Don’t overestimate our teaching methods

You have the right to disagree!

You should ask questions whenever you doubt during your training sessions. It’s the only way to avoid unnecessary suffering during your daily practice.

Don’t try new methods if you have serious concerns. But ask questions to alleviate your doubts. Only then, will you be able to work seriously and efficiently. If something, anything, seems to be impossible, don’t keep it a shameful secret. It is not incompetence to aknowledge that you are unable to perform a task. On the contrary! Incompetence occurs when one tries to hide one’s lack of skill. Ignorance isn’t incompetence. Ignorance is forgivable, easily. And it’s quite easily fixed. You just need more time to learn, or a mentor. Many wise men will be proud to become the mentor of a curious and serious pupil. Providing that you don’t question your teacher to expose his weakness, you’ll find out that he will be proud to be asked for help. A curious student makes the teacher feel useful and important. No one can reproach you for ignoring what hasn’t been taught to you. But anyone is entitled to complain, if you try to fool him.

Don’t be overconfident, don’t be childish. Don’t expect things to be solved miraculously by themselves. The nice guy who says yes all the time is dangerous, even if he truly believes that he will eventually find the solution he doesn’t have yet. Even if he sincerely wants to find that solution and is commited to work hard on it.

I made that kind of mistake, more than once, by shame, by cowardice, by misplaced respect toward my superiors, or by sheer laziness. I paid the price, and others paid it too. If you deeply fear that you won’t be able to maintain order in your class after the school director has abolished the detention system, ask yourself who will pay the price if you are right. As a matter of fact, there are different ways to enforce the school regulation, but it’s absolutely mandatory that you know exactly what kind of punishment you can decide or not. And it’s essential that you are fully ready, mentaly and legaly, to make the required decisions. If the school director doesn’t give you a satisfactory answer on how to maintain order, his own incompetence puts everyone in danger: the teachers as well as the children. You have the right and the duty to share your concern.

Speaking your mind is the greatest service you can offer to your community.

During a training session at Demonstration School, I said a few things that were not obvious at all, and certainly not easy to do. And still no one reacted. A handful of the teachers who had attended my presentation asked me very relevant questions, but only when the presentation was over and everyone else had left the room. It’s sad, because the constructivists techniques we try to implement do have some serious drawbacks, even though they may be very relevant at the same time.

For instance, project-based approaches are generally time-consuming. They require a lot of preparation, and it’s easy to simply forget the curriculum, when you spend too much time on the making of a video or a scale model.

But they also have some major advantages. They are meaningful. The students have the opportunity to do things by themselves, instead of just pretending to understand what the teacher says. Projects can strongly increase their motivation. They are complex tasks and train the students in many skills, including the most important, such as critical thinking or creativity.

If you don’t address the drawbacks of a given technique, you’ll lose its benefit. Or you will just renounce to implement it. Every action has a cost. You must be ready to pay it, if you want to obtain its advantage.

I have some experience, so I can anticipate some of my students’ concerns. However, my experience isn’t absolute. I cannot anticipate all the problems that can occur in your specific practice as a teacher. But only your practice actually matters, not my past successes or mistakes. It’s impossible for me to know your real needs if you don’t tell them. Don’t see your adviser or your trainers as some kind of superbeings. None of them is a genious archmaster of teaching. In my case, I would add that my knowledge, as far as I am knowledgeable in pedagogy, is mostly the result of my mistakes and my past suffering. My knowledge is nothing more than the small glimpses of wisdom that allowed me to survive in a hostile environment.

You will know failure, you will encounter tragedy. There is no doubt about that. Students will resist your teaching at some point. Amongst the thousands of students you’ll probably meet during your career, I hope some will make you rightfully proud. But some will follow a dark path and become criminals, in spite of your efforts. It’s certain. Even worse, it is not impossible that a few of them will break bad because of your mistakes, or mine, however good our intentions may be. Don’t let your pride or your shame overtake you, for they are the two faces of the same coin.

I’ve longed for wisdom since I was a child. I just didn’t know the price of it. Don’t be afraid to beg for the help of those who have already paid for it. And if you fear the reaction of your colleagues, be assured that they are as miserable as you. They probably have the same difficulties as you. They have the same problems of discipline or organization as you. And they are afraid to ask questions as much as you are. They may never tell you, but they will be grateful toward the one who is courageous enough to speak his mind. Sadly, it is one of the most difficult things to do. Entire armies die because no one dares to say that their generals are foolish. Speak on time to avoid the killing fields.

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