Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Failure, Smarties, and Scales

Once upon a time, there was a teacher, let’s call her Stacy Shewman... She learned a lot of Western Civ in her high school and undergraduate careers. All of her history classes ended with WWII.  She knew nothing of the world after 1950 (except the Berlin Wall and Martin Luther King) and even less about places not covered in Western Civ...

In her first year of teaching, while her students were calling everything “ghetto” (“You’re ghetto”, “he’s so ghetto”, “that shirt is ghetto”, and so on), a Jewish student whose grandfather had survived the Holocaust asked Ms. Shewman to help the class redirect the use of that word. Tracy ... I mean Stacy ... called a class meeting and asked her students to find a new slang word.

No big deal right?

Well, her students next decided to call everything “jabooty”. (He’s jabooty, she’s jabooty, those shoes are jabooty) etc...

And a week later, Tracy .. I mean Stacy ...  turned to the next chapter in the Geography textbook  to plan her instruction of Chapter 19. East Africa. Country: Djibouti. Pronounced “Ja-booty”


I , I mean she, had to call another class meeting and ask the students to come up with another word. AND THEN, she had to explain why she had let them use that word for a week before she stopped them.

So there’s her -- um, MY --  embarrassing epic teaching fail. Epic ignorance fail.

I have failed at many things in my life so far. I’m pretty sure I will fail at more.

The problem with us-the-teachers is that we don’t usually come from the bottom of the academic pack.  Teachers tend to come from A and B students, people for whom school comes easy.

Because most of us were “good students”, we have two problems.

First, it makes it difficult, sometimes, for us to empathize with struggling students. It’s hard to know what to do with the student who won’t (or probably can’t) read when we, personally, were early readers who still  LOVE to read! It’s hard to know how to explain map skills to a student when we don’t remember a time when we COULDN’T understand a map.

Secondly, one of the problems with smart kids (as many teachers were) is that they don’t deal well with failure. Smart kids like to do things well the first time -- or not at all. It’s why we have so many smart kids that refuse to try at certain academic tasks -- they’re so afraid to fail that they don’t what to try or they are afraid of the struggle.

Which brings me to our Marzano Scales. I’m talking to you, my Pinellas colleagues!

Please hear me out. I know that YOU-the-teacher were a smart kid and that you are now a smart adult. I know that you don’t like to struggle and that you get frustrated when you don’t understand things the first time or when you don’t do things perfectly the first time.

We have got to get over the “I don’t like to fail” hang ups and try this scale thing.

And know that you don’t have to be perfect at it the first time.

Or even the second time. Or third time.

But I hope you’re making progress. I hope your scales get better -- and easier for you as you get better at them.

I hear a lot of frustration these days from colleagues who are stressed and anxious about creating beautiful scales.

It’s the SECOND WEEK OF SCHOOL, my friends! You will get better at your scales. They will get easier to make and easier to use in your instruction.

I know it’s easier said than done. I get that.

But be patient. You will rock these -- soon!

In the name of humor, please see our Meme scale below, shared with me by a brilliant colleague. And know that you do not have to be perfect the first time. You will get better.

Thoughts? Ideas? As always, email me at

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