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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

Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

American College of Education's picture

Excellent commentary on pushing your boundaries both as an educator and a leader! As you mentioned, the concept of "reinventing the wheel" is frowned upon and viewed as redundant, however I believe it is important to constantly evolve and improve. What better way than to reevaluate square one?

Sarah, Blog Editor
American College of Education Teacher Blogs

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

Thanks for the comment Sarah! There is definitely nothing better than starting from scratch with a specific goal in mind. Sometimes I think we get distracted by the "what"s of our lessons and forget to focus on the "why"s.

American College of Education's picture

Ryan, I couldn't agree more. However, you touch on a very valid point that we get distracted by the "what's." This is something that resonates not only with the individual educator, but is sometimes reflected by the system as a whole. It's even further proof that the process itself needs to be given another look.

Sarah, Blog Editor
American College of Education Teacher Blogs

DearTeacher's picture
6th Grade Science Teacher from SC and a teacher encourager online.

Thank you for writing this. You echo my sentiments exactly. This is my eighth year teaching, starting in the fall, and I have reinvented many a wheels in this short time. We need to know our students and think outside of the box. We can't do that with the packaged curriculum from years past. Even some of the "new packages" need to be rewrapped for our individual classrooms and students. We just need to think and rethink constantly. That is a part of our job as teachers!

A part of the need to recreate some of the old stuff is that we need our personal fingerprints on what we do with students. It needs up own flair and personal touch. This makes it more personal to us, putting out "skin" in the game, but it also makes it more personal to the students. It means more when they know that you had a part in setting up what and how they are learning. Relationships a key, and our inventions and reinventions are a part o this!

Once again, thanks for writing. Great piece!


Laura Lamarre Anderson's picture
Laura Lamarre Anderson
2nd grade ELL teacher in Massachusetts

Really like how you turned the old adage of reinventing the wheel upside down. I think I will use this at my next team meeting.
Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration. I feel less like I am walking up the down escalator. Throwing out the old isn't always bad.

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