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Searching for the right way to teach

3 min read


A wise veteran teacher told me something my first year of teaching that I will never forget, “Every few years, someone is going to tell you how you teach is wrong. Approach X is the best way to teach. A few years later, someone else will tell you how awful that approach is. It’s all BS. Teach to the students in your class and you will always be right.”

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about at first, but then I saw it happen. Every few years, there is a big push on how to teach students in new and exciting ways. People come out very strongly for these new approaches and how they can change the world of education as we know it. I’m not against change or looking at new approaches. I’ve moved from a traditional lecture-based class to a project-based learning class and have loved the switch. My issue is the view that some take that all other approaches are detrimental to students.

I give homework in my classes. I’m a high-school English teacher and give my students reading assignments and they sometimes need to work on essays at home. To some, this makes me an awful teacher because I am stealing free time away from students. I do not give multiple choice exams in my classroom. Some would say I’m not preparing them for the high stakes world of testing that is a reality. I do not record my lectures in advance and place them online for students to watch at home. Some teachers would suggest I’m not getting the most out of my time in the classroom with my students. There are many different approaches to reaching the varied students in our classrooms. Why does one have to be right and the others all labeled as wrong?

I think the one thing most teachers agree on is that standardization is a bad thing. If that is the case, why are there so many people telling other their approach is wrong? Is it possible that the approach the teacher is using is right for the students they see in their classroom? We all have so many different types of learners and classrooms across the country and even in the same building, I find it hard to believe that  there is one method that will meet all of the needs of these different students.

Teachers need to be open to the possibility that there are better ways to instruct. We all need to be open to new ideas if we want to grow in our profession. It is OK to write about how you have tried new ideas and encourage others to try them as well, but going out of your way to demonize other approaches is not going to get people to change. As educators, we are all on the same team. We need to remember that when we talk about what is best for students. In the end, we are all pulling for the same thing.

Nicholas Provenzano is a high-school English teacher and a technology-curriculum specialist for the Grosse Pointe Public School System in Michigan. He has a master’s degree in educational technology from Central Michigan University and is a regular presenter for the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning and ISTE. When he is not writing on his blog or tweeting @TheNerdyTeacher, he is working on an educational e-zine and a free “unconference,” Edcamp Detroit. He also blogs for Edutopia on the value of technology in education.