Unlike most professions, teaching is often on the receiving end of what I call "the flavor of the month" ideas. Pick up an education journal, or visit a popular education blog site, and it will quickly become evident that educators are always highlighting a new and innovative approach to teaching. As a matter of fact, most of them are absolutely convinced that their idea is revolutionary and that it will work in any classroom, any time.
Although teachers often like to complain that they are micromanaged by their district offices, principals, or a system that tests too much, I believe they have much more flexibility in the classroom than they would like to admit. In many ways, this flexibility is good for the profession; in other ways it is not. When I read the many ideas about teaching that are being promoted on the internet - many of which have no basis in research - it concerns me. For instance, in just one day I read stories about changing students' negative thinking, different ways to focus on literacy in the classroom, various ideas about inquiry learning, developing students' intrinsic motivation, and how to prepare students for the working world.
I assume that the educators who are promoting these ideas have had success with them. However, this does not mean that they will work for others. The education editors of online and print publications, not to mention the multitude of bloggers who have a ready-made audience, need to be more careful about what they print. More importantly, however, the readers, many of whom are teachers that are desperate to improve their classroom performances, should be very selective in using these ideas.
The best teachers are those who know their students and have a clear vision for their classrooms. This means that they know their students' strengths and weaknesses, applying instructional techniques that reinforce the strengths and counter the weaknesses. For instance, if a student, whose strength lies in art, is having difficulty understanding the causes of the American Revolutionary War, it may be prudent to show her or him a collection of paintings that depict historical events such as the Boston Tea Party or Washington's defeat of the Hessians at Trenton. In other words, teachers who truly know their students will not need to depend on the flavor of the month.