The ongoing reflective home of the New York City Social Studies CFG.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Existential Questions

At our 3/5 meeting, each member brought one existential question to share with the group.  Please respond to at least one question in the comments:

  • Erik: Day-day is so difficult, so how at the same time do you create a culture that is constructive for teachers and students?  As teachers, if we want to be professionals, how do we police ourselves?
  • Frank: Balancing double role of teacher with mentor/positive adult, multiplied when many students don't have a positive adult in their lives.  How much impact can I have as one person, and where should that impact be?
  • Kate B: Teaching as art vs. teaching as science...What can we learn from medicine: more standardized?  Should we share the "diagnosis leading to established procedure" plan? Do we need more clarity?  How do you teach about structural oppression in a way that still gives agency?
  • Michael: When does differentiation/scaffolding for seniors become self-defeating/too much? When do I give support and when do I not?
  • Andy: If not careful, I can spend my time fighting people above me, instead of best doing what I can for my students.  How can I shove the shit to the side and define my own agenda without becoming the angry teacher?
  • Christina: Thinking about impact outside of classroom.  I want to interact with adults, but feels uncomfortable talking to adults in my school about their practice and don't know my place.  How to balance humility vs. arrogance?
  • Steve: How do I choose/balance between the following modes of praxis in a course where I’m not concerned with a massive amount of content for a state exam? 1) Teaching through inquiry, which best develops students’ ability to think critically and to learn how to learn. 2) Teaching through extensive reading, watching, and research to gain the necessary cultural literacy to enter adult society and assume the responsibilities of citizenship. 3) Teaching students to do authentic intellectual work (which often, but not always, is through Project Based Assessments)
  • Peter: Am I what I want to be?  Will I become a problem or the solution?  When do you let kids fail?  I can get students to learn any idea, but how do I get them to learn independently? Where will I be a problem?  Where will I be the solution?
  • Kate W: I've switch from teaching chronologically to thematically.  Does this make a difference when my course ends in the Regents? I'm more engaged by this group than by teaching, what does it mean my role should be in the future?
(Sorry if my notes didn't capture everything that was said)


  1. @Erik - huge question and problem, especially given staff turnover. Lesson I've learned at Young Writers: less is more.

  2. @ Kate B - I lean towards teaching as craft. Anyone can learn to make a decent table with right materials, but it's an art to make an amazing table or one with faulty materials. Same with teaching, I think.

  3. @ Christina - Please let me know when you figure out humility/arrogance thing; I need help with that.

  4. @Michael - Your question made me realize that I'm struggling with the same thing with my seniors who are doing self-initiated/executed projects. I think I spend too much time taking responsibility for their failures, when in fact it's more useful for them to own them.

  5. @Andy I think this is the key to working in any job. Its better to make your own solutions then complain about the system. I also find that if there is one thing that ed school trained me for was writing bullshit ed-speak write-ups of what I am doing and why. Then I shut the classroom door and teach my kids.

    @Kate B -having 2 kids (3 yrs and 2 months ) has taught me that medicine, and what that 105.1 fever at 3 am means, is more of an art then anyone lets you know. It is also the problem with finding a "pill" for teachers to give students. Teachers are but one vector in our students lives. And for too many of my students the school is the only thing that is a constant.

    @Kate I can't imagine going back to chronological. I If you think of ALL the things your students "should know" we would all be in a frozen state of panic. The Regents is hard. Make them better readers and writers through the themes and they will pass it.

  6. @Frank-Some ppl do better as relaters than as tchers & vice-versa - sustainability and sanity dictate we do what's good for us usually.

  7. @Frank-So I think you have to find your joyful balance. : )

  8. @Christina-The 2 dilemmas of whether and how - you've much to offer other teachers - so focus on the how & experiment.

  9. @ Steve: Choosing between the three means choosing a goal of education. As I see it: 1) teaching students to think for the world; 2) teaching them to think as a citizen; and 3) teaching them to think for college.

    Of the three, 1 & 2 are what I'd want to pick; 3 is what probably serves the student best.

  10. @ Kate W: How much does lack of engagement relate to teaching to the regents? Seems to me that chronological approach and thematic might not make much of a difference on that front.


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