My 5-Part Washington Post Series on “The Stories We Tell About Teaching”

To celebrate the Simon & Schuster re-release of Adequate Yearly Progress, I pulled together some themes I’ve been thinking & speaking about for years as a 5-part series for the Washington Post. Each of these, in its own way, relates to the stories we tell about teaching.

Is the Image of the Great Teacher the Enemy of the Good Teacher?


Public debates about teaching often raise some version of this question: How do we figure out what great teachers do differently and get other teachers to do it? The why-can’t-every-teacher-be-more-like-this refrain has long been popular in media stories about the Next Big Edu-Thing, but it holds unseen dangers for the good teachers who make up most of the profession. This piece explains how media stories shape the public’s ideas about what it looks like when teachers are doing their jobs well. It also explains why policy decisions should be made with good – rather than perfect – teachers in mind. FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Why Movies About Rookie Super-Teachers Hurt New Teachers Most of All

“Inspirational” movies about the new teachers who can’t be stopped are unhelpful to the profession for many reasons, but they can be especially damaging for the beginners themselves. That’s because the elements of a winning Hollywood storyline make a problematic guide for the real-life version of the job. This piece breaks down the subtext of the Hollywood version of the profession and argues that maybe it’s time for teachers to cast themselves in a different movie entirely. FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Why You’ve Never Seen a Show Like Parks and Rec—or Silicon Valley, or Scrubs, or The Office­–about Teaching


The best workplace comedies do more than just make us laugh. They offer recognizable (if hilariously overblown) characters wrestling with the dilemmas of real-life workplaces. A comparable show about teaching seems like it should be a slam dunk. And yet… nothing. Part of the issue might be that, even in real life, there are unwritten rules about how we talk about teaching. If we address those, maybe we can make room for a show about teachers that doesn’t stick to the script. FULL ARTICLE HERE.

The worst moments as a teacher aren’t always the most dramatic. The best moments aren’t, either.

Because of my years teaching students how to “read like a writer,” I’ve spent a lot of time thinking in an extremely technical way about what sets my favorite novels apart. Novelists like Zadie Smith, Tom Wolfe, and Jennifer Egan filter their stories through an ensemble cast of fully rounded characters. They nail their workplace scenes down to the last detail. And they show us that the most significant scenes aren’t always dramatic; it’s character and context that make the difference. FULL ARTICLE HERE.

The Day I Finally, Finally Figured Everything Out as a Teacher

What did I figure out? It doesn’t matter. It was mostly wrong anyway — and it wasn’t the last time I thought I’d finally figured everything out. One of the most important stories about teaching is the one we tell ourselves on a regular basis: that we’ve arrived at the “aha,” moment that will change everything. This story is followed by another story – that we’ve wasted our time chasing that last “aha” moment. Turns out, both stories are wrong. FULL ARTICLE HERE.

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