Good Teaching Should Be Like Pulling Teeth (Sometimes)

Teaching students to work independently.  Getting students to problem solve math problems without a teacher intervening.  Facilitating student-led discussions.  Asking students to engage in higher level thinking when analyzing literature.  Doing any of these things in your classroom for the first time may be like pulling teeth.

The reason why higher level thinking doesn’t happen often in classrooms is because students can’t do it.  But students can’t do it because they haven’t been taught how to do it.  And if they don’t know how to do it, then it’s difficult to teach them.

When I reflect on my day, naturally it’s the lessons that flowed easily, when it seemed like all the students were “getting it” that help me to sleep better.  However, if we never challenge our students, they can never rise to new levels.  Higher expectations for all students doesn’t simply mean that if we built it, they will come.  We have to help students reach our higher expectations and getting there from where we are now takes work.

So, here’s to pulling teeth.  I wouldn’t encourage you to remain at frustration level for very long but pushing your students past their cognitive comfort zone is our job.  Getting there may feel like pulling teeth but the good teachers keep pulling and less effective teachers just give up.

9 thoughts on “Good Teaching Should Be Like Pulling Teeth (Sometimes)”

  1. Mathew,
    It is true that sometimes students need to be challenged, and it is also true that sometimes students cannot do the higher order thinking that is necessary to do the math, especially word problems.

    I teach students who find math challenging, and it’s very frustrating for them when they have to do problems that require HOTS- higher order thinking skills. Some students just cannot manage to do word problems that require HOTS no matter how much scaffolding is in place. I`m always looking for ways to help them develop their HOTS. It`s very rewarding when this happens, and very frustrating when it doesn`t.

  2. You are absolutely right! Looking back, I wish my teachers could have challenged me a little more. Students can’t change until the teacher decides to make a change! I’m sure it’s challenging at times. But in the end, it all pays off. Teachers have a major impact on a student’s life!

  3. This is our job as educators. It is also a required skill of the 21st century to be considered literate. We are doing students a disservice when we ask them to merely recall information. Creative thinking and problem solving is what the future needs. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. This is a challenge I hope to be prepared for. I can remember teachers who “pulled teeth” and I retained more from their classes than any others even though I may have disliked them at the time. Higher level thinking takes a lot more effort from the student than traditional memorization. I hope that I will be able to motivate my future students to want to learn bad enough to apply that kind of thinking. Do you learn how to do this simply by trial and error? Any secrets or techniques from you or other teachers would be appreciated.

  5. @amanda hogan–I agree with you when you said that we are doing students a disservice when we ask them to merely recall information. That is like teaching robots instead of humans. I too believe in the impact of thinking out of the box and be creative people.

  6. I think it is very important to help students learn and apply higher level thinking in the classroom. Having them just tell us what they read is good,but we need to stretch them more as learners. This HOTS will hopefully then show up in reading groups and classroom discussion. It is a blast to see when this happens in the classroom. Continue the hard work in helping your students think at a different level. Raise one for the HOTS!

  7. I agree! High order thinking is getting ignored, but as educators it is our responsibility to get kids to think for themselves. In my classroom, I like to use thin and thick questions. “Thin” questions are ones that really don’t take much effort to answer i.e. 2 + 2 = ? or in reading “who was the main character?”. The “THICK” questions are ones that challenge the students to think about the why’s? the how’s? What would have happened if the character decided…? Why do you think the author ended the story in this way?

  8. I don’t mind the mud wrestling with the students that refuse to do any work that remotely seems challenging or daunting to them. My main problem is when the fight gets out of the ring and you have to defend yourself against unsympathetic principals and disgruntled parents that only care about the grades and take it as a personal offense when you assign a correction rather than an accolade. I was watching a fellow teacher conduct her class the other day in which she spent 4/5 of the class in procedure, titles, page numbers, gluing worksheets and barely touched the topic at the end of the class and I was asking myself: ” Is that what I have to do in order to satisfy the expectations of all stakeholders proving that I was really teaching?”

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