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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Why We Must Recreate the Wheel

Ryan W Ihrke

High School English Teacher from SE Minnesota

First of all, I must apologize to the physics people out there who read the title and expected this article to explain a new three-dimensional figure that would redefine transport and how we think about mobility. Sadly, I have not yet come up with this idea. But I assure you, I will write a post about it when I do. This is not that post.

Remembering How It All Began

"Recreating the wheel" is a frequently heard term in schools and is mostly used as a complaint. As educators are pushed into new realms of technology, teaching strategies or classroom settings, they must recreate documents and activities to fit these new educational arenas. But there is more to these complaints than the yearly stress of reworking lessons. In the digital age, it can be as simple as a slip of the finger and all of our precious documents have been deleted.

No more worksheets, handouts, rubrics, tests! We have but two options then: recreate all of our "wheels" or quit teaching and become a used car salesman.

Those who decide we've got a few years left in us will take on the daunting task of recreating everything we've taught in the past. And as we are tearing through The Great Gatsby trying to find a quote about the woman in the yellow dress, a little light flashes on.

We begin to question the assignment itself. "Why do I need to find the woman in the yellow dress? What did this worksheet actually focus on? What skill was I trying to teach?" And we realize that we haven't asked that question since we originally created the worksheet. Somewhere, years ago, this worksheet was the work of a dreamer, a person who was going to cram symbolism down the throats of every unwilling tenth grader so that they'd never be able to drive past the big yellow arches without wondering, "What are they trying to make me feel?"

But years and repetition have diluted the aspirations of that worksheet. Over time, we lose focus and forget what it was we were trying to teach with these activities, and we simply try to get through them. If the kids can answer the questions, then they must have learned something. Right?

The Superior Teacher

Over time, all teachers become driven by their handouts, their finely tuned worksheets, their greatly loved activities. We begin to forget why we use these and simply use them because we have a nostalgic connection to that one time when the kids loved and learned and we felt accomplished. This sense of accomplishment is something we can achieve often, but only if we change -- often. The argument is frequently made that teachers must reflect because students and their needs change, and that argument has great merit. But we must also reflect as we change, as we grow, and most of all as we become comfortable.

Confucius once said, "The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort." Be not the common teacher. Find no comfort in old lectures, old worksheets, old activities. If they once worked, great! Now look to the future and how you can incorporate those ideas into new learning experiences. Fear not recreating what has already been created. If someone hadn't decided to recreate the wheel, we'd be driving cars on wooden circles.

And so I urge all teachers to stop for a moment and consider the wheel. It has come a long way -- and so has teaching -- but not because of comfortable people. Be superior. Think of virtue, of quality. Push Delete, and begin recreating your wheel.

Ryan W Ihrke

High School English Teacher from SE Minnesota
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Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

zep's picture
zep
Education Specialist

If a student had the right to walk out, without disrupting the class, of any class which was not relevant to them, would this not facilitate teachers tossing out lessons which had outlasted their rationale? There are schools set up on this premise, where students have authentic rights alongside the adults in the building.

Ryan W Ihrke's picture
Ryan W Ihrke
High School English Teacher from SE Minnesota
Blogger

That could illicit a positive response in teachers who didn't want their students walking out on their lessons, but it also could create a multitude of new problems. What happens to student liability in that scenario? Who is held accountable for that student getting the material? The teacher cannot teach someone who decides to leave. Not to mention we are then placing the eduction of our next generation, something we have decided as a culture is so important that we force all young people to attend, in the hands of 15 an 16 year old people we don't trust to drive a car or purchase cigarettes.

Honestly, the idea of giving students more freedom and choice sounds intriguing; but the right to walk out whenever they want is a responsibility I fear many students couldn't handle or would outright abuse.

Corah's picture

When? When do we have the time to totally recreate the wheel? With what money? I already adapt and change what I do to fit my class, but when you've got to plan 6 subjects the idea of just throwing everything that has worked out seems a bit crazy.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Corah is spot-on. Teachers suggesting such things as yearly re-invention of the wheel are not thinking practically. They obviously have no meaningful lives outside of the classroom where they have other important responsibilities to attend to like marriage and family. If you are spending too much out of class time trying to reinvent the wheel then you are shortchanging your family. There's a pervasive and sick mentality in our society that you have to be married to your career to be successful. Nonsense. That's how burn-out occurs. If you feel you must reinvent the wheel, then stop twiddling your thumbs over your devices and get to work. Socializing on line will never make you a better teacher.

Clover's picture
Clover
4th grade teacher from IA

I too am an educator and I definitely did not interpret this article as others apparently have. It is urging us to be reflective practitioners rather than ordering that to be effective, we must discard everything we are familiar with. I am not going to be so bold as to assume that Mr. Ihrke here does not spend quality time with his family in the summers because he is so consumed with his occupation, but rather he cares enough about his profession to put in the effort to reflect upon his practice and make changes where he deems necessary. I would assume that someone who does not become complacent in their teaching is also driven to do great things outside of their work life, i.e. in time spent with family.

Thank you Ryan, for your great and motivational article. Those who are worth being called educators and understand the concept of lifelong learning have understood the contents of your article as I am sure you intended for them to.

You sound like an excellent educator and there should be more like you.

Clover's picture
Clover
4th grade teacher from IA

Also @M.A. Hauck, if "socializing online will never make you a better teacher", then I see why you are not a fan of this article. You obviously have no intention of becoming a better teacher as you are socializing online.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

"we must discard everything we are familiar with"

That's the faultiest reasoning I have read in a while. If you truly believe that to be so, then you'd be changing homes, spouses, jobs, etc on a regular basis. Principles are only valid when they can apply to every aspect to your life. Compartmentalizing principles and values makes one inconsistent and weak. By "on-line socialization" I refer to that mundane level of exchange where people share the minutiae of their personal lives for no real apparent purpose with the entire world via social media. As for Mr. Ihrke, he repeats many of the same jargon and trendy nouveau theories that so many younger teachers minted in the last decade or so love to discuss as if they're revelations. They are actually doing and talking about the same things many teachers have been doing successfully for decades. Reflection? Planning? That's not new. This younger generation believes they are mining new territory. I assure you, they are not. Some major aspects when analyzing newer teachers is that they sound like perpetual undergrad or grad students and that they have more toys to play with, typical of a generation over-indulged materially. I fine with them for the most part, but so often they sound pretentious when they discuss their profession. Keep it Zen-simple ... see the job, be the job.

Clover's picture
Clover
4th grade teacher from IA

How very defensive you are. Perhaps if you took a little time to actually read things through, you would see that your reaction was based on a complete oversight. The words "RATHER THAN" In front of the "we must disregard everything we are familiar with" changes the meaning of the whole statement quite a bit, don't you think? Being so defensive, especially in this instance when you have to go out of your way to do so, gives off a strong impression that you are unwilling to reflect upon your own practice, probably for fear of having to make changes. Relax. Pobody's nerfect.

Corah's picture

Clover, a discussion never got better with insults. You are not coming across very well in print, you might want to take some deep breaths.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Yes, but no one should be expected to read your mind, second guess you, and assume you did not include key words that would alter the meaning of your comment. I respond to what people write at face value, not to what they intended to say.

How that is an exercise in being defensive is a real mystery to me.

Nevertheless, there is an edit feature on this website that can help you correct these oversights.

A person naturally reflects on every aspect of their daily life, from whether or not purchasing a new home is prudent at this time to thinking about if a consequence leveled against their child was too lenient or too severe. It's a very reflexive process. I would have been in this profession for as long as I have without solid practices in place.

It's just funny that some newer teachers discuss reflection like it's a new concept heretofore unknown in the teaching profession. It's actually covered in the first semester of pre-service education classes.

This entire "reinventing the wheel" issue is very simple to explain as far as its motivation. All ambitious young turks seek to establish their own territory. So what better avenue to pursue than challenging some established convention. But Ihrke is not offering any logical or rational explanations why this is all necessary. Change for change's sake to please the impatient or overachieving among us is not sound reasoning.

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