Make It Work

RuPaul tells us to work it. Britney sings that we better work if we want something. However, Tim Gunn says it best. “Make it work.” He tells all his designers to take their tools, fabrics, and various odds and ends and make them work. And that is what teachers do. We make it work.

At a staff meeting last week, my administrators showed us a graph entitled “What works best for student learning.” The title had me hooked. I thought to myself that this is going to be good. I was eager to see the things that truly help students. This graph was pretty in depth and had ranked various strategies teachers use to help students learn. Next to each item was a percentage score. Things on the top greatly impacted student learning and things at the bottom did not impact student learning. I began to read the items. As I read, I wondered what prompted this think tank to do this research. How did they do this research? What was their original hypothesis or intended message? What do they have to gain from this research?

I asked these questions because this graph was contrary to nearly everything I believed about student learning. In fact, I found this document to be highly offensive! According to this graph, the three things that have the least to with student learning were retention, (I can see how this could be damaging to students) summer vacation, (Duhhh! But we’re stuck with that so students can go work the farms) and……. teacher subject matter knowledge. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has it wrong! Content knowledge does not matter. We do not need to know our content to teach it to students.

That’s not the only ‘What the___?!’ in this graph. It ranks formative teacher evaluations in the top three but mentoring is in the bottom 5. So we can be evaluated and that’s good but having someone to guide and teach us to be better teachers is bad for students. Riiiiigghhhttt.

Classroom management also made it towards the top of the list. That’s accurate. You have to be able to manage behavior for learning to take place. But classroom size was in the bottom half of the graph. Obviously these researchers have worked in a kindergarten class with 39 five year olds. There’s a lot of learning going on in that class! I bet a future Nobel Prize winner is going to graduate from that classroom.

Even with all of these contradictions, I still haven’t mentioned the most offensive part of this document. There was one hugely glaring omission from this research. A good teacher. Nowhere on this list did they measure the impact that a good teacher has on a student and that is the single most important factor for student learning. There can be no learning without a teacher in front of students. There can be no significant learning without a great teacher in front of students. I can’t believe there is any company in the field of education that would even posit this absurdity. This document has the ability to be incredibly damaging to our proffession. I read it with a skepitcal mind frame and I know enough about the field to know these things weren’t true. However, there are people that would look at that and swallow it like Kool-aid!

To get back to my opening, teachers learn many different strategies throughout our career. We have so many things in our tool belts. And every year we are learning some new “red pill” that will finally unlock a student’s mind. It’s hard to single these things out and measure their impact singularly because teachers are what make them work. If our class size is too big, we make it work. If we are missing resources, we make or find our own and make them work. If we are learning a new strategy, we do our best to make it work even though we may not fully understand it. I would wager that if the strategies show improvement in student growth, it’s because of the ability of the teacher and not solely because of that strategy. If there was a teacher edition of Project Runway, Tim Gunn would probably look at us and exclaim, “Oh! YOU DID MAKE IT WORK!”



Donnie Dicus

Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master’s Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center.
I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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