by Brian Drayton
High time for another teacher blog. Allow me to recommend the blog called “Science teacher,” whose subtitle is: “Breaking out of the classroom into the world.” The blogger calls himself “Doyle.” His profile describes him as: Very briefly a longshoreman, briefly a lab tech in a booze plant, more recently a pediatrician in the projects, now a high school teacher in my hometown.
He appears to post on no fixed schedule the most recent one is dated Aug. 26, but sometimes there’s a flurry of posts, then a break. So despite the long lag (perhaps a result of the onset of the school year), I intend to keep checking in on him. The voice is distinctive, and as with other good blogs, the subject matter ranges widely. Science is always there, and the kids; but so is a lot else (as seen from Bloomfield, New Jersey).
“Why teach?” he asks, and then answers his own question:
A few children chasing butterflies, mucking in the pond mud, and otherwise doing their best to confound our educational system remind me teaching matters.
His Aug. 26 post, however, tells us more. It’s entitled “Why I left medicine to teach,” and opens thus:
I used to be a doctor, the kind with a stethoscope, the kind licensed to hurt you for your own good. It puzzles children to learn that a physician would walk away from medicine in order to teach, and there are days I am baffled myself. I liked medicine. I love teaching. I did not know that this would be true when I left medicine, so while it is true, it is not enough to explain why I left. Why leave something you like, especially when it pays ridiculously well? Every year children ask me this, and so far I have not quite gotten it right. I thought I had it right, but high school sophomores would kind of shake just a little bit sideways. I wasn’t fooling them.
I think I got it right now.
Doyle, like the other teacher-bloggers I most enjoy, is both realistic (and often funny) and (com)passionate about his students, but also highly engaged with the world, and gives some evidence that his pedagogical stance, and his mission, is shaped fundamentally by curiosity, delight, and awe. His June 18 post starts out:
I am going tadpole hunting with my aunt and uncle in an hour. We’ll creep along the edge of a pond, muck around our ankles and nets in hand, dodging poison ivy and biting bugs, because it brings us joy. Between the three of us we have over two centuries of living and hours to play on weekends, and this is what we chose to do, even in the 21st century. We have evolved little in the past few thousand years, despite what the futurists would have you believe.
He continues with reflections on the importance of children becoming acquainted at firsthand with living systems in all their complexity, and of how different such knowing is from the bloodless abstractions of eduspeak:
Without a background in natural history, without a childhood immersed in the natural world, a child in our culture has little chance of realizing the lives of the living beings around us. Without this knowledge, all the talk of “interdependent relationships in ecosystems” is like the love song of a twisted psychotic stalker–not just meaningless, but passionately dangerous.
NGSS promotes the practice of science; it does little to promote natural history. This matters. It’s like learning the mechanics of sex by using a mannequin–it can be done, but really, what’s the point? If a child does not fall in love with the natural world, with its deep nuances and rhythms, with its internal beauty, then pushing her to become a scientist becomes a cruel exercise. Benchwork is a hard, lonely business. Take a child tadpole hunting–you’ll do more good for America than anything I can do within the cinder block walls of my classroom.
Doyle keeps track of the seasons and their cultural resonances (see his post on Lammas, for example), as well as many other topics that matter (his posts on Hiroshima and Nagasakidays, or Black Lives Matter, for example), and of course science teaching, as in a widely-read post, “The microscope “e” lab kills science”:
Every year students learn the parts of the microscope, and every year we drag them through the infamous “e” lab. Cut out the letter “e” from a newspaper, mount it correctly on a slide, look at it in the scope at various mags, figure out its orientation.
The most interesting part of the “e” lab may be seeing the “e” move left when you push the slide right, up when you push the slide down. But we don’t talk about the why, that’s for physics, and they haven’t had that yet.
We trade stories in the lounge–Can you believe she thought the air bubble was alive? That he cut out an upper-case “E” from a headline? That she couldn’t see anything because he forgot to turn on the lamp?
And then we wonder why a few children don’t even pretend to care when we finally bring in some pond water full of wiggly aliens, full of life, full of wonder.There’s just no reaching some kids.
He continues with suggestions for a first introduction to the microscope, which elicited a lot of thoughtful comment from readers (some of the best blogs are worth reading just for the commenters). As I have wandered through his backlog, I have been refreshed by my encounter with a generous and probing teacher, and I encourage you to wander there, too. And check out a very interesting blogroll on his profile page!
Teacher blog: Breaking out of the classroom into the world
by Brian Drayton