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The Passionate Teacher
I have just finished reading a wonderful book titled, The Passionate Teacher, written by Robert L. Fried. I was so inspired by this book that I decided I needed to write about it. This book was written for both new teachers and teachers who have been in education for a long time. It s one of those rare books that a reader can connect with on every page. Some of the things discussed in this book include: how to be a passionate teacher, how the author sees the game of school, developing a stance or philosophy of teaching, the parent s perspective, and how to design a lesson plan that is full of passion.

According to the author, students need to be engaged in the process of learning in ways that connect with their experience. Students learn better when they know the teacher cares about them. One saying came to mind while I was reading this book, Students don t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. In the opening of the book, the author says:

To be a passionate teacher is to be someone in love with a field of knowledge, deeply stirred by issues and ideas that challenge our world, drawn to the dilemmas and potentials of the young people who come into class each day or captivated by all of these. A passionate teacher is a teacher who breaks out of the isolation of a classroom, who refuses to submit to apathy or cynicism. I argue in these pages that only when teachers bring their passions about learning and about life into their daily work can they dispel the fog of passive compliance or active disinterest that surrounds so many students. I believe that we all have it within ourselves to be passionate teachers, and that nothing else will quite do the trick (pg. 1).

This first paragraph hooked me into the book right away. If this book and the author s ideas are incorporated into a classroom, students will know how much you care.

The author talks about being passionate about the work you do as a teacher. But then he goes beyond this by giving many examples of ways to incorporate this passion into your curriculum. His lesson plans and ideas would be so easy to fit into performance packages. The funny part is that this book was written before performance packages were incorporated into the schools. He gives ideas that can be incorporated into any subject matter. When a teacher becomes stagnant, so do the students and the classroom atmosphere. You cannot inspire students to do good work if you yourself are not inspired.

Robert L. Fried makes the point that classrooms need to have a safe and comfortable atmosphere in order to be as successful as they can be. Only in an atmosphere where students feel they can be themselves without facing ridicule, prejudice, or alienation, can students take risks, make mistakes, and keep growing as persons. Without such respect, everyone s energies get diverted toward self-protection and survival the very opposite of what is needed for learning to take place. I believe that this is especially important in the classrooms of today. So much is fostered by the media regarding unsafe schools and unsafe classrooms that this question of safety is often on students minds as well as everyone else s. But beyond safety, he believes that classrooms need to be warm and caring places for students to reach their potential.

The passion a teacher has for the profession is imbedded throughout this book. It is the main core of what the author has to say. He speaks about the teacher s passion that helps them and their students escape the slow death of business as usual, the rituals of going through the motions, which in schools usually means checking that the homework was done, covering the curriculum, testing, grading, and quickly putting it all behind us. Being a passionate teacher also means that you have a commitment to active learning by showing not just telling. We must show our students what it means to be passionate learners as well. As the author so appropriately worded passionate teachers:

Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lies there the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they have learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines (pg. 13).

The author then uses the rest of the book to explain exactly how to be that passionate teacher.

The passionate teacher is described as someone who has a capacity for spontaneity and humor and for great seriousness, often at almost the same time. They try to build an atmosphere of mutual respect amid societal pressures to stigmatize and condemn unpopular persons and ideas and to dismiss young people and their concerns. Passionate teachers are not afraid to take risks and not afraid to make mistakes. The difference is how they react to their mistakes. Rather than to ignore or deny them, they choose to acknowledge and learn from them. A passionate teacher knows she/he doesn t have all of the answers to student s questions but they strive to help students ask the right questions. The author discusses the need students have to see the relevance in what they are learning. The old question of Why do I have to learn this? is seldom asked in the classrooms he describes. Making learning fun, exciting, and relevant will answer this question for you. What counts is students' willing engagement. They have to want to see where their ideas and energies might take them, to follow their curiosity and intuition to useful places. They have to get unshy about being smart--to stop using their brains to put each other down or to get around doing the work we assign them. Today's students need help from teachers who are more than well prepared or genial or fair. They need teachers who have passions.

One of the concepts the author talks about that caught my attention is what he calls playing the game of school. So many classrooms are going through the motions of school without the heart in it that meaningful learning requires. Fried believes that the way our schools do business unknowingly makes it easy for students and teachers to play the game. Things that foster playing the game include: taking attendance, giving directions, assigning homework, checking homework, monitoring seat work, making tests, giving grades, and talking their way through textbook chapters and lesson plans that may have very little to do with what excites anybody in the class. These are all rituals of business as usual. This game of school can take away from the important tasks that deserve to be taken seriously. Tasks such as: writing, reading, thinking, planning, listening, researching, analyzing, and applying. The author states:

When the game of school is played frequently enough, and by enough people, the game becomes school. The artificial and superficial replaces what s authentic and purposeful in a lesson or curriculum. The pursuit of learning turns into avoidance of conflict or extra work (pg. 99).

Avoiding mediocrity is imperative in the passionate classroom.

This book is full of passionate ideas that can be used in every classroom. One of the ideas to use for an eleventh grade English class is to propose that every major writing assignment should have a real audience outside of school. This may be done through writing letters to the editor, complaints to manufacturers about shoddy products, stories or poems for older folks or younger children, speeches for candidates for public offices, and writing handbooks and informational pamphlets on subjects of public concern. If we are to prepare students for the real world, then why not have them doing real work with real life applications. Giving them an audience other than just their teacher or classmates gives more importance to every writing assignment.

The author details how to develop your teaching philosophy, which he calls your stance. He takes the reader through designing and implementing a lesson plan or unit to fit your personal stance. How to know what is the most important parts of a unit so that you can focus on that part and eliminate the parts that are too much like playing the game of school. Setting up a classroom is detailed to make your room a passionate one. He talks about the importance of including and answering questions of concerned parents. As the author puts it in the last paragraph:

In the end, our talk must be of both the concrete and metaphysical aspects of teaching. The specific how-to s and the inescapable whys must come together in the practice and mingle in the example teachers set for their students. For what is powerful about teaching is that we convey to our students not only the wisdom and experience of the past but also the gift of unending discovery and limitless potential. What is unique about being a teacher is that our students can learn as much from the questions we are still vigorously pursuing as from the wisdom we have garnered from years of passionate devotion to subjects and to children (pg. 176).

This is a book that I highly recommend to every new teacher as well as every veteran teacher. I know that I will be rereading it many times over my career as a teacher.
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The Passionate Teacher. EssayMania.com. Retrieved on 11 Oct, 2010 from