What-if Wednesday: What if there are no formulas?

I’m abandoning “Wiki Wednesday,” for a few reasons. First, it wasn’t all that popular and, as you know, popularity is the goal of life. Okay, I’ve been teaching middle school way too long. Second, I’m realizing that my personality doesn’t work well with offering a bunch of practical tips. I can sprinkle them here and there, but practical tips are like salt – a little bit enhances the flavor, but too much can be hard to swallow.

When I go to conferences, I notice that many teachers seem enamored by some key idea. Afterward they’ll say something like, “I’d love to have a hip hop studio like that school did. Can you believe they used hip hop to teach language arts.” Or it might be something as simple as, “I’m going to try the broken record routine with kids who act up. I like that Lee Canter idea.” Sometimes it’s a graphic organizer or a lesson plan idea or a new method of organizing school schedules.


After awhile, they begin to resemble magical talismans. Indeed, the workshop creators seem to believe that everyone is after their lucky charms. Many teachers go for it and collect the binders, fat stacks of binders, offering all the magical spells needed to run the perfect classroom. In those moments, I feel out of place. I’m like the man walking in a cathedral who can’t believe in all the saints and the prophets and who wishes he wasn’t so cynical. I wish I could believe it was that simple – that a graphic organizer could somehow save the day.

It also makes me wonder how many teachers feel the same way, but rarely speak up. If we offer criticism, it’s hard. It’s personal. It’s an assault on the magic formulas and an attack on the cult of quick-fix education.

Which leads me to my first “What-if Wednesday.” What if there are no magic recipes for teaching? What if there aren’t any magical formulas? What if teaching is an equation to be solved but a mystery that I enter into?

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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2 responses

  1. I always like being flexible and have difficulty fitting into a specific method of teaching. Students are all so different. It's not logical to think that there is a perfect way to teach. Graphic organizers drive me crazy by the way.:)

  2. I like graphic organizers 🙂

    However, I'm with you. Certain approaches work best with certain students.

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