Coming Out as a Teacher

I was so bored as a kid in school. Unlike some people, I can’t remember the names of my teachers. Except Keith Pearcey. He taught me History and Geography at Spencer Valley Junior High School in Ontario.

I was one of those kids, that when the teacher asked a question, I thought we were supposed to answer it. I later learned, that when the teacher says ‘any questions?’ they don’t really expect anybody to ask one.

Anyway, one day I asked Mr. Pearcey something about something that I’ve now forgotten. He paused for a minute. Then he said ‘I don’t know. I’ll find out and let you know.’

I promptly forgot about it.

It was two days later, because we didn’t have History/Geography every day. At the beginning of the class, he said ‘Peter, I found out the answer to your question.’ I was thinking ‘ummm, what question.’ Then he told me.

I was amazed. Somebody, for the first time, had actually listened to me. Somebody responsible.

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When I was thinking about what to do for a job, I thought about being a teacher for about 10 minutes. Then I did something else.

But I never forgot Mr. Pearcey’s class, or what he taught me there. He saw me as a person and not a 14 year old.

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I’m not the first person to notice that education is broken. Lots of people say it. And still nothing happens. Look at Sir Ken Robinson (on TED if you haven’t see it). If a more eloquent description of the stupid system we continue to ram down children’s thoats could be made, I don’t know how. It’s a stupid system. Whose fault is it? Dunno. Who’s going to change it? Dunno. If it were changed, how would we do it? Dunno. Lots of dunnos.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We can’t wait around for somebody else to fix it. It’s not going to happen.

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I heard about this school called The Russian Forest School, where highschool students graduate with a college degree, can all speak at least 3 languages fluently, and they organize it themselves with the absolute minimum need for teachers.

https://vimeo.com/104103547

Is it real? It looks real. What does it mean? It means we are wasting our times babysitting young people, who are bored out of their brains, because they’re not really stretched. They are dying there. I read recently that around 20% of kids in the US are medicated so they can sit still long enough to be fed through this sausage machine. Where the only way people can stomach this nonsense is where they are drugged, maybe we need to change something. One day, not even the drugs are going to work anymore.

Now I’ve learned a lot in my life. I dropped out of highschool, after what I see now was a breakdown. But it was the 70s, so nobody noticed. I went to university as a mature student. I went on to get a PhD. I trained in the public school system as a teacher to support me and my daughter when I was studying. I did all that.

And still, I didn’t want to work in a school. Why? Love learners, can’t stand schools. (Not a big fan of other teachers either.) Teachers burn out. I don’t think anybody should be a teacher who comes straight out of university without ever having done anything else before. How can these teachers share what’s important with students, when they’ve only ever been in school? Doesn’t feel right. And it shows, because sooner or later they have a crisis, and they ‘burn out’. It’s not surprising.

So, the system isn’t working for the learners, and it’s not working for the teachers. Who is it working for? Nobody. It doesn’t work for anybody, except the learners who go on to be teachers and perpetuate this farce. It is hierarchical. Hierarchy doesn’t work. It’s hard work for the top dogs, and it’s it’s a total turnoff for the learners. In general, hierarchy sucks.

— — —

So, I didn’t work for a long time in a school. Instead I became a business analyst and discovered first hand how agile principles work so that people can work in teams. That was a revelation. It is absolutely not hierarchical.

After a while I got to thinking. I liked agile, but I don’t like the computer/IT industry. I don’t care much about Startups. I can’t help deliver government projects — because they are doomed from the start. I don’t want to work for big companies, because it’s all lip service and no real commitment. Look at it like this… if we optimize the IT delivery function, then we de-optimize the rest of the business. So, all of a sudden senior management, marketing, sales, customer service receive the message that THEY are the problem now, and it’s THEY who have to change.

And guess what? THEY don’t want to hear that message. And why play a piece of music that the concert goers hate? Maybe one day. Not today.

— — -

I started talking to my friend Lukas about using agile ideas in education. Yeah. Why not? So I don’t know everything. So what? Big deal. Maybe we could work more teacher and learners together on a team. Maybe we could plan together what we were going to do. Maybe the learners could choose. Maybe we don’t need ‘assessment’ beyond a demonstration of what the learners have been doing. Maybe they could have retrospectives and look at what worked and what they could do different, or do better? Sure. Why not?

Guess what happened? A new school was opening up in Berlin to do Project Based Learning. Lukas described the ideas of agile to the school leaders and the Government responsible for saying ‘yes’ to the school. They loved it. They’re implementing it now.

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I got to thinking. Maybe I could have my own school. Maybe I should just think about it differently.

The school of my dreams is flipped. It’s supported by amazing videos. Learners can watch where and when they want, and as often as they want.

The school of my dreams is blended. It combines real books, with online resources in a way that makes sense to us.

The school of my dreams is real. People meet face to face and they learn together. It’s just bullshit that people learn in isolation. Especially a new language (German in this case). People need each other to co-operate, to encourage, and to compete. It’s boring as hell to do it on your own. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like gardening. I hate it on my own. I love it when doing it with my friends.

The school of my dreams is flexible and empowered. We are all teachers. I see that I am a learner and a teacher and so is everyone else.

We are all in charge. I don’t have to control everything. I don’t want to. I trust that we together will work it out. I can take criticism. I grow from it. I want to grow.

— — -

A couple years ago I started making video scribe movies. Around the same time I started getting work as a professional voiceover artist. I’ve always been a writer. So I thought I’d make a movie. I wanted to see what it might be like. Here’s my first movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_nddGdhv00

I’ve now made 20 movies, and have another 20 in production. I’m working with my daughter Lilly. She makes the movies from my audio. In this way she learns. And, so I’m on my way to having my school.

It just happens to be for people who want to learn German, who are living in Berlin. It won’t stop there, but it starts here. The truth is that German is not hard — it’s just badly explained. Honestly. You know there are only four things that make German hard, and here they are:

  • der, das, die
  • verbs that jump around
  • ideas about coming/going vs. state
  • the CASE system

So people need a little help with grammar. Too bad ‘grammar’ is probably one of the most hated words in the learner’s vocabulary… But grammar is easy. Jargon is hard. Who cares if it’s accusative, or dative, or direct or indirect. Stupid words. It’s the concept that matters. Can I explain it in words of no more than 2 syllables that a 10 year old would understand? Ummm, yes.

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I’ve carried around in my head a story about who I am. It wasn’t true. I thought I wanted to be a highly paid, highly respected consultant. But I didn’t. I only ever did IT because of fear. Fear of not getting a job, or being able to raise my kids. I am good at it. But it brings me no joy. So, I’m coming out. Today I come out. I’m a teacher. Do you hear me world? I’m a TEACHER (And I’m a learner too. And I will be until I die.)

You can find out about this agile blended learning initiative here: languagegym.net

You can enter into a conversation with me at peterjohnmerrick@gmail.com