Thursday, June 22, 2017

Teach Like a Pirate, Part 1 (book review)

One of my on-going goals is always to read more and one of my specific summer goals is to read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  

I first heard of this book several years ago, but didn't snag a copy until I was at ASCD and actually visited the TLAP booth in the convention.  I'd attended a rather awesome session by the author of Play Like a Pirate and won a free shirt, so I went down to claim it.  Low and behold, there was Dave in full pirate attire.  So I snagged both books...and had them autographed.

It's taking me longer than I anticipated to read Teach Like a Pirate, but not for the reasons you might think.

The first reason is my furry helpers.  I love them, but they do get in the way of my work time.  

Sometimes we need to stop for snuggle and scratching breaks.  

The second is because the book's content.  There are parts that seem to sucker punch my heart.  I have to stop, reflect, analyze, and realize that this author is highlighting a point that I didn't even know bothered me.   

Part One: 


For years, I've been described as a creative person.  I enjoy craft projects, scrap booking, and generally making things (except if it's in the kitchen, sorry mom!).  However, this also means that sometimes I'm assigned extra work because "I'm creative" and it "shouldn't take me much time at all".  (Spoiler: Whatever the project, it usually far surpasses the estimate of a time commitment because I'm a perfectionist.)

Deep down, this assumption that creativity just flows through me and is easy for me has always bothered me but I couldn't quite pinpoint why.  Being creative isn't an insult by any means.  But the assumption that it's natural and easy is.

But then I read a few pages from Teach Like a Pirate where the author was so clearly able to articulate all of my feelings with the concise verbiage I hope to one day master.

The author goes on to state: 

"Creativity is rarely about natural brilliance or innate genius.  Much more often creativity results from properly directed attention, laser-like focus, relentless effort, and hard work.   Outsiders see the glorious results but know very little about the sweat and blood that happens behind closed doors.  Creative genius is something people tend to romanticise, but the reality is not very romantic at all.  Like any skill it takes practice and effort.  No one assumes that an accomplished doctor, rocket scientist, or engineer "lucked" their way into greatness.  We have a certain understanding and appreciation for the years of study, sacrifice, and hard work it takes for these experts to reach the highest levels of their profession...Most people would be surprised to pull back the curtain and see the years of excruciating labor, relentless pursuit of excellence, and monstrous obstacles those "naturals" have overcome." (Burgess, p. 38)

Being "creative" isn't something I can turn on and off like a light switch.  Being "creative" isn't something I was born with and it's not something that just happens.  Creativity has been fostered since childhood with lots of painting projects, spilled glitter (sorry mom), and failed attempts at crafting.  Creativity was encouraged in student council and being an RA with finding alternative ways to problem solve and plan events with a limited budget.  Creativity was encouraged in the aisles of Joanns, in the pages of craft magazines, in conversations with others, and through countless pins on Pinterest (it's true!).  There have been hundreds of failed attempts at craft projects in the name of "being creative".  The first burlap wreath I made took almost six hours because I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't like how it was turning out.  (On a side note, burlap with a wired edge works way better for crafting wreaths.)  Being creative, like any skill, takes time, patience, and a lot of trial and error situations.  (Ya know, like teaching...)

The author goes on to describe an interaction with another teacher.  The other teacher used the crushing "six words": "It's easy for you. You're creative."  This was in response to a conversation about classroom management and culture.

The author, understandable irritated, goes on to articulate:

"It's easy for me.  Really? So with our words she dismissed sixteen years of hard work...It wasn't easy when I started, it wasn't easy last week, and it won't be easy next week either." (Burgess, 40).

I've been there, several times.  

The author then comments on the other teacher seeming to make excuses for the lack of management in the classroom.  These excuses deprive her students of their full potential.  Burgess goes on to state "It's not OK to throw up your hands in defeat because you're not naturally creative.  Few, if any, teachers are innately creative." (Burgess, 41).  He goes on to talk of creativity as something that is meant to be "nurtured and developed in all of us".

Creativity, like all things worth having, takes time, questioning, persistence, and a degree of failure.

I can't wait to see what the other 150 pages hold!

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