Why TV Can Be Useful

I came up with a brilliant analogy last night while talking to my roommate Chloe about teaching, and it was all because I had spent most of the day watching and reading critical analysis about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

We were talking about why Teach for America spends so much time talking about the vision for your classroom and your big goal when most of the new corps members just want to jump into the practical stuff of creating long term plans and unit plans and setting out classroom procedures.  I realized last year when I was helping with orientation that this is so difficult for new teachers because they don’t have any context yet to understand how important that vision is.  Which brings us to my awesome analogy.

Creating a vision for your classroom is like creating the overall story arc for a television show.  In a television show, the creators and writers have to know what overarching story they are trying to tell, or else the individual episodes won’t fit together or make sense.  If the writers lose track of the story and just start writing “cool” episodes, it becomes a jumbled mess.  Characters are inconsistent, with motivations that seem to come from nowhere.  Decisions are made and actions are taken, but there is little weight to the consequences and they are rarely, if ever, mentioned again.

In my opinion, and the opinion of others, this is exactly what happens on Glee.  Is Finn incredibly stupid, or insightful?  It depends on which episode you watch.  Buffy, on the other hand, was always building a larger story where the small pieces fit together in a logical way (with the possible exception of season 1).  Small details would suddenly have great meaning a few episodes, or even a season or two, later.  Lost would probably fit somewhere in the middle, where some of the pieces came together, while others did not.

The point is, for all the small pieces to fit together and make sense, you have to know where you’re going.  The same applies to teaching.  If I don’t have a larger sense of where I’m trying to take my students, my day-to-day lessons will just be a series of randomly connected topics.  While I may be able to see how what I’m doing this week relates to last week, my students probably can’t.  Without a strong vision, you end up with days where you have no idea what to teach next and your students don’t know what to expect when they come into your classroom.

We need to be focused on the larger story we want to show our students, otherwise they will feel like they are watching a TV show where all the episodes are out of order.  It didn’t work for Firefly, and it doesn’t work for students.

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