Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What It Takes

To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success - the fortunate birth dates and happy accidents of history - with a society that provides opportunities for all.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell looks at the myth of personal ability and ambition and instead shows that success can be understood by things like opportunity (be it to resources, or the ability to get to 10,000 hours of practice, or when you were born) and the legacy of culture on an individual.

This book has already had an influence on how I think about teaching. Gladwell quotes Elizabeth Dhuey:
"We have advanced reading groups and advanced math groups. So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and they next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; an the next year, the same thing happens, and they do even better again."
and goes on to say:
"At four-year colleges in the United States-the highest stream of postsecondary education-students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their calls are under-represented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn't go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the different between going to college - and having a real shot at the middle class - and not."
And that is something, even if it is at the micro-level, that I can do something about. As a teacher, I can be more aware of how I judge ability and maturity levels. It's something that is incredibly hard to do here in South Korea, where my boss is aiming to have me level the 4 and 5 year olds, but in the classroom, I can try and avoid age-related judgements of what a child can do. As Gladwell says:
If we chose to, we could acknowledge that cutoff dates matter. We could set up two or even three hockey leagues, divided up by month of birth. Let the players develop on separate tracks an then pick all-star teams. If all the Czech and Canadian athletes born at the end of the year had a fair chance, then the Czech and the Canadian national teams suddenly would have twice as many athletes to choose from.
It pays off.

Another thing that was pointed out by Gladwell really made me think.
Those three things-autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward- are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.
I am not particularly happy in my present job. I'll stay another year not because I enjoy teaching kindergarten at Che*ngwon, but because I like having 7 weeks of paid vacation after years of the 2-weeks, one week at a time hagwon system. I have a connection between effort and reward for sure - little notes that the students give me saying "I love you teacher", their smiles, hearing them say they love English class, watching them learn how to read. And I often have a lot of autonomy - my dislike of my coworkers has stemmed largely from their lack of information about my class schedule so I can adequately plan or an attempt by them to tell me how or what to teach (since really, none of them are fluent in English, and one is incredibly bad at English, I have to say I find instruction about how to teach the language that I do in fact speak pretty annoying.) What I don't have is complexity - or enough complexity for me. I miss teaching literature and social studies to older students. Kindergarten curriculum doesn't really interest me. They are cute, my students, but I don't find them fascinating the way I do middle or high school kids.

I suppose in 2011, I should start taking steps to address that, because on the whole, I do love teaching.

1 comment:

LiBBy said...

Very interesting but the writer failed to mention how effective shitty parents are at holding you back your entire life...even after youre out from under their roof.