can go about your business of teaching without having to endure unencouraging conversations with your (in this particular case) bland, unsupportive principal, and without having to endure "parents [who religiously] model[ ] that to be on top [is] everything, [and] that second place [is] second-rate [and consequently for losers]" (Ibid., p. 170).

You might even find a spirit or spark of cooperation growing from that "cruelly competitive bunch" of students (Ibid., p. 170-171).


1 A fictitious name.

2 Successful groups, which might involve Fred's voluntary participation, will likely encourage non-groupers to eventually change their stand.

3 "Some call this professional judo--looking ahead for potential trouble and preparing for it. If that trouble arises, the teacher has a reasonable plan, tucked away in his mind, that should allow everybody concerned to walk away with his or her dignity intact" (Chapter Fourteen: The Master Teacher, paragraph 1).