Teaching with Intent

I love TED talks.

I often find myself consumed by the wonders of TED. Technology. Entertainment. Design. In fact, before sitting down to write this blog, I logged onto TED and watched an hour’s worth of videos. TED truly is a teacher’s paradise. I mean, when you think about it – isn’t that what we do? We teach with technology, we entertain for engagement and we design our own lessons / units / projects. Teachers are, in a sense, artists.

Do we all see ourselves that way?

I certainly didn’t. In fact, when I first began teaching I simply intended to keep my head above water. I never really thought about why I was teaching a certain novel, poem, theme or literary term. I did it because others in my department did and since they had been teaching for a lot longer than me, I figured I should.

Do me a favor here and type the word “intention” into the search bar on TED.com. One of the first talks to pop up is John Hockenberry’s talk “We are all designers.” Here, Hockenberry gives a very enlightening talk on how one’s intentions matter. About 16 minutes into the talk, Hockenberry states “An object imbued with intent — it has power, it’s treasure, we’re drawn to it. An object devoid of intent — it’s random, it’s imitative, it repels us. It’s like a piece of junk mail to be thrown away. This is what we must demand of our lives, of our objects, of our things, of our circumstances: living with intent.”

I’d like to steal Hockenberry’s idea here and say this: intent is an essential component for teaching. It’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to teach with intent. Teaching is a craft. Teachers design lessons / units / assignments. We determine what we want our students to know and we begin to craft a road map to that outcome. If our road map starts to falter, we change things up. We reteach, we redesign, we review, we rewrite and many of us do this unconsciously. Like artists. Because teaching is an art form.

I have different intentions each year. My first year of teaching, I intended to survive. My second and third year, I wanted my students to pass the “test.” And then a funny thing happened. I took a step back and I realized teaching is not about the content. It’s about the kids. My intentions in becoming a teacher were never to make all kids realize what a powerful novel To Kill a Mockingbird is. I now realize my intention is to make my kids understand how powerful their own voices are, perhaps with Harper Lee’s help.

My takeaway from Hockenberry’s talk is twofold: first, it goes without saying that it’s really difficult to stay focused on craft with everything else going on in the test-crazed world of education. And while many of us don’t have a choice in what we teach, we can decide how we teach it. Second, fear is a roadblock we all have to overcome to get to the root of our intentions. Teachers are a fearful bunch and many of us lack intention because of fear. We’re afraid of the Common Core, parents, large classes, bad classes, administrators, observations, and afraid of someone showing us that there could be a different way to teach. I’ll be the first to admit that I was (still am) afraid of many of these things. And when I get fearful I remember what Kim Stafford said in his book Muses Among Us: “teaching is an art. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

We are artists. Our student are our audience. Our content is the colors we use to craft our masterpiece.

What will your masterpiece be?

~Kristina

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