"Real teaching happens within a wild triangle of relations--among teachers, students and subject--and the points of a triangle shift continuously. What shall I teach amid all that I should teach? How can I grasp it myself so that my grasping might enable theirs? What are they thinking and feeling – toward me, toward each other, toward the thing that I am trying to teach? How near should I come? How far off should I stay? How much clutch? How much gas?" 

- J.P. McDonald, 1992 



Great Teaching

Teacher and students in wet field

There is a great tension pervading our schools that thwarts many teachers from doing their best work. “It’s hard,” says one teacher, “you have to do what the District says—but you also have to do what you want—what you think is important. So it is hard to resolve those two.”

Yet teachers do. They succeed --sometimes in mysterious ways--to make learning matter.

It often means having a strong vision—and an ability to craft and implement plans—and amend them with and for the 25-50-100 students you see each day. Teaching with a vision is what Myles Horton (1990) called a “two-eyed” practice.

“I like to think I have two-eyes that I don’t have to use the same way… I try to see with one eye where …people are…If I can get hold of that, this is where I start. So I look at them with my other eye and say to myself, how do I start moving them from where they perceive themselves to be, to where I know they can be.” (pp. 131-132)

Good teachers break out of old patterns.  Despite the pull of tradition and the weight of the demands placed on them, they succeed in carving out new territory to learn with their students. Engaging the local means that things are constantly changing. 

Bridge studies in NYC

Partnering with the community is like having a new “teammate.”

“I don’t always know what will happen next---and that is what I love about this kind of teaching…..and that is why I always write my lesson plans in pencil!”

Rather than a static relationship between teacher and student, student and knowledge…..teacher and knowledge….these connections are more energized and more complex. Engaging the local broadens the view of what might be possible. It is not a simple, predicted transfer of knowledge along a well-worn pathway. It is an active engagement with unknown answers to new questions. It is a complex relationship. In the learning---the three points of the triangle (see McDonald quote above) are repositioned in a vibrant, real and active process.

measuring hair




Kids working on project in woods