WHAT’S A SKILLFUL, MAVERICK TEACHER?
Baby Boomers: What TV show, 1957-62, regularly beat the “Ed Sullivan Show” ratings?
Answer: “Maverick.” My brother Jim and I always watched. James Garner got his Hollywood break as Bret Maverick. Jack Kelley played his brother Bart Maverick. The brothers were always on the edge of trouble. But “their consciences always trumped their wallets since both Mavericks were intrinsically ethical.”
A century earlier mavericks were unbranded calves and yearlings out on the Texas range. The first ones belonged to Texas cattle owner Samuel A. Maverick. Sam was not so conscientious about branding. He died in 1870. By 1890, if you were an unconventional individualist, you were a “maverick.”
In our documentary “Passion to Teach,” teacher Amy Lake says, “Bah, humbug” when it comes to teaching to the test. She is a metaphor for “skillful, maverick teachers.”
What do Amy Lake and Bret Maverick have in common?
“So,” says Amy, “my independent streak.” Independent of what?
Of complying with a politicized, top-down ed reform system that just doesn’t work.
Maverick teachers allow their consciences to trump marching orders delivered by non-educators. By politicians and philanthropists who are not experts in child development. Who don’t get what makes children come alive. Who fail to understand the first importance, not of downstream testing, but of upstream engagement. Of eliminating boredom. Of resisting one-size fits all.
Maverick teachers know what all children want: to learn about the world around them and their place in it. Maverick teachers know that children are born this way. That intrinsic motivation maximizes learning achievement. That extrinsic, high stakes standardized tests have not worked and cannot work: National test scores remain flat-lined after 15 years.
Maverick teachers know that there is no substitute for competence. Their passion is to teach – and to do so more and more skillfully. They want to be full of skills. Not hemmed in by regulations. What skills?
Teaching skills. One of the best catalogues of skills – and a manual for repertoire – is The Skillful Teacher, a classic since 1979. Get the sixth edition of 2008. Start with your beliefs about teaching and learning and schooling. Move on to the hundreds of skills in a veteran teacher’s repertoire. Classroom management skills. Instructional skills. Motivational. Curricular. Master new ones every week.
Interpersonal skills. As David Brooks says, “People learn from people they love.” That pretty much says it.
Community skills. An “unconventional individualist” opposes convention that doesn’t work. But maverick teachers are not lone wolves. They are passionate members of community – learning communities comprised of students and teachers, administrators and parents, community members and leaders. The dichotomy between the individual and the community is often a false one: For independent-minded passionate individuals have an authenticity and a fullness that can be shared with others.
Indeed, that fullness is what the skillful, maverick teacher gives to her classroom and her community. Anything that restricts fullness restricts the humanity of a person. And that cannot be a good thing. That is what the Maverick brothers took on. It is worth the fight.